OMAHA, Neb. – An estimated crowd of 200 College World Series fans turned out for the 12th annual 9th Inning Ministry breakfast in Omaha Saturday morning. They heard former big leaguer Ed Hearn, Texas A&M assistant coach Mike Clement, and Texas A&M players Jacob House and Troy Stein talk about their faith journey.
Clement, a former player who went on to serve in various coaching capacities, told the audience he wasn’t always motivated by his faith. Instead, he said he was driven by the thrill of competition and the opportunity to win.
“At one point in my coaching career, the Lord sort of pushed me up against the wall and really asked me to check myself and see why I was doing what I was doing,” Clement told the audience.
“I had a lot of coaches in my life who made a great impact on me, but there were also some coaches, like there are everywhere, who didn’t make a great impact on me,” he continued. “They talked about how many girlfriends they had, how much tobacco they could fit into their mouth, how many beers they were going to drink and the Lord just told me, ‘If those coaches can tell you that as a player … then you can share with the players … the impact that Jesus Christ has made on your life.’”
He says he has tried to do that ever since and he encouraged the crowd to do so as well.
“Go out. No matter who you are – a parent, an 8-year-old little leaguer – my charge to you is spread the word of Christ,” Clement said.
Jacob House, a junior first baseman for A&M, spoke about a similar experience. When he was a freshman at Arkansas in 2008 (he played for the Razorbacks his first two years before transferring to A&M), he came to the plate as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in a game against South Carolina. He drove the ball out of the park for a game-winning, grand slam home run. Ironically, he learned that day that home runs cannot satisfy the soul.
“I go back to my apartment and I feel nothing,” House explained. “I was completely empty. That was it. That’s about as high a level in baseball as you can get, and I felt nothing.”
During his sophomore season at Arkansas, a senior teammate approached him and they got into the Bible together and that helped lead to his turnaround. Knowing the power of fellowship and accountability, House encouraged young baseball players in the crowd to take advantage of the fellowship opportunities they have.
“I’ve really found some true men of God and they really poured into my heart, and I really poured into them,” House said. “Enjoy the fellowship you have. The games are great, but there is so much more to the game than the actual game.”
Freshman A&M backup catcher Troy Stein said when he was in high school (in Texas), the FCA set him on the right path. They lived by 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” After that, he said, God and baseball just went together.
“It really helps you handle failure,” Stein said about his faith. “If you can’t handle failure, you can’t play baseball. You are going to walk to the plate and one out of every three or four times, you might get a hit. Having faith in God and having Him support you, and knowing that He supports you, it’s a big relief on how you get through the day.”
Ed Hearn was the keynote speaker for the event. He played catcher for the New York Mets when they won the World Series in 1986. He was traded to the Kansas City Royals in 1987. A shoulder injury ended his career pre-maturely. Six months after it ended, he was diagnosed with three serious health problems. He had a bout with cancer, three kidney transplants and a sleep disorder. Today, he takes as many as 50 pills a day.
Life hasn’t turned out the way he expected, but that hasn’t stopped him from using the platform God has given him to tell others about Christ.
He told the crowd he always loved sports and his parents, who were Christians, did a very smart thing.
“My parents, in their tremendous wisdom, gave me required reading,” Hearn said. “It was fun stuff … they gave me Fellowship of Christian Athletes magazines. So it was about guys who had a passion for Christ who also played sports.”
It made him want to play sports even more, but when he got into high school, he said he put God in his back pocket. He kept Him there until his days in Kansas City, when God used a teammate to confront him about his misplaced priorities. Throughout his talk, he asked the crowd not to put God in their back pockets.
Afterward, Hearn spoke with The Christian Post about what motivates him to speak at an event like this.
“There’s just so many connections between the game of baseball and the game of life,” Hearn said. “For folks who don’t know Him, that’s number one. We want to get them on the team. That’s an eternal team. But, in this audience, there’s probably a lot of people who know him, but they were like me and kept Him in their back pocket. And maybe like me, they’ve faced some curves and challenges … if they’re like me, they’ve asked, ‘Why me God?’”
“We all face curves,” he added. “We all face challenges. We’re all condemned because of sin. And only through Jesus Christ do we have that opportunity to spend eternal life with our Creator. That’s what it is all about. That is not difficult to share. It’s the best message in the world.”