After the sudden death of her husband, former major league pitcher and radio host Frank Pastore, his widow Gina Pastore was faced with how to pick up the pieces of what had become a shattered life. In her book, Picking Up the Pieces of My Shattered Life, Gina tells the fascinating story of their life together, and how she moved forward with her life after her loss. Join us for this touching conversation with Gina as she gives clues to recovering from devastating loss.
More About Our Guest
Gina Pastore is the host of her own Los Angeles based radio show, Real Life with Gina Pastore and David James, on KKLA Saturday nights at 7:30 pm. She speaks widely at churches telling her compelling story of her life with Frank and how she has moved forward after losing him.
Scott Rae: Welcome to the podcast, “Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture.” I'm your host, Scott Rae, dean of faculty and professor of Christian ethics at Talbot School of Theology, here at Biola University.
Sean McDowell: I'm your co-host Sean McDowell, professor of Christian apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
Scott Rae: We are here today with a very special friend. Gina Pastore is with us. You may recognize the last name Pastore from her late husband Frank, who pitched in the major leagues with the Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins, and then, hosted a radio show for a long time on KKLA. Gina has just come out with a brand new book called Picking Up My Shattered Pieces, subtitled, Bouncing Back When Life Throws You a Curve Ball. Gina, there's a ton of backstory behind the book that I'm really anxious to get into, and I think our listeners will find really not only entertaining but also really helpful to them. So, thank you so much for writing the book and for agreeing to come on and to talk to us about it.
Gina Pastore: Well, it is such an honor to be on with you both, and you both were very special to Frank. You were regulars on “The Frank Pastore Show,” gosh, six and a half years ago, and just so cool to know that now you're both hosting this podcast. I love it. Frank would be so proud of you.
Scott Rae: Well, I told Frank a long time ago that he taught me almost everything I know about how to be on radio, from how lousy I was when I first started out with him. And he was so patient.
Gina Pastore: You were not lousy.
Scott Rae: He was so patient and he taught me how to do this, and he said, "Quit being an academic, cut to the chase and explain it clearly."
Gina Pastore: Exactly.
Sean McDowell: Long before I ever did this, he invited me up and I came up and watched the show for three hours. He would pause in between commercials and go, "Hey, here's why you did this." I'd ask him questions, and I still, to this day, remember some of those things he said. For example, he said to me, I asked him, I'm like, "How do you come up with an interesting question?" He goes, "You know what? If it's interesting to me and I care, it's going to be interesting to my audience." That just made so much sense.
Gina Pastore: Yeah, exactly. He was just very practical about it. Yeah.
Scott Rae: Super encouraging to see that the radio thing has come full circle, and now, you've got your own show, the show-
Gina Pastore: Oh, yeah, that’s a miracle.
Scott Rae: ... “Real Life.” We'll hear more about that in just a minute, but her program with David James, “Real Life,” it's on Saturday nights, 7:30 p.m. on KKLA. We're going to be sure and tune in to that, too.
Gina Pastore: Thank you.
Scott Rae: Gina, let's start kind of early on, because knowing Frank, like we did, as a student and as a really good friend, I can imagine where being married to Frank was like a very wild roller-coaster ride.
Gina Pastore: It was.
Scott Rae: And reading about this in the book just reinforced what a wild ride he took you on from when you were just a teenager.
Gina Pastore: I was. Well, we'll get into the story and I hope ... This is not for the faint of heart. I'm being really honest. I spilled it all out in my book, but I met my husband, I met Frank when I was just 11 years old. He was a much older man of 15, and he walked into the house, he was playing baseball with my brother at an all-boys Catholic high school. I had heard his name a lot because he was known to be a flame thrower. Everybody was talking about this Frankie Pastore guy. So he walks into the house. I'm only 11, I'm not hormonal, I'm not romantically inclined at 11, but he just blew me away.
His personality was bigger than life. He was gregarious and loud and loving and fun, and I was attracted to him, so, I had a crush on him. But we didn't go out on our first date till I was turning 15 and my father allowed me to go out with him. Quite a story. He asked me out, he was 19, and like I said, I was 15, and he had already signed with the Cincinnati Reds, so I was going out with this much ... man of the world. I guess, I don't know if it's unfortunately for my parents, the two of us were very much attracted to each other and we began falling in love, but we didn't start like officially dating until I was 16.
He had come back from the ball season and asked me out again, and then we started dating. He was now 20, and we were falling in love, so as you can imagine, that started chaos in my Italian home. I grew up in this-
Scott Rae: Oh, I can just imagine your dad completely flipping out.
Gina Pastore: Well, he really liked Frank. My mom was the one flipping out. My dad was trying to slow us down and convince my mom that nothing was going to happen, but the fighting got to me. The fighting was going on, Frank was going to be leaving for the ball season again. We were not going to see each other for seven or eight months, and so we got together, and we devised a plan. We did what any normal 16- and 20-year-olds would. We eloped. Yeah.
Scott Rae: That's wild.
Gina Pastore: That's how it all started for Gina and Frank Pastore.
Scott Rae: That is wild. I take it your dad was not too thrilled about your decision to elope?
Gina Pastore: Well, no. We had it all planned out, and again, it's all in the book, but my dad, of course, when he found out that we had eloped, he not only put out an APB [All Points Bulletin], they actually could not put out an APB on Frank for 24 hours, so they put it out on the car we were in, but we hopped on an airplane and we're flying to Birmingham, Ala., but that's a long story. Anyways, but yeah, my dad ... Then, my dad also did what any father would do. He called the Cincinnati Reds organization to inform them that their star minor league pitcher had just eloped with his 16-year-old daughter.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Gina Pastore: So, Frank, after getting married, of course, my dad forgave us and wanted to give us his blessing, and he really did love Frank. He loved Frank his whole life. And so, we're thinking that Frank's ball career is over because the Cincinnati Reds are like, "Oh my gosh, you eloped with a 16-year-old girl." Frank had also broken his finger the season before, so he's like, "Honey." He had felt like he had not lived up to their expectations in the minor leagues. He was kind of inconsistent with his wins and losses, so he prepares me that he's probably not, this baseball thing, is probably not going to work out, but we're going to go to spring training and he's probably going to get released, and then, he really wanted to go to law school.
I was good with all of that. We go to spring training, and out of nowhere he starts pitching like Cy Young and has the best spring training of any pitcher. Johnny Bench pulls the manager aside and says, "This kid is ready for the show." So, at 17 and 21, we are now in the major league.
Sean McDowell: Oh my goodness.
Scott Rae: Unbelievable.
Gina Pastore: Yeah.
Scott Rae: What was that like being married so young to a pitcher in the major leagues with all these other ... with the whole baseball wives community, what was that like? Because you were 16, 17 years old.
Gina Pastore: I was 17, yes. It was extremely terrifying, I will be very honest. I was terrified. You have to remember this was the Big Red Machine era. These people, the Cincinnati Reds, in the years prior, had won the national championships and all that, and they were all considered older. They were, oh my goodness, at least in their late twenties and some in their early thirties. So here we are, they called us “the kids” — that was our name, “the kids.” Frank, of course, was thought of as bold and sort of brash and very confident and all that, so they were going to keep “the kid” in line.
It was funny. We got teased a lot. We went out when Frank made the big leagues and decided that we had to buy a fancy car, and we bought a Cadillac. So I'm 17, I'm driving this Cadillac with a license plate that said “Reds 35 “on it, and so we're getting teased. But, the wives were, of course, like I said, older and they were ... they had their diamond necklaces with their husband's numbers, and their fur coats, and all of that, and I was just intimidated of them. It was pretty interesting, and also, in the major leagues, there are challenges.
There are long road trips where your husband's gone for long periods of time and there are lots of pretty girls and women after ballplayers, so that was a bit of a challenge, too. I had to get used to that kind of a thing.
Sean McDowell: Gina, we want to get into some of the specifics of your book, Picking Up My Shattered Pieces, but before we get there, would you share Frank's journey to faith as well as your journey to faith — what that looked like and how they intersected?
Gina Pastore: Okay, and Sean, as I've told you, your dad was a part of this. My husband was raised nominally Catholic, and very bright, very good student, asked a lot of questions, especially at the all-boys Catholic high school, and wasn't getting the answers that were satisfying to him. But he loved, interesting though, he loved going to church. I used to see him at mass on Sunday all by himself on the other side, praying and all that. It was very interesting. He really had a heart for God, but he was a skeptic.
And so he gets into the major leagues and, of course, part of the story is that because of what goes on on road trips, as I was talking about, with women and stuff like that, I basically put my foot down and I told him that he had to hang around certain players. It just so happened those players were born again Christians, and I didn't ... it wasn't because-
Scott Rae: Unknown to you?
Gina Pastore: Yeah, I didn't pick them because they were born again Christians. I just knew they were good guys and they were friendly, and their wives were friendly to me, and they like to play cards, bridge and stuff like that, so Frank fit right in. So he said, "Okay, honey, I'll do that. I'll do that." He's hanging around these Christians and they're, of course, trying to what's called “share with him” and give him their testimony. So Frank Pastore is just firing questions at them, left and right, and they're kind of like, "Oh my gosh, we can't answer all these questions." They go to the team chapel leader, who happened to be, his name is [Wendell Dale], he happened to be the number two man with Athletes in Action, which is an arm of Campus Crusade for Christ.
Wendell just played it perfectly. He knew that Frank was a reader, so he got some books. One of the books he got was the Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Sean's dad, Josh McDowell. It was chapter 7, to be exact, that got my husband: “Liar, Lunatic or Lord.” Frank was just, he had been reading and these guys had been loving on him. He had gotten hit by a pitch off of the bat of Steve Sax that nearly shattered his elbow. He was just at a vulnerable place in his life, and he had always liked to go to church and go to chapel.
He liked these guys, and he got the answers from the books that he was given. He basically called me one day and said, "Honey, I've given my life to Jesus Christ and you need to also." My first reaction was, "Frank, do not become a Jesus freak." I was not happy about it even though I was Catholic and I believed in Christ, and I believed in a lot of things about God and the church, I did not want for him to become that extreme and embarrass us, so that was how I reacted.
Sean McDowell: Well, you got to take the story a little bit further because obviously you came full circle and became a believer. What was that journey for you then?
Gina Pastore: He started inviting me. Frank was going to Bible studies now with other players, and the man orchestrating these Bible studies was Tom Hume, who was a star pitcher for the Reds, and they would have barbecues on off days. They would do the barbecue thing and then have the Bible study. I was so stubborn, Sean, that I would say, "No, I'm going to go to the mall today. You go." So, he went a few times without me, and I was just really holding out. Then, I broke down one time and went, and I was like, "Wow, this is really good stuff, and this is making my husband a better man. What is my problem?" So, I kind of slowly went into the kingdom.
It wasn't a one-time decision for me. It was more of a gradual descent into the kingdom. When I look back now, I am just ... I get very emotional thinking about that because it was my husband that brought me into the kingdom.
Scott Rae: For those of our listeners who may not know you, or didn't know Frank, or much about his story, tell us a little bit about what it was like to lose him.
Gina Pastore: Oh, well, and many of your listeners probably will know the story, but Frank was, after he attended Talbot, he had started a ministry there at Talbot called “The Kids Program,” and Scott, I remember you were a part of that.
Scott Rae: I was.
Gina Pastore: Through a series of events, he ended up thinking that he was not going to be in ministry anymore. He had kind of been ... had a burnout, and he'd been in a political situation. Through that, that caused him to really grow though. He started going to therapy, in fact, at the Biola Counseling Center. Also, he was a big follower of our great friend, Dallas Willard, and so Frank would listen to Dallas tapes all the time. He immersed himself in everything that Dallas ever wrote, and through that process, he really became healed from the burnout that he had had and even was able to forgive.
God showed up and opened up an amazing door ’cause at that point, Frank had gone to Claremont grad school, he was working on a Ph.D. in political science and have just said, "I'm done with ministry. I want to go. I want to teach, I want to teach political ... American politics." That was his plan. Well, we make our plans and then God laughs, right? Frank's decided he's going on that trajectory and all of a sudden, this huge door opens up and he's given the opportunity to host the number one largest Christian talk show in the United States of America on KKLA. So, he began a wonderful nine and a half year career, and a lot of healing took place, and just was in his sweet spot.
Really, this is a neat part of the story because God really does work through disappointments in our life. If you're listening and you're saying, "I'm going through a lot of stuff." Then you got to read Shattered, and you got to read my book, Picking Up The Shattered Pieces because I lay it all out. But one day, it was November 19, 2012, Frank left for the studio. His last words he said to me going out the door were, "Honey, tonight's Monday night football. Let's watch the game together. Have dinner on the table." I said, "Okay." He walked out the door and I never was able to talk to him again.
He left the studio after doing a show and was hit on the freeway. He was on his motorcycle in the diamond lane. He was struck down and ended up in a coma for four weeks, and then he passed away. A month to the day he passed away, and I just have to tell you, it was the most shattering event I have ever gone through. As I shared earlier, I married him at 16. I had never been an adult without Frank in my life, even a child without Frank in my life, so it was beyond ... We had, our marriage was not perfect, we had our fights and all of that, but we had an awesome marriage. We loved each other.
We were very much attached and very happily married, and I just couldn't see a future without Frank. I went into this whole world of what's called grief, and it's so interesting because even in the church, we know we do so little about grief. Think about it. I would walk into Christian bookstores and I'd see the books on grief. I never picked one up because why would you if you're not going through it? It's a distasteful thing. We don't want to think about it. We don't really want to read about it, certainly, if we're not going through it. But I, when Frank passed away, all I wanted to do was learn about grief.
Now, I have the privilege and honor of spending time with other widows, and widowers, and people going through tragedies, and helping them through it. That's one of the reasons I wrote my book.
Sean McDowell: Gina, I can only imagine just some of the pain and hurt you went through. You mentioned being 11 when you first saw Frank. I first asked my wife out, separate story, when she was 12, so we have a little bit of history like that.
Gina Pastore: [Crosstalk].
Sean McDowell: So, as I hear you talking, I'm putting myself in your shoes as best I can and just thinking about how much I miss Frank as well. His show was the show to listen to. Not only did he have me on as a guest, but I listened all the time and just think about him frequently. Here you are, you go in the store, you start, actually, looking for books on grief and you're trying to pick up your life. Walk us through what some of those steps looked like through this process of grief. Because it's not a weekend thing, it's just an ongoing, in many ways, a lifelong process, isn't it?
Gina Pastore: Yes, and that's a great question because people do have misconceptions about the whole grief thing, and now, I can speak on it from a personal standpoint. Yes. I started picking up these books. I, right away, went back to therapy, and I went to the same therapist at Biola that Frank had seen. She's just actually like a part of our family, but she said to me, "Do you want me to tell you the science of grief?" And I said, "Yes, I want to know." So, she kind of walked me through it, and man, if that wasn't right on the money. It is a very long journey, especially when you've been married x amount of years, and you're very much used to being a couple, and of course, the whole spiritual aspect of being one; you literally feel like a part of you is missing.
I would cry, like, on instinct. I wasn't trying to cry, but almost like every 20 minutes it would just well up. She was really great about explaining, "Just let yourself cry." And again, in our culture, what do we do when we start to cry? We try to stop. We don't want to cry. Now, there's a time when you do need to stop crying if you're being hysterical in front of people, but generally crying is good. It's a way that our soul mourns. So I would just let myself cry, and I would feel those feelings. Let me tell you, grief is work. It's work, and it's exhausting. But if you do it properly, when you're supposed to do it, you're going to be better off.
The problem is though is, we, as a culture, we stuff it down. We don't want to feel it. We don't want to acknowledge it. Then, what happens is, it comes back and it bites you in the butt. It's not uncommon for people who don't grieve properly to develop anxiety, depression, turn to alcohol, drugs, a myriad of things, eating disorders. It's very important that you grieve, and I am an advocate of counseling. I myself am becoming, I'm graduating in next week, in fact, from a program to become a spiritual director, which is a form of pastoral counseling.
Scott Rae: Terrific.
Sean McDowell: Congratulations.
Scott Rae: Congrats.
Gina Pastore: Thank you. So, yes, it's just very important to take these steps seriously and not stop yourself from feeling your pain and your grief.
Scott Rae: Gina, I suspect a lot of the grief process was a good bit of introspection, just about kind of who you are, especially now that you've got to explore now living life without Frank, and how intertwined the two of you were. That had to be a lot of just time thinking about who am I? Who am I becoming now? What have you learned about yourself in these last few years?
Gina Pastore: Oh, wow, a lot. Actually, when you are grieving your spouse, what you're doing in part is you’re renegotiating your relationship. I'm going to get emotional here, but Frank will always be a part of my life, always. He's engraved in my soul, but I have to go on without him, and that's hard in the beginning because you don't want to grow and leave your loved one behind. It's a strange thing, but that's part of the whole grieving process, is getting through that. Yes, there's been so much introspection about that, but slowly, slowly God has walked me through it. And honestly, I don't know how people do this without God, I really don't.
But I clung to the Lord in it, in the Scriptures and everything that I knew about being a Christian, but honestly, when I look back now, I kind of think, "Oh my gosh, I was shallow, I was so shallow." Because pain and loss deepened you as a person, and it makes your priorities just pop out. I was always a person who had pretty good priorities, but let me tell you now, I don't sweat the little things as much. I've learned what it's like to go through a big tragedy. So, am I really going to get upset when the water spills off the counter or something? No. You just kind of deepen as a person. Then, the second part of it is I learned, have learned to trust God.
For instance, and Scott, you knew me a little bit. Would you have ever thought that I would be doing a radio show from what you knew of me in the past? Be honest.
Scott Rae: I love you, Gina, but probably not.
Gina Pastore: You're being honest. No, and I'm the last person who would have thought that I would be doing a radio show, but the Lord was gracious with me. The station asked me to do this show about six months after Frank passed away, to do a Saturday show, and perhaps I could get into my grieving and all that, and I said, "No." I left and I'm in the car on the way home and the Holy Spirit, you know that soft little voice that creeps up on us? He starts talking to me and saying, "You always say no to me." I just kind of stopped, I'm driving, but I'm like, "Oh wow, I do, don't I?" I had this little conversation with the Lord and by the time I got home I thought, "Maybe I could try this."
I did feel like I wanted to help people because I was learning so much about grieving, and I got home and I called the gentleman at the station and I said, "I am going to think about it." But I waited a year. My wonderful counselor at Biola recommended waiting a year to make any major decisions, and so I started the show about a year after Frank passed away, and it was very difficult to go out of my comfort zone. I don't like being a public person, I'll be honest. I'm a one-on-one private type, quiet person, but the Lord has shown me some gifts that I have down deep that I probably, as a child I was a math lecturer, and stuff like that, and I love to do plays.
So I guess I have this side of me that laid dormant. I just want to encourage people to be careful what you're saying no to sometimes.
Scott Rae: [Crosstalk].
Gina Pastore: Because the Holy Spirit may prompt you in a way you never expect.
Sean McDowell: Well, I'm sure glad you did the show. I enjoyed driving up. It must have been within the past two, three years to meet you and your co-host.
Gina Pastore: Yeah, I believe it was last year. Yeah.
Sean McDowell: Big Wave Dave, we had a great time and we had fun, but you cover substance, too. That's really the trick, so I hope people will tune in. But if I could ask you one more question. I was just biking yesterday with my wife and ran by somebody that when I was probably 8 years old, lived with our family and just kind of helped my mom do certain things at our home. She drove by, we reconnected, and I could just see instantly, man, something is wrong, and she had just lost her husband of years, like a month ago. Of course, I know I can't fix it and just say, "Man, I'm sorry." We just listened and tried to be present, but what would you say, speaking to that person?
Because I know there's people here who where just listening to this, who are either grieving right now, or maybe working through that process, what words would you say if the audience you're speaking to right now is that person that is just fresh?
Gina Pastore: Well I, and I've had those situations where I run into someone, now as a widow, all I do, if it's appropriate, I hug them and I don't say anything. It's so interesting because when people are going through things, we feel like we've got to say something to them. I'm going to tell you, that was one of ... that was hard. When Frank passed away, people said some things that I wanted to smack them. You're going through this deep personal pain and for someone to come and say, "Oh, you shouldn't be crying. He's in heaven now." Someone said that to me, and I'm like, "Ma'am," this boldness came out of me, I'm like, "Jesus cried when Lazarus died and we cry when people die. I know my husband's in heaven, but I'm sad."
You know, and you shouldn't have to do that, but people just try to, they try to fill in the gap, like, "We got to say something." Often, the best thing to do is just to be quiet. If you're close to the person, just be there for them. That's what helps you heal. It's not trying to go up and say a Bible verse to them and make them feel better or whatever. You're not going to make them feel better. What makes them feel better is knowing that you care and you love them. If you're close to them, knowing that you're in it with them.
I had so many people grieving with me and that was a blessing, and not everyone gets that because Frank was very much in the public eye and he was very loved, but that blessed me so much that people were grieving with me.
Scott Rae: Well I think it's fair to say that Sean and I had been grieving with you, too.
Gina Pastore: Thank you.
Scott Rae: Because we both loved Frank dearly. We spent a lot of time on his radio program. We so appreciated his friendship, and we're so grateful to continue to have contact with you. It's very encouraging to hear how God has continued to work, and I'm so grateful that you didn't say no to the Holy Spirit when it came time to take on that radio program. So, I would encourage our listeners, at Saturday night, 7:30, KKLA, “Real Life,” with Regina Pastore and Big Wave Dave. I also want to just remind our listeners, her book is brand new, Picking Up My Shattered Pieces: Bouncing Back When Life Throws You a Curve Ball.
The book is just ... I could not put it down. It was so much fun to read and it's a great ... It's not only a great story, but it's got great insight about how to move forward after the kind of shattering loss that you've had.
Gina Pastore: Yes.
Scott Rae: Gina, thank you so much for coming on with us, for being honest with us, for sharing your story. All of God's best to you as you continue to move forward, especially with the radio program, and watching your kids parent their own kids. That's got to be very satisfying for you.
Gina Pastore: It is, and thank you both. I love you, and Scott, we got to get you up in the studio, and Sean, we got to get you back on “Real Life.”
Scott Rae: Anytime, I'm game.
Gina Pastore: Okay.
Scott Rae: That's great. Thanks so much, Gina.
Gina Pastore: Thank you. God bless.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast, “Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture.” To learn more about us and today's guest, Gina Pastore, and to find more episodes, go to biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's biola.edu/thinkbiblically. If you enjoyed our conversation today with Gina, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening and remember, think biblically about everything.