Baseball 4 Christ prepares to visit Vero Beach
by Doug Gorman
Baseball4Christ has become an annual summer tradition, mixing the love for the national pastime with a passion for spreading the Gospel.
The mission trips began five years ago and was the brainchild of close friends and baseball fans Mike Winslett, owner of DHT Expeditors, and Newnan First Baptist youth minister and Newnan High lay coach Brian Morgan.
Baseball4Christ gives local high school players a chance to enjoy two great passions— playing baseball outside of Georgia and serving the Lord by reaching out to others in need through baseball clinics, exhibition games and witnessing.
The ministry has impacted the lives of hundreds, including those who make the trip and those who are served by it.
“This is a life changing experience for all of us,” Winslett said. “One of the most exciting things is seeing the young men who have gone on these trips two or three years later and they are still touched by it. Their parents tell me how the trip changed their sons lives.”
Baseball4Christ began as a mission trip to the poverty stricken areas of the Yucatan Peninsula
in Mexico, where athletes played a series of exhibition game, put on clinics, witnessed and spent time with residents, especially young boys who may not have had positive male role models in their lives.
This year, Baseball4 Christ will keep its mission trip closer to home, making a trek to areas around Vero Beach Fla., while staying at the historic former spring training facility known as Dodgertown.
“There is plenty of baseball history there,” Winslett said. “We are looking forward to putting on another great trip and helping however we can.”
This year’s roster, which is led by team co-captains Cam Smith and Austin Bellamy, who were both members of last year’s mission trip, includes players from four of the five local high school programs. They include six Northgate players as well as four from Newnan, three from East Coweta and one from The Heritage School.
“Last year I really didn’t know what to expect,” Bellamy said. “When I got there, it really opened my eyes to everything. The kids were just in awe of us. They didn’t have a lot, but they were very happy. It really made us appreciate what we have.”
Like in past years, this year’s trip to Vero Beach is about more than baseball.
“I am just glad to get to go and help out. “It make you realize how fortunate we are,” Smith said. “We were treated like rock stars last year in Mexico. They admired so much about us, and didn’t want us to leave.”
The Baseball 4Christ team will work with Epic Ministries on several projects, including spending time at a food bank, a children’s shelter, helping repair deteriorating ball fields in the area while also tutoring students.
“Last year there was a little bit of a language barrier at times, but it all worked out,” Bellamy said.”This year that won’t be a problem and we just want to go down there and help and meet as many people as we can and do what we can.”
According to Morgan, there are just as many people in need here in the United States.
“Where we are going in Florida, there is a high poverty level,” Morgan said. “We are excited about the chance to go there and help. “If we can impact the lives of others that is what the trip is about.”
Baseball4Christ will also put on baseball clinics and play three exhibition games against some high-school level teams in Dodgertown, including one under the lights at the 6,000-seat Holman Stadium, former spring training site of the Los Angeles Dodgers before they moved to their current training complex to Arizona.
Players are selected based less on baseball ability and more on their faith. Each player must be nominated by their high school head coach and pastor where they attend church and then go through an interview process.
They also must be willing to turn over access to all social media accounts.
“We are having to turn good young men a way,” Winslett said. “That is how big this has become.”
The hardest part for the players has always been saying goodbye at the end of the week
“The don’t want us to go,” Smith said, “They follow us and hug us. It is just a great time. We get really close to the people there.”
Cary Holloway will join his East Coweta teammates on his first experience with Baseball4Christ.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” he said. Just talking to everybody and watching videos there seems like there is a lot we can do,” he said. “To play baseball and share word of God is exciting, it is something I am really looking forward to doing.”
Representing Northgate are Chad and Buddy Green, Jonathan Hamilton, Blake Helton, Blake Whitney and Connor Wilson. Newnan is represented by seniors Walker Sandlin, and Connor Dunn as well as juniors Will Meyer and Sam Sowerbrower.
Junior outfielder Brad Macke of The Heritage School is also making the trip as well as area players Casey Lenoch and Kel Johnson, both of whom were homeschooled.
Johnson and team member Griffin Helms, a senior from Norcross, could each hear their names called this week as selections in the MLB Draft. Johnson, who signed a scholarship with Georgia Tech, was ranked as the No. 36 prospect out of the state by Perfect Game.
Lenoch and Johnson played for the Home Plate Citadels.
“We have some really good baseball players on this year’s team, so the competition should be really good, but we also have some great Christian young men,” Winslett said. “We want to win the games, but we also know what the main purpose of the trip is.”
Northgate assistant Tim Lowery and David Robertson, a former assistant at Newnan now at Lamar County, will again serve as the team’s coaches again this season.
Morgan has many fond memories of the trip.
“One of the things I think I enjoy the most is our fellowship and quiet time at the end of the day when we can reflect on what has happened,” Morgan said. “Each day is different, but we all get so much out of it.”
Both Morgan and Winslett are pleased with the way Baseball4Christ has grown over the years, but both just want to get even bigger.
“It’s great to see what has happened,” Morgan said. “I would love to someday see us have the funding so we could to more than one trip a year.”