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02/16/10 12:40 PM EST

Coghlan spreading his faith through actions

Devoted Christian passionate about reaching out to others

MIAMI -- On a military base in the Middle East, Chris Coghlan recently was asked about a baseball player who walked away from the game to pursue his faith.

On a mission to reach out to troops in Kuwait and Iraq, Coghlan was well aware of Grant Desme's story.

A top prospect in the A's system, Desme belted 31 homers in the Minor Leagues last year and was named MVP of the Arizona Fall League. The 23-year-old Desme, seemingly with a bright baseball future, made a stunning announcement in late January. He gave up the game to devote his life to the church. Desme left baseball to join the priesthood.

Of strong Christian faith himself, Coghlan was moved by Desme's decision. The two have never met, but they share a strong religious bond.

"For me, being a Christian brother, I think it's awesome what he's done," said Coghlan, the Marlins' 24-year-old left fielder and 2009 National League Rookie of the Year. "In this society, this job is considered everything. It's considered gold. For him to be able to give that up for Christ, who is most important to me, and to him, obviously, it's unbelievable.

"Obviously, he was feeling that is where his calling was, and bless him for being able to do that."

People give of themselves in different ways, using different platforms.

Coghlan, who openly discusses his faith, has a growing passion to reach out to others. In late January, about the time Desme was retiring from baseball, Coghlan was joining a Marlins contingent to visit troops in the Middle East.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez was part of the group.

On the trip, Coghlan and Gonzalez spoke about Desme's decision.

"So many times we get caught up in the worldly things. So many times, in this sport, we lose track of that," Coghlan said. "For him, he's got his life intact. That's unbelievable. I remember talking with Fredi, and he mentioned it to me. I said to Fredi, 'What do you think about that?' He said, 'That's admirable.' And it is.

"Everybody has different callings. Everybody has different blessings and different talents. For me, I believe my calling is to continue playing baseball. It's a platform to reach out to other people."

In 2009, the left-handed-hitting outfielder batted .321 and secured the Marlins' leadoff spot. After the All-Star break, Coghlan batted .372 and he paced the Major Leagues with 113 hits. His strong finished earned him the third Rookie of the Year Award in club history.

Being an intense, all-out player who gets his uniform dirty doesn't mean Coghlan is shy about wearing his faith on his sleeves.

Coghlan speaks openly about his ability to compete on the field and show compassion off.

"Much is given. Much is required. The more that I have been given, the more I'm required to give back. I think the more success I have on the field, the better I can reach out to different kids, different charities, different foundations. That is something that is really big on my mind."
-- Chris Coghlan

If he has to, Coghlan will take out an infielder while trying to break up a double play. He showed that last May when his hard slide at second base resulted in Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura injuring his left leg. It was a hard but clean play.

"I think the biggest misconception with Christian athletes is we're soft. Or that we are weak-minded," Coghlan said. "That's the biggest misconception, because that's not it. Jesus is our rock, and every single day I go out to play for him. And to play hard. I owe that to him. He gave me the abilities to play this game.

"To put me on this platform, to do all these things, it's up to me to use that ability and each day to go out there and maximize my potential. If that means going out there and breaking up a double play, I'm going to try to break up a double play. I'm not trying to hurt anybody. I'm trying to play the game right."

Visiting troops and witnessing the challenges they face has deeply touched Coghlan. When he arrived in Iraq, Coghlan's curly hair was long. To conform with the troops around him, he had one of them cut his hair for the military buzz cut rate of $4.50.

When speaking to audiences, like he did at the Marlins Caravan and FanFest, Coghlan urged others to support the troops.

In Iraq, Coghlan prayed with some of the soldiers. His Twitter username is "cogz4Christ," and he has tweeted regularly about his faith. He also noted via Twitter that he would mention Jesus Christ while speaking at a banquet at his old high school -- East Lake High, near Tampa, Fla.

"Much is given. Much is required. The more that I have been given, the more I'm required to give back," Coghlan said. "I think the more success I have on the field, the better I can reach out to different kids, different charities, different foundations. That is something that is really big on my mind."

Coghlan hopes to parlay his notoriety and success into helping others. Foremost on his mind is reaching out to the troops while being back in the United States.

An initiative he plans on eventually launching is a letter campaign for the troops. What he noticed in the Middle East is how touched those in uniform were to receive hand-written, heart-felt letters.

"That's important to me," he said. "I spoke with a couple of people already about writing letters to the troops. I realized in Iraq that was so big to them, to receive letters. It's something that's been on my heart. I have to figure out who I can make contact with."

Coghlan's vision is to gather lists of names of those in the armed forces, and figure out ways to have everyday citizens be able to write letters to them.

"I'm talking a hand-written page, and to write what's on your heart and send it to them," Coghlan said. "It means the world to them."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.