Ecksteins guided by their faith
Smiling and joking with each other, David and Ashley Eckstein entertained and informed students from Little Flower School in Richmond Heights Sept. 6. They clearly enjoyed the interaction with the fifth- through seventh-graders at the school, listening to them and answering their questions.
The couple married in 2005 while David was a steady, gritty shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, leading the team to a World Series title. Ashley, an actress, is known for her roles in Disney shows such as "That's So Raven" and the voice of the character Ahsoka Tano in "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" movie and television series.
Their connection to the school is Ashley's mother, Sharon Drake, fifth-grade teacher there. Part of their message was to encourage the students to be persistent in following their dreams, place an importance on education and remain true to their faith.
David, who retired from the Major Leagues in 2010 and now does some coaching of young players when he has time, is finishing a degree he started while attending the University of Florida. He said that his faith and focusing on schoolwork are what led to his dream of becoming a professional ballplayer coming true.
In high school in Florida he was an all-state player who was a good hitter on a team that won a championship. He wanted to play at the highest level in college to prove to the Major Leagues that he was a legitimate prospect. But he received no scholarship offers from Division 1 schools.
"The one thing I did have was school. I had great grades," said Eckstein, who at 5-feet, 7-inches tall may have been judged by some to be too small.
He had four siblings in college already, so he was grateful to receive an academic scholarship to the University of Florida, which allowed him to play at one of the elite college baseball programs in the country. "I was scouted by the Boston Red Sox, was drafted by them and that started my career. It all started with school, that's very important," he said.
Ashley, also a Florida native, noted the importance of not giving up in the face of adversity. She started taking acting classes as a sixth-grader and soon went to auditions, landing her first part in "The Sound of Music" and first real acting role in "The Miracle Worker." Before long she was auditioning for films, videos and commercials and theme-park roles.
"You have to believe in yourself, like David said. I just believed I could do it. That's the first step."
Actors may audition a hundred or more times before landing a role, Ashley noted. "I think I auditioned for 400 cartoons" before getting the "Star Wars" role, she said. "You gotta keep at it."
Knowing that God has a plan for her helps, she said. "I do my best, and that's all I can do. If He wants me to have this job, I'll get it. If not, I'm on to the next one. That's how both of us look at it. As long as you do your best, whether it's sports, acting, swimming or dancing, you can put your head on the pillow at night and say, 'OK, God, if this isn't what you want then show me, otherwise I'll keep on going.'"
David said he was fortunate to have two loving parents who brought him up in the Catholic faith and helped him understand that God comes first and "the reason we are here is to try to get to heaven."
His oldest brother, two sisters and father all had kidney disease and had transplants. Seeing that puts life in perspective, he said, and let him know a higher power watching over him.
So, in spite of the challenges of being away from home and the fame that came with his career, he was determined to attend Sunday Mass each week.
His wife added that "God gave us the talent and opportunity to be an actress and play baseball." She moved to Los Angeles at age 19, believed that God would watch over her, and she made a choice to go to church on weekends. "It was very clear that God was giving me wonderful opportunities, and that I had to make the most of it for Him."
Both noted that they have been tested in their faith. Ashley said she has been asked to do scenes she isn't comfortable with and has refused. In spite of the reaction she sometimes received, she said, "I know I was making the best decision."
David said in the clubhouse and elsewhere he has preferred to show his faith by his actions.
The Ecksteins said they have stayed away from gossip and have been treated kindly by those they have met in their careers, perhaps as a result of seeking to treat others as they want to be treated. Ashley rattled the names of a number of stars who they enjoyed meeting, from Brad Pitt to Jay Leno to Carrie Underwood. David noted that perhaps the biggest clubhouse "character" and storyteller he played with is Chris Duncan, now a local broadcaster.
Michael Todd, a sixth-grader at Little Flower, said seeing the pair in person rather than on television is "different and awesome." He liked hearing that they didn't stray from their faith, he said. "It's a good message."
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