Using sport to spread Gospel across border becoming routine 'double play' for organizers
By DOUG GORMAN
When close friends Brian Morgan and Mike Winslett started Baseball4Christ in 2010, they weren’t really sure what they had.
They were just hoping to find away for young men of faith to combine their love for baseball as a way to share the Gospel with the less fortunate in an underprivileged country.
Next month, Baseball4Christ will begin its third mission trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where the group will again minister to area children through camps and clinics from June 18-24 while also playing games against teams from the Cancun area.
In that time, lives have been touched on both ends of the border.
“You see it,” Morgan said. “When you see these kids come back, they’ve been changed. You talk to their parents and they tell you. It’s made a tremendous impact on all of us.”
Now, Morgan, the youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Newnan, and Winslett, the owner of DTH Expeditors, get ready to take their third group of high school baseball players to Mexico to help spread the Gospel. The trip has grown into a life-changing ministry.
“We never envisioned that we would play games in pro stadiums,. We never envisioned that we would play much baseball at all. We just wanted to go down there and have a camp for kids.” Winslett said.
Winslett and Morgan still remember that first meeting with organizers discussing a possible golf mission to Ireland. When the pair brought up baseball, they were met with less enthusiastic replies. But the two baseball fans quickly realized they had enough contacts to organize a ministry to Mexico where they could use the sport to connect with children of a much different culture in addition to a language barrier.
Within 30 minutes, they had contacted organizers in Cancun and the ground work had been laid for that first trip
Baseball4Christ could have journeyed into other parts of the world as part of its mission plan, but Morgan and Winslett are drawn to the people of the Yucatan Peninsula and have been welcomed back with open arms for the third installment of mission.
“In the past we have gone down early to set things up,” Morgan said. “This year there was no need to even go ahead of time. We both feel comfortable with what we are doing.”
Both groups now have built a friendship and look forward to the annual trip.
“They trust us,” Winslett said. “That’s why we keep going back. I think there have been others who have tried to do something like this, but they know we are not in it to make money from it or for other reasons. They are always glad to see us.”
The idea for Baseball4Christ isn’t just about assembling the most athletic local high school all-star team to play baseball games or conduct clinics south of the border, though winning is certainly a motive further down the list of objectives.
“We have eight former players now playing college baseball, so we are pretty competitive,” Morgan said. “We want to win.”
These group of baseball players have something else in common. Jesus Christ is at the center of their lives.
Northgate’s Wes Harvey is making his third trip with Baseball4Christ and will be one of the team captains along with fellow Viking Hunter Lewis and says his faith grows each time he packs his baseball glove and Bible for the trip.
“It has put so much in perspective for me,” Harvey said. “It makes me realize how fortunate we are. It’s great just to spend time with these kids and put a smile on their faces. It’s great to be able to go down there and witness through baseball.”
Among an area ripe with baseball talent, Morgan and Winslett aren’t looking for superstar ball players when selecting their team, going through a selection process that begins with nominations by high school coaches Kenny Morris (Newnan), Greg Hamilton (Northgate) and Franklin DeLoach (East Coweta).”
“[They] do a great job recruiting for us,” Morgan said. “They see these kids in the halls and have an insight we don’t initially have.”
Each perspective player must also submit an application from the pastor of their church in order to be considered to represent Baseball4Christ.
There is also a strict code of conduct.
In this day and age of social media, the players also must also be careful about what is posted on their twitter and Facebook accounts.
“Mike and I have open access to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and if we see anything inappropriate, we asked them to remove it. If we see it a second time, they are off the team,” Morgan said.
Although Baseball4Christ’s purpose is about more than what happens on the diamond, Morgan and Winslett admit the team’s competitive juices getting flowing once they hit the baseball field for a game.
Last year’s team made that very clear as it went 4-0, including an 11-0 win over the Cancun National team.
The baseball highlight of last year’s trip came when East Coweta senior pitcher Kevin Werner celebrated his birthday by tossing a no-hitter.
“That was something special,” Winslett said.
Newnan’s David Robertson and Northgate assistant coach Tim Lowery will serve again serve as coaches for this year’s Baseball4Christ squad. A former Cougars baseball assistant, the experience with Baseball4Christ helped lead Robertson toward a full-time position in the ministry.
“They do a great job, and they are so dedicated,” said Winslett.
This year, Marie Jeter will be the first women to go on the trip as part of the team. Jeter, who is retiring from the Coweta County School system, will serve as the team’s nurse.
The trip has taught Morgan and Winslett to expected the unexpected, such as when heavy rains washed out a game last year, forcing the team to come up with something to do.
“It had rained so much it was halfway up the car tires,” Morgan said. “Our schedule was a wash and it turned out to be the best day of the entire trip.”
The group wound up walking in the wet weather to a rehabilitated area of a poor Cancun village that had been outfitted with a dome to allow kids to play in all conditions. While handing out candy the team attracted well over 100 children as well as a local pastor for what became a massive wiffle-ball game with the kids playing and the pastor sharing the Gospel to their parents in the stands.
“One of the surprises of this trip is that we’re actually planning to do the same thing again this year,” Morgan said.
This year’s Baseball4Christ team will again face the Cancun National Team, as well as plays games in Merida and at the Universidad del Mayab while facing the school’s college team.
At the University, players will have a chance to share their testimony in an open forum.
Morgan says one of his proudest moments since starting the annual trip had been the baptisms of eight players, four in each year, in the pool on the rooftop of the mission house the boys stay in.
Baseball4Christ certainly changed the life of former Newnan standout Taylor Pica. Pica was on the first team and will go back this year as a player coach before resuming his college career as a pitcher at Point University.
Pica accepted Christ after playing on the first team and now plans on a career in the ministry once he graduates from college.
“There are no words to describe the experience,” he said. “God guided me to exactly where I needed to be. I wasn’t always doing the things that I needed to do.”
Although Morgan and Winslett started the program for high school baseball players from Coweta County, they are reaching out this year to Sam Carson from Alaska.
Carson’s father contacted Winslett after hearing about the program through the internet and asked if his son could be considered for a spot on the team.
“Because of my business, I see a lot of calls come over my caller ID, so I started not to take it, but when his Dad told me he played baseball in high school, but they were having to drop the program because of the expense, and they were looking for something that combined baseball and ministry we took a look at him. He seems like a great fit, and Alaska is about as far away as you can get. accept maybe getting a call from God himself,” Winslett said.
While coming from three different high schools, both trips have ended in long-standing relationships that, at times, have made one-time rivals much closer friends.
“All that ended once we got to the airport.” Harvey said. “We were not rivals, but on the same team with the same goals.”
2012 Baseball4Christ Roster
Wes Harvey (Northgate)
Hunter Lewis (Northgate)
Tyler Bowers (Northgate)
Robert Massenburg (Northgate)
Cody Bevil (Northgate)
Jesse Copeland (Northgate)
Austin Moore (Newnan)
Blake Lorow (East Coweta)
Austin Dorhrn (East Coweta)
Zach Tatham (East Coweta)
Taylor Pica (Newnan/Point University)
David Robertson (Newnan)
Tim Lowery (Northgate)
Mike Winslett (President Baseball4Christ)
Brian Morgan (Team Pastor)
Justin Slavin (Media Specialist)
Jordon Gordon (Trainer EMT)
Marie Jeter (Team Nurse)