The crack of the bat, the smell of hot dogs and Cracker Jacks and the warmth of the sun belting down; the sights, sounds and allure of baseball drew Rob Callistro in at an early age and kept him intrigued for life.
Like many young boys, Callistro had the dream of becoming a major-league baseball player. But unlike many young players, he obtained his dream. In spite of reaching his goal, he didn’t feel satisfied or complete. There was a God-shaped hole in his heart.
Rob Callistro was born in 1969 in California. His love of baseball was evident early in life. At the age of five, Rob told his parents that he wanted to be professional baseball player, just like the guys he saw playing on television. “I was always playing with some type of ball. I must have broken a window in almost every house in our neighborhood,” Callistro says with a chuckle.
There were plenty of ups and downs in life, such as his parents’ divorce, and various injuries, but one thing remained constant: his love of the game. Throughout his childhood, Callistro played on various little league teams and practiced incessantly until he landed a place in the minor leagues.
“My first year in the minor leagues was a very difficult time. When I wasn’t on the baseball field, I found myself trying to be someone that I wasn’t. I tried so hard to fit in with other players that sometimes I would exaggerate and tell lies to try to make myself appear better than I was,” says Callistro. “I understood that players needed to focus on their baseball careers, but selfishness, pride and backbiting occurred when players only thought of themselves.”
Eventually, his career developed and grew and his dream of playing major league baseball came to fruition. He was recruited to play with the Seattle Mariners and was at the top of the world. Although he had arrived at his goal, Rob realized that the reward was not sufficient, nor was the pinnacle satisfying.
Of course, playing in the Kingdome, and with baseball greats such as Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson were all part of a dream realized. But with fame comes stress, expectations and disappointment. Unfortunately, Callistro chose to deal with his stress with unhealthy lifestyle choices.
In his book, The Reliever, Rob describes the moment he realized that obtaining his dream wasn’t as satisfying to him as he has assumed it would be. “I stood alone in the kitchen of the house where I grew up. I leaned against the kitchen counter thinking, ‘Is this it?’ I spent countless hours practicing and playing baseball with my dad, friends, family, and many teams over the years. I spent years watching baseball games on TV and in person, and now I was a professional baseball player. So shouldn’t I be happier?”
After a devastating injury which affected his performance, Callistro saw the career he had fought so hard to obtain slip through his fingers.
“The development director wasted no time. He slid a piece of paper toward me on the table and asked me to sign it,” Callistro writes in his book. “I asked what it was and he said, ‘We are releasing you from your contract.’ I wasn’t familiar with a ‘release’ so I asked what that was. He said that I had done everything they had ever asked of me, and much more, but they just didn’t have room for me in their organization! So I got to take my ball and go home!”
He worked hard to stay in shape and trained for a second chance in the major leagues, which finally materialized when he was contacted by a scout from the Chicago White Sox. This second chance didn’t last long, as he was released from his contract a few months later.
“I traveled back home and I did what I had always trained myself to do. I called my friends, and we went to bars and nightclubs every weekend. I tried to drink my pain away,” Callistro recalls.
“I spent the next three and a half years living exactly the same way I had always trained myself to live—selfishly!” says Callistro.
Callistro’s weekend partying turned into daily drinking and drug usage. “I was lost and hurting and nothing I did seemed to fill the void in my heart,” Rob says. Rob hit rock bottom when he crashed a car while driving drunk.
Hitting rock bottom in his professional and personal life may not have been part of the dream, but it was all a part of God’s plan. God used Callistro’s lowest moments to steer him and guide him to a bigger and better mission.
A mysterious phone call from his mother lead Callistro to move across the country to Missouri to live closer to his family. Soon he found himself in the pew of the First Baptist Church in Waynesville, Missouri, hearing the Gospel for the very first time.
Callistro begin reading his Bible and felt a tug in his heart to forgive others, to abandon his lifestyle and to turn towards God.
The song, “When Momma Prays,” could sum up Rob’s salvation. As he was out partying and getting drunk, his mother was on her knees, talking to Jesus about her son. Her prayers were answered on Sunday July 21, 1996.
Callistro went to church that day, knowing he would accept Christ and start his new life. He accepted Christ as his personal Savior. “I was set free from the self-destructive behavior, I was set free from the hurt and pain that the alcohol and drugs caused me, I was set free from the guilt of my sin and the shame that came from the disappointment and the consequences of my decisions. I was no longer separated from a Holy God.”
Callisto’s athletic training taught him the virtue of hard work, dedication, discipline, good sportsmanship and how to overcome losses and hardship. Much of what he learned on the mound and in the dugout has prepared him for a lifetime of spiritual training.
“As an athlete I devoted about 20-plus years to being the best baseball player I could be physically and mentally,” Callistro says. “Athletic training gave me a great foundation for spiritual training and if we desire to spiritually grow then we need to spend as much time with God as possible. I have never met an athlete that does not want to get better. We need Christians who want to get better, meaning, spiritual growth.” Callistro remarks.
“For 26 years, my identity was as a baseball player. I lived my life selfishly and pridefully, but now my identity is with Jesus Christ.”
The Lord blessed his decision to follow Him and started turning his life around. Rob met a beautiful girl named Jill at a Southern Gospel concert featuring the Missouri family group, Living Sacrifice.
“The gospel group and the deacons from our church worked together to fix us up by introducing us,” says Rob. “I proposed in 13 days and we have been married for over 19 years and have two awesome kids!”
Today, Callistro’s life is much different than when he was focused only on obtaining a position as a professional baseball player. He starts his day by reading a Proverb and praying before heading to his job at Hibbett Sports in Rolla, Missouri. In his free time, he likes to golf, go to the beach, share Christ’s love with others, attend Southern Gospel concerts (Jason Crabb is a favorite) and spend time with his family.
“I love to spend time with my wife and daughter as we watch our son play baseball and I love to listen to my daughter sing and I especially feel honored to preach after my wife and daughter sing!” Callistro says.
Rob continues to work with young athletes, where he not only encourages them to strive towards their goals on the baseball field, but in their spiritual lives too. “1 Timothy 4: 7-11 provides words to live by. ‘Train yourself to be godly,’ and the only way to train yourself is by spending time with God, and live and play with humility of mind and spirit, and your speech,” Callistro says.
“Whatever you do go out of your way to give God His glory! Being an athlete is an honor and a privilege. You are an ambassador for Jesus Christ and you represent Jesus in everything you do!”
This is what Rob Callistro tries to do in his life too. He is currently writing a new book called, Celebrate Jesus, and hopes to travel full time and preach Jesus Christ through his outreach evangelistic ministry. Pick up your copy of The Reliever and keep up with all things Callistro at his website
By Stephanie Kelley
First published by SGNScoops Magazine in April 2017.
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