James by Tom Rust

A few weeks ago, I made my annual trip to Arizona to be a part of baseball’s spring training. This is a special time for me to escape the Midwestern cold, and not just do interviews, but spend time with some special friends I have made in the baseball world.

Brent Leach is one of those friends. He is a 32-year old left handed pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system. He is a minor leaguer, but this year, he was invited to the Brewers’ major league camp as a non]roster invitee. These are players who are given a shot to make the major league club, but are not officially on the roster. Brent is a solid Christian from Jackson, Mississippi, who has spent some time in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and our friendship has developed over the years. We often talk about the role of Christian ballplayers on a team. “You have to walk the walk,” he said. “Everybody is watching.”

I asked him his thoughts about signing a scripture verse when he autographs a ball. “I have changed verses,h he said. “I used to do the traditional Philippians 4:13, but this year I have changed to John 3:16 because I want people to know that God loves them.” I asked him if he thought anyone really paid attention to what he wrote on the ball. “I hope I can sign a ball for some young person, and he will go home and ask his mom or dad, ‘What does this mean.’ And I hope mom or dad can tell them what it means.”

Christian baseball players are serious about their faith. In the Phoenix area, during spring training, Bible studies are held on Monday and Wednesday of each week. One night the study is on the west side, and on another night, it is on the east side. There are 15 major league teams that train in the Phoenix area, so a number of players are available. After visiting one of these studies at the Scottsdale Bible Church, I was impressed by the number of players who come out with wives and girlfriends to be a part of the studies. The studies are intense and big names like Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers sit sideby] side with minor leaguers just beginning their careers. The studies are led by Bible teacher, Brian Hummell, and former major league infielder, Tony Graffanino. Many of the players take notes.

Last year, I had the privilege of doing an interview with San Diego Padres’ pitcher Ian Kennedy. Sitting at a picnic table, he told me that later that night, he and Kershaw, along with Dodger infielder, Adrian Gonzalez were going to nearby Grand Canyon University to share their testimonies in an assembly that had been arranged by the university. I was impressed that three bonafide major leaguers (many believe Kershaw to be the best pitcher in baseball) would make time to do this.

Another activity of major league baseball is “faith night.” This is a designated night when players from a major or minor league team come out after a game and give their testimonies to the crowd. Some teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, bring a lot of players. The most dramatic of their testimonies is manager Clint Hurdle, a recent Christian convert who leads the way for other members of the team. When he speaks, behind him are Andrew McCutcheon, Neil Walker, Jordy Mercer, and others who eagerly take the time to share. A few years ago in St. Louis, the crowd heard Albert Pujols, Mike Matheny and others share at Busch Stadium on the Cardinals faith night. Off to the side, the Cardinals mascot, Fred Bird, listened with the others. After an invitation was given, the young man inside that suit gave his life to Christ.

Brent will go to the Brewer’s Triple A farm team in Colorado Springs to start the season, but I shared with him that God has a mission for him to possibly encourage a teammate or be a witness to fans who need to know about Christ. He agreed and said that he has a new life verse, found in Galatians 6:15. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

As the baseball season begins, it is truly encouraging to know that in the midst of all the glitz and glamour, God is working his plan. And players at all levels are hoping for results not just on the field, but in the hearts of those with whom they come in contact.

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