There are a lot of kids at the park I practice baseball at. Sometimes when I’m practicing by myself, kids will come and watch. Some of them will come out onto the field, and ask if they can play.
I have a little pitching machine where I load all of the balls at once, then the machine will pitch them to me. I then go and pick up the balls, reload them, then hit again.
One day these kids were watching as I did batting practice. There were about 7 or 8 of them, ranging in ages between 2-11. There was a good mix of both boys and girls. After watching me for a couple rounds, the oldest of the kids (a boy we’ll call “Andrew” – he was 11 years old) said to the other kids, “Let’s go help him pick up the balls.”
They weren’t the first kids to do this. For some reason, kids like helping me pick up the balls. I don’t know why. To me, it’s a chore. But I guess I can kind of see the fun in it. I painted the balls pink to help make them easier to find, so when they’re lying in the green grass, it’s sort of like an Easter egg hunt. Anyway, it was nice having them help me find all the balls. (I use these small, spongy balls. They don’t fly as far as normal baseballs, and they don’t hurt if you get hit by one. I like using these, since I don’t have to worry about accidentally hitting people, since there are plenty of people walking around the park.)
I started hitting another round, and the kids went out onto the field to catch them. They made a game of it. They competed to see who could get the balls first. They then rushed to load the balls before the machine ran out. Andrew stood by the pitching machine and acted as the leader, shouting to the other kids, “Hurry! We can’t let it run out! Throw it in!” It was intense, like some kind of war game. The kids ran frantically trying to collect all the balls. All the while, I continued my non-stop batting practice. It was a win-win situation: the kids were having fun, and I got my training in.
We did that for a while (until I was too tired to hit any more), and then I began the next phase of my practice session: the running and agility drills. I went through my normal routine – doing crossovers, running backwards, high-knees, ect. The kids lined up behind me. Andrew instructed them. “Get in line,” he told his companions. “No cutting. Watch him (referring to me) and do what he does.”
One by one they followed behind me, trying their best to do the drill exactly as I did. All of the kids – even the girls – were into it. (Who says girls don’t like baseball?)
The kids followed my every move. Whatever I did, they followed me. When I stretched, they stretched too, doing their best to follow the exact pose I was in. (Some of them fell over during the more difficult poses.) When I stopped for a water break, they also stopped.
“How often do you practice?” asked the kids.
“Almost every day,” I said.
“Are you going to come here tomorrow?” asked one of the boys.
“No,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Andrew. “Tomorrow’s Sunday. Church day.”
“That’s right,” I said.
We continued our practice. We had just finished doing a drill, when I stopped for a moment. I felt convicted to tell them something.
“The most important thing about playing baseball,” I told them, “is to play for God. Before I start any practice, I pray. I thank Jesus for allowing me to play baseball, and I ask him to give me strength, and to be here practicing with me. I play baseball only for Him. Whether I hit a home run, or strike out, I play only for him. And after a practice or a game, I thank him.”
We prayed, then continued our practice, playing for a while longer.
After practice was over, Andrew and I sat on the grass and started talking. Turns out he’s a strong Christian. We sat there talking about our faith, how we got saved, and our walks with God. Some of the others kids sat near us, listening in.
Andrew told me about how he tries to follow God, but sometimes it’s difficult, especially at school where there aren’t many Christians. I did my best to encourage him. We talked for a while longer about Jesus, the Bible, and about how great our God is. We talked about Paul, heaven, hell, God’s love, carrying our crosses, dying to ourselves, and other deep subjects. I was surprised that an eleven-year-old was knowledgeable and interested in these things. I was also surprised by his passion. A lot of adult Christians don’t even care to know much about these.
“Wow, you know a lot about the Bible,” he said. “You should be a pastor.”
“Actually, I want to be a missionary, like Paul” I replied.
“Oh, cool!” he said. “I want to be a football playing pastor.”
It was getting late, and his parents were calling him. “You should get going,” I said.
“Yeah…” he said. “Do you need help carrying your stuff to your car?”
“Oh, thanks, but I think I’m going to keep practicing more,” I said. “But would it be okay if I prayed with you before you have to go?”
We prayed together. When we were done, he thanked me over and over again.
“Wow! You’re the first Christian guy athlete I’ve ever met!” he said, as if it had just hit him. I told him I would continue to pray for him.
“Thanks!” he said. “I’ll pray for you too!” He continued to thank me.
The blessings went both ways. It’s always a huge encouragement to me to meet people who are passionate about the Lord, especially someone as young as Andrew. I love having deep conversations about God.