by Jane Allen Quevedo
“I played on winning teams with the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, but now I’m on the real winning team—the team of Jesus Christ,” says Félix Millán, retired Major League second baseman.
Instead of hitting fastballs at a ballpark on Saturdays, these days Millán is in church. In fact, he and his wife, Mercy, helped establish two Adventist Hispanic congregations in Florida.
In the 1980s, while working as an infield instructor for the Mets minor league team in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Félix and Mercy started a Spanish-language Sabbath School class at Fort Pierce Church. What began as a class has since become a Spanish-language church which has also spawned a new Hispanic congregation meeting in Port St. Lucie.
The Milláns are now part of another Spanish group that meets at Clermont, Fla., Church. They look forward to helping establish a church in that city, too.
Growing up in a sugarcane valley of Puerto Rico, Félix played ball from the time he could whittle a bat from the branch of a guava tree. He fashioned a mitt from a piece of canvas stuffed with newspaper, and the seat of his first uniform bore a Gold Medal® logo. While plagued with extreme shyness, young Félix showed promise for the big leagues with his speed, quick hand, and reliable hitting.
Playing in the Major Leagues, 1966-1977, Millán made three All-Star teams, won two Gold Glove Awards®, and, for four seasons, ranked as the National League’s toughest batter to strike out. With the Braves, he usually hit ahead of Hank Aaron, crossing home plate many times when the home run king hit the ball out of the park.
As an athlete, Félix had to stay in good physical condition, and Mercy was health-minded, too. One summer, she attended an Adventist cooking school in New York. Returning home with two grocery bags of vegetarian products, she announced, “Félix, we need to talk.”
The Milláns adopted an Adventist diet long before they joined the Church. They also enrolled their children in an Adventist academy near their winter home in Puerto Rico. Mercy’s occasional church attendance grew into frequent visits, finally leading to her decision for baptism, followed by the baptism of their three children.
“If that’s what she wanted, I would not stand in her way,” says Félix, “but I made it clear she could leave me out.”
In his autobiography, Tough Guy, Gentle Heart, available at Adventist Book Centers and felixbook.com, Millán explains he had Jesus in his heart; yet, he did not see a need for baptism to prove it. However, he had not counted on the prayers of his wife, the prompting of the Holy Spirit, or his children questioning, “Daddy, why don’t you go to church with us?”
After playing in the Major Leagues, the Milláns moved to Japan where, in 1979, Félix was the first foreigner to win the country’s batting crown as leading hitter. Finally, the convictions of his heart led him to request being excused from games played on Sabbath. In time, the tough guy with a gentle heart publicly declared his faith through baptism—a decision that changed his sports story into a story for God’s glory.