In the middle of the best stretch of his professional baseball career, 20-year-old Alfred Joseph is already planning for his retirement.
The Boise Hawks right fielder is fifth in the Northwest League in batting average, his team is streaking toward the playoffs and his organization's scouting director is pleased with his progress.
Pretty good for a young man who views baseball as merely a gateway to his true calling.
"Baseball is what I'm doing to basically establish the purpose that I'm called to do, which is spread the word of God and go across the many nations and declare his glory," Joseph said before the Hawks' 9-4 victory Tuesday night against Spokane.
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"I'm going to get to the big leagues, but when that time comes where I have to lay down baseball and do what my purpose is, then I'm going to do that."
Right now, however, is not that time. Not in the middle of a pennant race.
Joseph had his eight-game hitting streak snapped Tuesday night, but he certainly contributed to the victory. He walked twice, scored two runs and in the top of the sixth inning, he ended a Spokane rally by catching a ball in shallow right field and throwing out a runner at the plate for a double play. During the hit streak, Joseph upped his average from .286 to .312.
The Hawks (39-29) need Joseph to produce like that down the stretch as they attempt to hold off Tri-City (35-32) for the East Division title and a spot in the championship series against West Division champ Salem-Keizer (49-18).
Boise, which reduced its magic number to five Tuesday, concludes the season with six games against Tri-City.
"Everybody on this team, we want rings. I got a state championship ring in high school, but I want my first professional ring," Joseph said. "And sooner or later, we want a World Series ring."
A World Series ring was the last thing Joseph, a 15th-round draft choice of the Chicago Cubs in 2004, was thinking about on the eve of his senior season in high school. A three-year benchwarmer at Foy H. Moody High in Corpus Christi, Texas, Joseph just wanted to get on the field.
But prior to his final season, Joseph made a decision that has changed his life.
"I gave my life to God my senior year and went from being the worst player on my team to being the best," Joseph said.
Even when things go poorly, the ever-smiling Joseph refuses to see a negative. He suffered a broken ankle last season, limiting him to 28 games. This year, he hoped to start the season in Class A Peoria, but was assigned to Boise.
He led the league in hitting early in the year, but a three-game suspension — Joseph threw his helmet in anger after a call at first base and the helmet hit an opposing player in the face, triggering a brawl — triggered a 1-for-29 slump.
None of this dampens his spirits.
"Those are the times when you've got to continue to keep encouraging yourself. You never want to give in to the negative," said Joseph, who wakes at 5 a.m. for his daily prayer session. "You always want to try to turn everything into a positive. Sometimes it's very hard to do, but you've got to do it."
Joseph turned the slump into a torrid streak just as the Hawks entered the final weeks of the season.
He has made at least one important fan.
"He plays with a lot of passion. He loves this game. He wears his heart sometimes on his sleeve, like you're supposed to," said Oneri Fleita, the Chicago Cubs' director of player development. "He's a kid that plays with a lot of energy and that's something you can't teach. And I wish, quite frankly, we had a couple more guys that played like that."
There is room to improve. Joseph, who has just three home runs, must develop more power if he hopes to make it as a major-league corner outfielder. He should begin next season in Peoria or perhaps Daytona Beach.
No matter where this career takes him, Joseph plans to keep it simple.
"Keep God first," he said. "Everything's worked out since I started keeping Him first."