Posted by Marjorie Ainsborough Decker text© 2011 on Jun 26th, 2010
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” Greetings to My Dear Friends of the Blog,
The great American season of baseball is in full swing (pardon the pun)! And from diminutive Little League hopefuls to the giants of Major League fame, the baseball world is filled this summer with wild and wonderful stories – from the deserved and ubiquitous praise for last year’s number one draft pick, Stephen Strasburg, to the nobody-to-somebody feel good stories such as Daniel Nava.
Last week, though, a great inspirational story stirred all those who love the game. Our son, Keith (who manages and designs our CMG blog) couldn’t wait to phone us about baseball player Daniel Nava – unknown, unsung, and unbelievable at his first time up to bat for the Boston Red Sox. With the bases loaded, Nava came to the plate for his major league debut at Fenway Park, swung at the first pitch – a fast ball – and hit a grand slam home run the first time he faced a Major League pitcher! “It was so surreal, so special,” said Daniel’s father, Don Nava, who was in the stands with wife Becky. “We just believe that God touched our son and touched our family at that moment on one swing. And life has not been the same ever since.”
“His biggest quality is he’s a man of faith,” his father said. “His relationship with God is the most important thing in his life. He’s a man of God and everything in his life is run though that filter. Period. End of story. And then after that, baseball and everything else is in second place. That’s a determining factor in Daniel’s life and that’s why he’s been so successful.”
Yet hardly a soul knew of the many naysayers, the disappointments and the set-backs that threatened to derail Daniel’s dream of playing big league baseball at Fenway.
What an amazing, dramatic moment for a player who, like Abraham of the Old Testament, “… against hope believed in hope….” (Romans 4:18) Abraham’s challenge of faith was God’s promise that he would bear a son (Isaac) at almost a hundred years of age. Daniel Nava’s challenge was his small stature. As a High School freshman he was only 4-feet, 8-inches tall, weighing only 70 pounds – but with a big baseball dream in his heart and quiet determination to someday play professional baseball.
“Ipsey Wipsey Spider” in my Christian Mother Goose Big Book, portrays what “inching” along will finally accomplish….
Like the Ipsey Wipsey Spider – inching along, literally, Daniel sprouted to 5-feet 5-inches, as he entered Santa Clara University. After failing to make the baseball team, he became the team’s equipment manager (which included washing all the uniforms in a laundromat) because it kept him near the game he loved. And in spite of getting cut from Santa Clara’s team, he later went on to a Junior College and played so well that Santa Clara took him back for his senior year where he hit an outstanding .395 in 54 games.
Upon graduation, he was not drafted, so the patient Daniel chose the lowly, independent Golden Baseball League, as he said, “trying anything to play somewhere.” His steady, increasing batting performance won him the title of “Baseball America’s” top Independent League Prospect. Yet, the doors of opportunity for advancement seemed to be getting heavier and even harder to open.
But as Abraham Lincoln once said, “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.” That chance did come to the then 24-year old, 5-feet, 10-inches tall outfielder. Boston bought his contract for merely one dollar! What a bargain! And after a few years of stellar play in the minor leagues, Daniel’s dream came true!
Reading his interview, I was struck with his modesty and good-natured attitude towards the rejections and disappointments that constantly blocked his way. Then came the last-minute call to substitute for an injured outfielder for the Red Sox. And with one “gorgeous swing” he became part of Major League Baseball history!
Billy Sunday, the great American evangelist of the early 20th century, would smile at Daniel’s response to what he enjoyed doing in his spare time. Daniel said, “I love playing the guitar, and I’m really connected to my church. My faith is really important to me.” Billy Sunday, himself, had pitched professionally for the Chicago White Sox before turning to evangelism, and leading over a million souls to Christ. At one Boston Revival he drew an overflow crowd of seventy thousand!
Within two years of Billy Sunday’s “promotion” to Heaven, another preacher named Billy came “from out of left field” – Billy Graham. This Billy also originally wanted to be a professional ballplayer and actually played a few semi-pro games for ten to fifteen dollars each. Then he went on to perform in the game of his life, preaching the Good News of the Gospel of The Lord Jesus Christ to the millions of precious souls saved at his crusades.
We thank God for the many baseball players who use their talent to show-case their Lord and live as a shining example to the admiring Little Leaguers and the Old Timers Association players – the two organizations for youth baseball.
Baseball legend, Bobby Richardson, was a great favorite. I remember buying 100 Bobby Richardson evangelistic tracts each year to give to scores of O.T.A. boys. It chronicled not only Bobby’s star-studded baseball career as second baseman for the New York Yankees, but also his personal testimony of his faith in Christ.
Years later, Bobby appeared with me in the Christian Mother Goose hot-air balloon at the Christian Booksellers Convention in Los Angeles. What an enjoyable, dear Christian man!
Our boys played each summer in the Old Timers’ Association baseball league, or OTA as we called it, and then years later in Little League when we moved to a larger community. OTA is much like Little League baseball, but OTA operates in rural America where we lived at the time in Colorado. It was mainly the mothers who spent the hot summer months driving young boys many distances to play baseball. Yes, you have to be a sports-loving mom to survive OTA summer baseball.
I remember returning home from shopping one day. As I entered the living room, I found Kevin, age eleven, and Keith, age seven, hovering suspiciously against the far wall. They were both wearing baseball mitts. Then they took the bull by the horns and in great excitement showed me a perfect dent in the living room wall - just the size of a baseball.
“Keith was pitching and threw a fast ball into the wall, and he’s only seven!” Kevin exclaimed proudly.
“What!” I exclaimed, “Keith has the velocity to pitch the ball twenty feet and put a dent in the drywall. Wow! And he’s only seven!” I was as excited as they were. Never mind the dent. We were impressed by Keith’s left arm! So off they went to see the coach who had Keith try out, enlisting him right away as a pitcher for Kevin’s team, the Expos. Kevin backed him up at shortstop. The dent could wait, or should we save it as a souvenir? Kevin and Keith went on to do very well in OTA, Little League and beyond.
Another more tender story of OTA days, is one I call “Bradley’s brown bag of faith.” Bradley was on an OTA team for 9-year-olds that had been picked via a television selection. He had garnered the shortstop position. From where we lived, however, it meant driving a 120-mile roundtrip to all the practices and games several times a week. I have to say it again: only a sports-loving mom would add such a schedule to an already full household of demands.
So off we went – Mom, Bradley and baby Keith, who was only 18 months old at that time. And daily, the miles grew longer; the summer grew hotter; and baby Keith grew heavier to carry. Finally, even a sports-loving mom had to face reality. It was all too much to continue. The grueling trek would have to stop. When I told him that the next day would be the last trip, Bradley was broken-hearted (so was I, looking at him). “And we’re undefeated,” he whispered.
On the Friday I loaded the station wagon with the usual baby supplies and picnic food for the day, Bradley sat in the back clutching a big brown grocery bag stuffed full of something. “What’s in the bag?” I asked. “Clothes – someone might keep me, so I can play.” a tearful voice answered. I could have wept.
Later, after practice, I explained to the coach’s wife the reason for Bradley’s withdrawal. She was astonished to hear how far we had been driving, and within minutes she and the coach offered a solution. They would love to have Bradley stay with them to finish the season. Their own two boys were on the team, too, so three happy teammates ran to the car to get the “brown bag of faith,” – “…the substance of things hoped for….” (Hebrews 11:1)
And the happy summer ending was that they finished undefeated, with Bradley capping a triple play to seal the win.
Now to finish – dear reader, all of us are in the real game of life. All will step up to the plate to face the blinding speed of sin’s fastball – low and inside! We may get on base, but we’ll never reach “home plate” without Jesus batting us in. Two thousand years ago He appeared in the real World Series as our Substitute, ripping apart the deadly force of sin’s fastball, crushing a victorious “grand slam” over the daunting deep center field wall of humanity, to bring us in safely as we “cross” home plate.
Heaven is cheering each one who stays on the narrow path around the bases of life! (Luke 15:10)
Batter up, Blog-Nog friends, and Play Ball!
Cheering for you,
Christian Mother Goose®
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