“I figured, ‘why not try this game?'”

The first baseball game I ever recall seeing on television was in 1959 on a beautiful spring Saturday afternoon. For the first six years of my life, our family lived in a small house on 8 Coleman Court in Greenville, SC, the city where I grew up until I went off to college. I was walking through the tiny living room of our home, getting ready to go outside and play when I noticed that my dad was casually watching the Saturday afternoon game (I think Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese were the announcers). As I watched, Mickey Mantle came up to bat. According to the announcers, this was a big deal, something to watch. I don’t remember who the pitcher was (maybe Camilo Pascual, no lightweight) and I didn’t know anything about baseball; as a four-year-old, this was my first ever introduction to the game. The New York Yankees versus the Washington Senators. I was watching two stars at that very moment, the one and only Mick and the lovable, balding slugger Harmon Killebrew, who was playing third base that day. Mickey swung at the pitch and hammered it hard toward third. Killebrew looked lucky to knock it down (I still remember the image vividly) and after doing so, he immediately picked the ball up and fired a strike to first. But to no avail, as the Mick, with his blazing speed, beat out the throw, while the announcers were hooting and hollering about how fast Mickey was. No one else could beat out an

“Suddenly, I realized that baseball was all about Mickey Mantle, at least it seemed that way (until I found out about Babe Ruth, of course).”

infield scorcher like that, even though Killebrew hadn’t handled it perfectly. I walked away impressed, but not yet hooked on the sport. I simply went outside to play. But first grade came that fall and in the spring of 1960, my first grade teacher gave a few of us kids a bat and a big rubbery softball to use during recess. I figured, “why not try this game?” Well, I didn’t do too well and it’s probably a good thing because we discovered that if someone hit

Mickey Mantle (Oct 20, 1931 – Aug 13, 1995); photo circa 1955

the ball too far, it would go down a ravine and disappear about 30 feet down a wooded hillside. Noticing this danger, one girl said to all of us, “If Mickey Mantle was here, that ball would be lost down the hill forever; he hits the ball so far.” Suddenly, I realized that baseball was all about Mickey Mantle, at least it seemed that way (until I found out about Babe Ruth, of course). But my interest waned until the next year when the Mick and Roger Maris went after the Babe’s single season home run record of 60. I guess I was one to root for the underdog from a young age (which I’m sure is why I am a Gamecock fan as well) because everyone seemed to want Mickey to break the record and as for this Maris guy, I didn’t really know who he was, but I was for him as the underdog, all the way. Eventually, Maris won out in the home run race, became my favorite player and I became a Yankee fan. Who couldn’t be, with the likes of the M & M boys, Yogi Berra, Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson (from my home state of SC), Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, Clete Boyer, Hector Lopez, Moose Skowren and many others. Their names became a part of my everyday life, even though baseball wasn’t televised except on Saturdays, mostly in the summer time. I actually had a set of marbles, with each marble named after a Yankee. Maris was a gold catseye; beautiful. Eventually, I began playing the game I had begun to follow and I found out I was pretty good at it. I played every position (catcher and first rarely; I was both smart and short). Suddenly, I was consumed. And that wasn’t necessarily a good thing, because when I am consumed, it’s pretty much all or nothing. I

“Suddenly, I was consumed. And that wasn’t necessarily a good thing, because when I am consumed, it’s pretty much all or nothing.

was expending a lot of effort in this wonderful sport, but I was also investing endless amounts of self focus in what would ultimately, over the years, become my idol.  When I couldn’t find others with whom to play during the day, I practiced or made up games to play all day long in my front or back yard. For hours, I tossed and hit rocks into the field next door and could hit them to spots (all fields) and a long ways. I played with my friends,

“I covered my four bedroom walls in their entirety with baseball cards and pictures…”

when they were available, from mid -morning until dark, except for meal breaks. I covered my four bedroom walls in their entirety with baseball cards and pictures cut out of newspapers and magazines. And in a moment of  insanity while in seminary, I sold the 8,247 baseball cards I had collected over the years, complete sets from 1962 until 1972 and more (makes one sick, doesn’t it). I played in leagues all the way up through high school (where, however, I had the misfortune of playing for a coach who didn’t know me or use me much). So from the early sixties until the early seventies, what did I love most? Well, it looked like baseball to outsiders, but actually I loved ME most! Baseball was my first love, my passion, my significance, my hope for the future and security, my dream maker, my whole life and desire. I wondered if there was any life for me without baseball (well, maybe basketball). Eventually, I left my hometown and went down the road 100 miles to attend the University of South Carolina.  There I was invited to walk on to (or try out for) the team by the head coach, one of my boyhood heroes, none other than Bobby Richardson, who was about to take USC into national prominence in college baseball

“[At USC] I was emptier than I had ever been… But God did not leave me alone. He knocked me down and then He lifted me up.”

(pretty much, I invited myself, but he invited me too). But a funny thing happened to my idol. The transition from my home town to college was a difficult one for a shy, insecure, unprepared 17 year-old going off to college. Leaving Greenville, I was sure that I had left God behind and the church behind and Christians behind (lots of Baptists!). I grew up in the church, but had had enough. Things were going to be different now. Well, they were different. I was emptier than I had ever been. I almost quit school (my dad said he would be willing to gamble the tuition and that I wouldn’t like working on a farm, my alternative it seemed). But God did not leave me alone. He knocked me down and then He lifted me up. Through a couple of guys on a sidewalk, recruiting for the first Navigator ministry Bible study ever on campus, to a postcard from First Baptist Church (Ed Young, Sr., pastor), to the warmth of a greeting by a college student who cared for a scared, shy kid coming to a college Sunday lunch for the first time (today, he is my ENT doctor, Dr. Ken Compton), to multiple people who loved me when I was consumed with myself and couldn’t and didn’t love them. Jesus Christ revealed Himself to me and I was changed, converted, revived, filled with new life. Suddenly, I had joy for the first time ever. I was learning to love God, not just know facts about him. I was discovering how to love others. I could actually sing hymns to Him,

“And suddenly, my idol wasn’t very appealing anymore…. I simply had to say…’I’ve found something much more fulfilling and someone I love more.'”

instead of just singing. Everything was new. I couldn’t contain it all. It overflowed. The experience, although not really an overnight one, was truly transforming. And suddenly, my idol wasn’t very appealing anymore. My father, who was my biggest fan and a non-Christian, asked me what had happened to my aspirations. I simply had to say, with full conviction, “I’ve found something much more fulfilling and someone I love more.” Today, I still love baseball and it is a regular hobby. But it is no longer an idol and although I still feel like I am still my #1 idol at times, the truth is that I love Jesus Christ in a personal and daily way and He is first and foremost Lord of my life. Now, that’s a serious shift in perspective, life and love. areUserious?

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