Lindblom follows faith, family from Korea to Pirates

With mutual respect in organization, righty at newborn daughter's side as she battles heart defect

Lindblom follows faith, family from Korea to Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Josh Lindblom doesn't believe in coincidence. After the last six months and the past few years, how could he? Coincidence did not lead him here.

Lindblom has spent this week at Pirates minicamp, on the same back fields and bullpen mounds where he might have been two years ago. He's a veteran now, 29 years old in a clubhouse full of rookies and prospects.

"You come back and now you're the old guy," he said, smiling. "It's kind of funny."

He's here for the same reason they are, ostensibly. They want to get to the big leagues, and Lindblom wants to get back there after two seasons in Korea. But something else brought him here, to the United States and affiliated baseball and the Pirates.

Her name is Monroe.

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Lindblom was briefly a Pirate in December 2014. Pittsburgh claimed the former second-round Draft pick, who broke into the Majors with the Dodgers, off waivers from Oakland. The Korea Baseball Organization's Lotte Giants, however, were already in the process of purchasing his contract, but Pirates general manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle still called Lindblom to welcome him into the organization. That stood out to him.

"The conversations I had with Neal and Clint before I went to Korea really showed me a lot about the character of the people in this organization," Lindblom said.

Eleven days after claiming him, the Pirates released Lindblom so he could move to South Korea. From a financial perspective, it was an easy decision. Accompanied by his wife, Aurielle, and two children, daughter Presley and son Palmer, he chose to embrace the next step of his career.

He learned some conversational Korean, came to appreciate the food, took part in team events and soaked in the unique baseball culture for two years. He pitched pretty well, too, starting 61 games with a 4.33 ERA in the hitter-friendly KBO. He became a fan favorite in a foreign country.

"We loved everything about it," he said. "I can't say enough about our experience over there. No words can describe the way they accepted us. It was unbelievable. … It was probably one of the best, if not the best experience of my career."

Last year, he agreed to terms on a deal that would bring him back to the Lotte Giants for another season. He would have loved to stay. But this is where you start to understand Lindblom's belief in God, not coincidence.

Aurielle was pregnant with a girl. In South Korea, they had more frequent doctor's appointments and scans than she probably would have had in the U.S., more than they did for Presley or Palmer.

On July 1, after one of those routine checkups, the top pediatric cardiologist in South Korea told the Lindbloms their daughter would be born with a rare congenital heart defect: Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome. The right side of her heart didn't develop properly.

Aurielle immediately returned to their home in Indiana. Lindblom finished the season then flew home, too. They were grateful the condition -- which results in low blood oxygen levels, according to the Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center -- was discovered so early.

Monroe was born on Oct. 20. She had her first open-heart surgery a week later, on Oct. 27. It won't be her last. She'll need another operation this summer, maybe one more after that.

You'd never know it by looking at her, Lindblom says. She's a beautiful, growing baby. But for now, he says, Monroe is "day to day." For her and her parents, some of those days are better than others.

"Essentially, she still has half a heart," Lindblom said. "Every day's a battle. You wake up and you're just thankful that she's alive."

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The Lindbloms recently moved to Indianapolis. They have doctor's appointments every two weeks at the Riley Hospital for Children, two miles from Victory Field -- home of the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate.

Lindblom will report to Spring Training next month and compete for a spot on the Pirates' Opening Day pitching staff. Most likely, he'll begin the season in Indianapolis, with his family.

Geography is only one reason Lindblom, after weeks of daily prayer with Aurielle, limited his options to one team: the Pirates. He wanted to keep his family together, to be near his wife with Monroe, and that couldn't happen if he was in Korea. It is possible here, though, in the 360 miles between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

"It's amazing how strong she's been," Lindblom said of Aurielle, his voice wavering. "I couldn't leave her alone."

The location was appealing, but so was the Pirates' support system. Lindblom knew Huntington as a personable executive -- he called in December 2014, remember -- and respected Hurdle, among others, as a man of strong faith.

"Going through that struggle on your own is not an easy thing to do," Lindblom said. "Knowing that I could possibly be by myself in Korea or El Paso, Texas, was not going to be easy."

It would be easier with the Pirates. He didn't reach out himself, but sure enough, Pittsburgh contacted his agent. That much, as it turns out, was not purely coincidence.

It was mostly the diligent work of scouts, primarily the Pirates' Tony Harris. He learned Lindblom was trying to come home and informed Kevan Graves, one of Pittsburgh's assistant general managers. The Pirates obviously liked Lindblom -- they claimed him two years ago for a reason -- and signed him to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

"Answer to prayer," Lindblom said. "Pittsburgh was literally the only team I would have considered coming back to the States for.

"It was a family decision. We felt like the door was open. We just had to be faithful and walk through it."

You see, faith is important to Lindblom. It's helped him through challenging times in the past. It provides comfort and purpose in the present. It may be his future calling, too.

Lindblom recently received an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies from Indiana Wesleyan University, a private Christian school. He finished up his courses online. He's now pursuing a master's degree through Western Seminary, based in Portland, Ore.

"I felt like God has been calling me into the ministry in some aspects," he said. "He's prepared me to handle the situation as a father, as a husband."

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All of this has provided Lindblom with an outlook not often found in the insular world of baseball. Sitting on a bench looking out toward the back fields at Pirate City earlier this week, Lindblom put it all in perspective -- his career, Monroe, his faith.

"It's the rock our family sits on. You realize how weak you are in those moments," he said. "Walking in and seeing her the first time after surgery was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. … It's a really helpless feeling knowing you can't do anything for your daughter. All you want to do is help.

"God has us where we are at this specific time," he said, "for a specific reason."

Lindblom stood up, stretching out his 6-foot-4 frame, and walked back into the clubhouse. There, he's cracked up his new teammates all week with tales of his Korean baseball experience. He's worked under the watchful eye of pitching coach Ray Searage. He's gotten to know the people with whom he'll spend the rest of the year.

He'll fly home this weekend to his family, to Aurielle and Presley and Palmer and Monroe, the reason he's here.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.