“God wanted me to come here… God is not concerned if I play D1 or D2 baseball, he cares about how many people I can minister to and how good can I love my neighbor.”
Southpaw pitcher AJ Woodall has not had the most conventional journey in his baseball career thus far. He began playing baseball at a NCAA Division I program before transferring to Azusa Pacific and undergoing Tommy John surgery; however, according to Woodall, it was all a part of God’s plan.
Redshirt sophomore AJ Woodall currently has a record of 4-2, with an impressive 1.91 ERA (earned runs average). He attended Bonita High School, just nine miles away from APU, before matriculating to the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) for one season. Now Woodall is back in the San Gabriel Valley to pitch for the Cougars.
This is Woodall’s second season on the team but his first playing since he redshirted last year after he tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in November 2017. An injury of this magnitude could be career-ending for some athletes, or could lead to a surgery a player never fully recovers from; however, this was not the case for Woodall. The Cougars’ southpaw is back in his starting pitching role after a 10-month recovery process. Woodall heavily credited this recovery to God and to APU’s medical and recovery staff.
Woodall thought playing at UCSB would be a great opportunity, but it was not what he expected.
“At UCSB there were a lot of ups and downs,” Woodall said. “It was a school that was over the top in college life, and it was definitely hard to transition. I was going through a lot of things personally at the time, and in the end, the people and place just wasn’t for me.”
Woodall knew he needed a change of scenery He shared a dream he had featuring an APU icon and mentor to him,. Terry Franson. This dream ended up sparking God’s plan to send Woodall to APU.
“My move to APU may sound cliché, but it was a God thing,” Woodall said. “One night I remember having this dream of being in front of the APU locker room with Terry Franson, who was a mentor to me growing up, and the next morning I received a call from Terry who started asking how I was doing and what was going on in my life.”
This interaction led to his desire to play baseball at APU, as Woodall’s mentor expressed APU’s need for a left-handed pitcher.Woodall knew this was God giving him the opportunity. This started a two-month process to fully request and process his release from UCSB and the baseball team and ultimately transfer to APU.
Woodall is transparent and humble off the mound. He talked about how much he has to thank God for allowing him to be able to come to a university, community and baseball program like APU.
It wasn’t easy for him, but catcher Justin Gomez was able to be the middleman in this first part of the process. Woodall grew up either playing with or against a handful of the players on APU’s baseball team. Woodall said being in the same clubhouse now makes everyone feel stronger.
However, once Woodall was in Azusa getting ready for his sophomore season, his first with the Cougars, he tore his UCL. But again, Woodall continued to have strength and trust in God’s plan throughout the injury and recovery process.
“It was just heartbreaking. I mean, for most guys it’s a career-ender, but I felt God telling me that it was his plan to play baseball here and minister to the guys on this team,” Woodall said. “I knew I could get through it.”
The recovery process was time consuming. Woodall had physical therapy rehabilitation at least four times a week, but he took it upon himself to rehabilitate seven days a week because his physical therapist and APU’s sports medicine team and other staff equipped him with exercises to do at home. Still, through all of this, Woodall was motivated by his opportunity at APU and wanted to do everything he could to get back on the field quickly. He got back on the mound in under a year.
Woodall has many strengths, several of which he learned from his strong hearted mother. Woodall’s mother raised him and his brother as a single parent. There were nights when he and his little brother didn’t know what they were going to eat. Woodall’s mom taught him to work with what he had, no matter how little it may seem. Her attitude inspired him.
“My mom was my biggest fan, but of course, with being a single mother, she also had to be my biggest critic. My mom definitely poured into us as kids, talking about how God’s got this and to embrace the hard times because God is on our side,” Woodall said.
Woodall embodies what it means to be a Christ-centered man. Having gone through a lot, he stayed the course and always strived to improve. He hopes to show what God can do in people’s lives.
A criminal justice major, Woodall hopes to work with the Federal Government one day. There is still a lot to come from this young man, and we will all be witnesses.