Swinging for Jesus

Baseball4Christ combines game with gospel

by Doug Gorman

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Baseball4Christ members pose for a photo before eating dinner at a steakhouse during their recent mission trip to Vero Beach in Florida. The team spent a week at Dodgertown where they helped do work in the community. 


If Baseball4Christ leaders Mike Winslett and Brian Morgan have learned one thing during the past five years, it’s the annual mission trip is about a whole lot more than base hits, strikeouts and home runs.

That’s why rain couldn’t spoil this year’s journey to Vero Beach, Florida.

Baseball4Christ has grown every year since friends Winslett, a local businessman, and Newnan First Baptist Church youth pastor Morgan began the project.

It selects through a strict nominating process high school players who have a passion for both baseball and the gospel.

This year, Baseball4Christ stayed at the Dodgertown facility where they walked the same streets as former Dodger legends Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Steve Garvey once strolled during spring training.

“I guess I am showing my age,” Winslett said. “I asked our kids some trivia, and they didn’t know what I was talk- ing about.”

This year’s Baseball4Christ team included East Coweta’s Austin Bellamy, Cameron Smith, and Cary Holloway, Heritage’s Brad Macke, Northgate’s Chad and Buddy Green, Jonathan Hamilton, Blake Helton, Avery Whitney, and Connor Wilson. Newnan’s Connor Dunn, Walker Sandlin, Will Meyer and Sam Sowerbrower and home-schoolers Casey Lennoch and Kel Johnson. Norcross’s Griffin Helmes also was selected for the trip.

Although rain washed out all but two of the scheduled games, and clinics, even the wet weather couldn’t spoil the purpose of the trip—to give back to others and show their love for Christ.

“I guess one thing we did learn is the weather in Florida is always going to be unpredictable this time of year,” Morgan said. “We didn’t get to play a lot of baseball, but that was okay. We still had a great trip.”

The first four Baseball4Christ trips went to Mexico.

This year, they stayed closer to home, traveling to Florida where mission work was set up through Epic Ministries.

“The difference between this trip and the past trips in Mexico is we were working with mainly young kids and this time, we also worked with teenagers closer to the guys’ own age,” Winslett said.

Holloway has been named captain for next year along with Will Meyer.

“I can’t wait to go back,” Holloway said. “It was such a great experience. I thought I would go down there and really help more with the baseball, but we got so much just from spending time with the kids.”

It didn’t take long for the team to get an eye-opening experience on the first day after making the trek to Teen Challenge, a court-ordered facility for young men who are one step away from jail.

Baseball4Christ spent about 90 minutes playing softball with about 35 boys from the facility.

“We get out and it’s in the middle of nowhere,” Morgan said. “Half of these boys are orange jumpsuits. Based on their dress, that’s their level of threat. Some don’t have shoes, some are wearing ankle monitors. We were told we might get out there and if a fight breaks out they will send us home. This is the facility that saves them from jail. As soon as we got there,

they marched out these boys and about halfof them had on orange jumpsuits. Our guys got quiet, really quick.”

Still, Morgan said it didn’t take long for them to bond with the Teen Challenge kids.

“They realized these are just kids who had some bad breaks,” Morgan said. “We knew we didn’t have to be scared of them.”

Some of the Teen Challenge residents had witnessed siblings shot, while others had been involved in gang activity. Still others didn’t have contact with parents or family.

“There were about 10 people tell us their stories and you could just see our kids jaws drop,” Morgan said. “Our kids think sometimes they have it rough. At the end of the day, we prayed with them and gave them a New Testament.”

Morgan and Winslett both agree one of the most rewarding days of the trip came when the the team worked with students at the Gifford Youth Center for children in Pre-K through fifth grade.

“It is clean and perfectly run,” Morgan said. “It’s not government-funded – they raise their own funds – but about 50 percent of the kids who go there live below the poverty level.”

Holloway said just work- ing with the kids made him count his blessings.

“These kids had every reason to be angry because of what had happened, but they were all very happy to see us and grateful.”

The group from Baseball4Christ helped the kids at the center with schoolwork and later in the day went back and swam with the kids.

“”We became like super- stars,” Morgan said. “

Later in the week, the Gifford kids came to Dodgertown to participate in a baseball clinic.

Working with residents of the Hibiscus House also turned into a moving experience for the group traveling with Baseball4Christ.

“We met some teens who had trouble finding a foster care family to take them in,” Morgan said. “We met one young women who practiced witchcraft and didn’t know who her mother was. We got to share our testimony. Our kids just got to spend time with them and show them love.”

Part of the trip also included doing work at the Harvest Food Bank.

“Some of the kids did yard work, some helped the customers and some helped in the warehouse,” Morgan said. “It wasn’t about baseball that day, but our kids really enjoyed the work.”

Winslett admits the team hasn’t ruled out returning to Mexico with future Baseball4Christ trips.

“We got to see a lot of third-world poverty there, that’s the difference between this trip and our trip to Mexico. We saw pov- erty this time, but nothing like in the past in Mexico,” Winslett said.

Winslett said one of the biggest challenges facing Baseball4Christ now starts long before each trip.

“We are getting more and more people interested in going,” he said. “We are having to turn away some really good kids. We want to get Trinity involved now too.”



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