ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When Garrett Whitlock steps out of the Red Sox bullpen, his choice of entrance music says a lot about who he is.
Most relievers pick high-energy tracks to either pump themselves up or intimidate the opposing team. Think “Enter Sandman” with Mariano Rivera, “Hells Bells” with Trevor Hoffman or “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” with Jonathan Papelbon.
The Red Sox rookie’s choice, Josh Turner’s “Long Black Train,” is much more low key, yet deeply personal. It’s calm, steady and uplifting, not normally the vibe most pitchers go for.
For Whitlock that’s not what matters. The message behind it is.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It reminds me that there’s a lot more than just baseball.”
Originally released in 2003, “Long Black Train” is a song about a man’s struggle to resist temptation and live a life rooted in faith. As a big country music guy, Whitlock has been a fan of the song for years and started using it as his intro as a minor leaguer in 2018.
But after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2019, the song suddenly took on a much more powerful meaning.
“When I had TJ that’s a lot what I was dealing with. I had a lot of pride, I had a lot of stuff I was dealing with on a personal level. Tommy John saved my life,” Whitlock said. “It allowed me to put my faith first in my life and it’s something for when I get out there to just remind me, you know what, you’re not out here for yourself, you’re out here because God gave me a second chance at this and I never want to forget that.”
Originally from the Atlanta suburbs, Whitlock grew up in a Christian home but didn’t really commit to his faith until college. Even then, he says he wasn’t following a good path, and it wasn’t until the injury that he woke up.
“I went to church, went through the motions, was a good guy, but got into pro ball and started finding myself very prideful, very egotistic, I wasn’t as good a friend as I should have been, I wasn’t as good a husband as I should have been,” Whitlock said. “When I had Tommy John it gave me a chance to step back and see, hey, I may never play baseball again.”
Without baseball or any other distractions in his life, Whitlock took part in a 21 Days of Prayer with his church. He said the experience was clarifying and allowed him to gain proper perspective.
“I pretty much was praying that if I’m ever going to be this prideful again, don’t let me have baseball. Don’t let me be able to play baseball, don’t let me be able to do any of this,” Whitlock said. “So I made a promise, I want to be as humble as I can be, I want to be as much of a servant as I can be to everyone else. So that was kind of the way I go about things now.”
Now, whenever he jogs out to the mound at Fenway Park, he hears a reminder of that promise being reinforced over the stadium loudspeakers.
And if he does wind up becoming the team’s closer and fans start paying closer attention to the song, and picking up on its message, he hopes it can have a similarly empowering effect on others as well.