Here we are once again in Arizona for Spring Training. It is the 34th Spring Training for my husband. I doubt he imagined when he signed up for Little League so many years ago, that he would make a career out of baseball. It was all because of thievery that he got his early beginnings in baseball. His father had signed him up for Boy Scouts, but it wasn’t meant to be. The people taking the money for uniforms ran off with the money, so Phillip’s dad asked him, “How about Little League?” That was the beginning of his love for The Game.
I remember my first Spring Training in 1986. Phillip and I had only been married about six weeks. I thought it was going to be a big time. One month in West Palm Beach, Florida with the Atlanta Braves. I was looking forward to the ballgames, lounging by the pool and at the beach, but Spring Training can be very stressful for the players, and I soon discovered that. I did enjoy my time at the field and the pool. For fun we would go watch Jai Alai , go to the dog tracks, drive through Palm Beach past the mansions like Mar-a-Lago and dream what Twenty-Somethings dream about, but there was still stress with not knowing what ball club you would make, or if you would even make one at all. There were some days when the stress really showed and I had to learn real quick that baseball is not all fun, it’s a business and the way players got called out to be released was brutal.
Stress seemed to really come to a head a couple of weeks in when Smoky Burgess began showing up on the practice fields with his fungo bat. Smoky would head out to the fields with his fungo in hand as the players were warming up and stretching on the field. The players would watch him out of the corners of their eyes, hoping and praying that Smoky would pass on by where they stood. Then the entire bunch would witness Smoky stopping and pointing that fungo at some unfortunate soul. With his deep Southern drawl he would say those dreaded words no player wanted to hear, “Hank ( Hank Aaron ) needs to see you.” Then the player would take that long walk in front of all creation to see Hank for his release from the organization. So yeah, that was brutal. I think these days a release is handled in a more private manner, but that still doesn’t make it much easier. A few years later I would come to love Smoky Burgess. He reminded me some of my maternal granddaddy, and he would help begin the teaching process my husband needed to become a coach.
Some days I feel like one of those ballplayers on that beautiful green field, out in the warm sunshine and everything is going just fine. Then I hear the Good Lord talking to me, maybe a whisper at first talking to my heart, but I just hope He passes on by because “everything is going just swell right now God.” He comes closer and He points His “fungo” at me and says, “I need to see you.” Then He makes me walk a walk I didn’t want to take. It’s usually some uncomfortable situation He wants to place me in so that I can learn from it, grow in my faith, or He makes me uncomfortable by placing me with someone I don’t really know who may need a little kindness. My most recent truly uncomfortable position was praying out loud in church. I’m better writing out words than speaking out loud in front of a few hundred people, better at writing than talking even in a one-on-one conversation. My words don’t always match up with what I’m thinking and they just don’t come out right, plus I’m pretty much an introvert. One Sunday around Christmas, we were back at our church in Chattanooga. At the end of the service someone is called to pray, usually a male. Well, on this particular Sunday the pastor called me out. Good golly. Well, I got through it and after I was finished I realized, it wasn’t so bad. My pastor had done me a favor. God used my pastor to point that “fungo” at me so that I would be in an uncomfortable position and learn from it. This past Christmas I was pointed out again, but this time I was prepared and felt even more confident. God is always helping us to become more for Him. The walk may be an uncomfortable one like those ballplayers back in the day experienced in front of all creation walking off the field to see Hank, but He leads us to where we need to be and places us there.
I pray for all of the young ballplayers and their families. I know this is a very stressful time, but remember that whatever happens, God will place you where He can use you. My hope is that wherever that may be, a successful baseball career or something away from baseball, you will use wherever you are placed in this life for His glory.
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.—Jeremiah 29:11
Spring Training 1960, St Louis Cardinals