Voices From the Diamond
May 7, 2021
“What a great day for baseball. Let’s play two.”
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”
–Philippians 2:3 (NKJV)
No, you’re at the right place, and no I’m not changing the name of the morning devotion, except for today. I have pondered since Monday about playing baseball. Not dwelling on it, mind you, but thinking about it. Maybe it is because of my birthday, and I’m older than the wood in some of those bats. Perhaps it’s because of the book I’m reading about Bobby Richardson: Impact Player, or maybe just plain old nostalgia.
From the time I was ten years old, all I ever wanted to do was play baseball. If I wasn’t playing in a game, or practicing on a team I could always find a game going on at a school yard. I would throw my glove on the handlebars of my bike and ride through the town of Boulder looking for a game. If none was to be found I went to the back yard. We had back steps, three of them and I would throw a tennis ball against them then field it playing an imaginary game. Once in a while the ball would jump backward and hit the screen. That wasn’t a problem until the screen broke and the ball would go up and hit the back door. When I was fourteen we moved and the house had a stone foundation about four feet high–perfect for throwing a ball against hit for I had no idea where it would carom and I moved from a tennis ball to handballs and sometimes golf balls. If it was raining I had developed a game with dice and I would play games between teams. I had at least half the major league teams memorized.
I was fortunate for Boulder was a baseball town. I played, when I was twelve, on the All-Star team, the Boulder Skyline Larks. We were able to take the state title, and then traveled by train to Cedar City, UT. Now if that wasn’t an experience for a twelve year old and all because of baseball. I was instrumental in defeating a team from Nevada by hitting two homeruns and driving in five. We won a second game, then on to Salt Lake City where we were defeated by a team from Arizona in extra innings. Talk about tears in the dugout.
I was able to make the team in junior high where I played third base, and then made the team in high school where I played second, my normal position. Through the years I played a lot at shortstop but second was my favorite position. The shortstop and I practiced hours upon hours of different ways of turning a double play. I learned that you don’t catch the ball but let it hit an open glove. I was proud of my letter jacket–high school letterman, whooeee.
Then on to college where I played four years. That was the beginning of the change. A change that was slow in coming because of my dreams, my desires. No, I really didn’t worship baseball, but that’s all I wanted to do. I had a good college career, even if we always didn’t have the greatest team, we had a good team. I had a few scouts looking at me, and I talked with a couple. In the summer I played semi-pro baseball after American Legion. Like I said, Boulder was a great baseball town back then, and there was the awesome, powerful semi-pro team, the Boulder Collegians. I played on the other Boulder semi-pro team, the Boulder Nuggets, consisting primarily of local talent.
During my sophomore year in college, then my second year with the Nuggets, I could feel something deep-down gnawing at my heart. It had always been baseball, baseball, baseball. Ernie Banks once said, “Generate happiness within yourself,” and that’s what baseball was able to do. I served the Lord, I wanted to serve the Lord. I was president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in college and was able to attend one of their camps in Estes Park.
Baseball began to dwindle. At the time I couldn’t tell you why. A coach came my way with whom I didn’t get along with very well and that was unusual for me. I still played as hard, for I took the Scriptures for a “motto” play as unto the Lord. Which I was. But was I giving my life totally to Him? Little things happened. But finally, it was while playing for the Nuggets that I realized I was in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing. I had always played with kids who were not Christian, but now I was with adults and that is total different lifestyle. The Lord was gently showing me that I was laying up treasures in the wrong places.
To shorten the story, I tell people that I was finally drafted. No, it wasn’t by the Tigers or the Red, the two teams that talked to me the most, but it was by Uncle Sam. Vietnam was going hot and heavy, and I knew that as soon as I graduated, I would be drafted so I enlisted before I graduated and left for basic training one week after graduation. In the Air Force I played fast pitch softball, which was fun, but it wasn’t like good old hardball, and back to the realization that I didn’t belong with those men. The Lord took baseball from me; no, He didn’t grab me by the shoulders and said, “No, you can’t play!” but my little nudges along the way. If was over a dozen years before I picked up a baseball and I was fortunate to coach a high school team in Louisiana.
The game has changed so much. Attitudes have changed, the game has changed, doubleheaders are almost a thing of the past (wouldn’t Ernie be disappointed?), now there is analytical baseball. In other words, the computer tells you where to play. Gone are the days of reading the hitter, how he stood in the batter’s box, what our pitcher was throwing. (Sorry, I got side-lined for a moment shaking my head.)
The Lord gave me wonderful opportunities. I learned confidence, I learned to speak before people, I learned the importance of team. I learned that there are more important things in life, such as the Lord Himself, family, and friends. I was given a great ministry of teaching and discipling students for the Lord and for twenty-eight years I was able to coach. Ha, but only a few of those years was I able to coach baseball. I will finish this little biographical sketch (and I’m sorry to be long today, but I could have gone on) with the words from the other DiMaggio–Dom.
“With us, the game and the desire to play it were the number one priority. We took a tremendous pride in what we did and in how the public viewed us. The money was well down on the list, maybe the third or fourth or fifth reason we were major league baseball players in 1941.” (or I could day 1968)
Today players want the money, but back in the day we would have paid to play. If you would go to my university and look at the field no one could tell you how it came to be. Everyday, after practice, and in the off season, about a half dozen of us players would take the time to work on the field–lay it out, mark it, put in the mound, make sure it was dragged, etc. Come on, Ernie–let’s play two!
Voices From the Diamond