Chris Woodward didn’t need a wake-up call or come to Jesus moment.
He was already living a life of purpose and passion.
The Texas Rangers manager was an infield prospect in the Blue Jays’ organization in the late 1990s despite the long odds of being selected in the 54th round of the 1994 draft.
Just as his baseball career was taking root, however, he was dealt a deeply personal blow that shook his world.
At just 21-years-old, Woodward had to deal with the death of his father. His faith was tested.
“He tried to reason his faith and faith doesn’t work like that,” said Erin Woodward, Chris’ wife.
A few years later, after marrying Erin in 2000, they had their first child, daughter Sophie. But conceiving another child was difficult. Erin suffered more than 10 miscarriages during an eight-year span.
His baseball career was hanging by a thread in December 2006. He was a free agent looking for a team. The couple had talked about adopting when they were dating and now, nearly a decade later, they pursued it.
“Our dossier was prepared for a baby from Taiwan,” Erin said.
They got a call from the adoption agency about a mother from Guatemala who was to have a baby soon in Atlanta. The Woodwards were there when Mason was born. In fact, Erin, who is trained as an emergency room trauma nurse, helped deliver him.
“It was an unbelievable turn of events. Chris had no contract at that point,” she said.
Two days later, he signed with the Braves.
“It was a God moment for him,” his wife says.
Sophie, now 17, excels at dance and is preparing to attend college next year. Mason, 12, plays the piano and aspires to be a chef. Grady, 10, is enjoying Little League with mom as his head coach. They’ve bonded like only siblings can bond.
Sophie, Chris Woodward said, has been fiercely protective of Mason when another kid might clumsily ask about their relationships. He’s her brother, she tells them.
Woodward spent only one season with the Braves, but it was a turning point in his personal life. He spent time with four teams in 2008 and hopped around some more before transitioning into coaching after the 2012 season.
“There are certain things that happen in everybody’s life that make you question things,” said Woodward, who turns 43 on June 27. “And that was one of them. It just didn’t make sense to me. Meeting [Erin] kind of gave me a positive hope and then we had my daughter and after we adopted Mason that kind of changed my spiritual perspective.”
The adoption of Mason helped remind Chris that life’s events, perhaps, do happen for a reason. Both his sons and wife Erin will be with him Sunday for his first Father’s Day as a major league manager. Sophie has a dance competition back home in Arizona.
“You’re letting something else lead your life,” Erin said. “We had no control over that situation and the outcome and the way things were going to go. It was such a precarious adoption with so many moving pieces to it that were really beyond our control.”
The ordeal brought him closer to God, Erin said.
“It was a real faith moment where he was able to see the hand of God in our lives,” she said. “To see a man who was already so fundamentally and morally well put together … he always believed and he always had a spiritual connection, but to see God working in his life like that … I think God has to stir your heart and stir your soul sometimes to really make an impact and for it to hit home. That’s what I saw in him, that spiritual movement, moving the spiritual needle in him to kind of complete this already awesome man.”
Two years after they adopted Mason, son Grady was born. All three siblings are as tight as could be. In fact, the mere mention of Sophie leaving for college next year brings tears to her brothers’ eyes.
Mason wasn’t interested in baseball. He plays piano and hopes to be a world-class chef. That’s just fine with the Woodwards. He loves to watch “Top Chef” and “Master Chef Jr.” and gives his parents tips on ordering when they’re dining around the country. Erin coaches Grady’s Little League teams and the family has been all over watching Sophie in dance team competitions.
The Woodwards cherish the different interests their kids have shown. That’s part of the joy of parenting.
“I would hope that the one thing all adoptive parents would share in common is that you don’t think about the nature of your child,” she said. “You believe you’re bringing this life into your home and this child is as real to me and as authentically mine as if I gave birth to him.”
The bond the three kids have forged, despite their different passions, has been a source of pride for the Woodwards.
“I love the diversity of our family,” Woodward said. “I love being a father. To see the lessons that my wife and I teach them and the empathy they show the world. The care they have for other people means a lot. Giving them those values means a lot to me as a father.”
During the formation of their family, through the heartbreak, confusion and to ultimately a deep bond, Chris Woodward’s faith, although always there, was fortified. Erin Woodward saw it up close. She felt it too. And she saw her husband, as a father, grow closer to God.
“He’s such a hugely morally-driven person. I’ve known him for 20 years and he’s never said an unkind word to me,” she said. “He makes the right choice all the time, and it’s effortless for him to live that way. It’s a beautiful thing to watch because a lot of people struggle with that.”
For Chris Woodward, fatherhood has helped remind him that sometimes the randomness of life might also be the work of a higher power.
“With Mason, that was kind of a moment — whether you want to admit it or not or believe in it or not — significant things have happened in my life that lead me to believe that there’s something [bigger] at work,” he said. “I’m not an overly religious person, but there’s something going on.”