Life Challenge has a softball team. They play on a field of dreams every Monday night. They need support.
Gayle Sayers, one of the greatest football running backs of all time, titled his autobiography “I Am Third.” The title expresses the all-important role of faith in Sayers’ life. Gayle explained its meaning: God is first, his family second, and he is third. When it was first published, many of his fans were surprised to learn that Sayers was a devout Christian, a man of faith, a football player whose identity was not locked up in his prowess on the field, “I don’t care to be remembered as the man who scored six touchdowns in a game. I want to be remembered as a winner in life.”
It’s a mixed metaphor, baseball and football, but sports – all sports – and faith have a long history together. Some of our greatest athletes have been men and women of faith. It’s no accident. A person who practices faith in everyday life understands what it means to persevere in the face of failure, to endure against the heart-crushing forces that marshal against you, to win when you’ve been counted out.
In baseball, the list of well-known Christian athletes is long. It includes superstars Albert Pujols and Mariano Rivera, great players whose greatest deeds are done off the field, away from the attention of the media. It also includes Detroit Tiger, Ryan Raburn. Ryan recently acknowledged that it is his Christian faith, instilled in him by his evangelical parents, that has carried him through his toughest times in a Tiger uniform. Hope kept him going.
Baseball abounds in hope. There is no clock, no end to the field of play – a fair ball is still fair no matter how far it is hit – and there is always next year, just ask any Cub’s fan. It seems fitting then, that there is a tradition of baseball at Life Challenge, a community founded on hope, on second chances and on beating the odds.
One of the greatest baseball fans I ever knew worked at Life Challenge. David Yttercock, former Director of Education, loved the game. He was a pure fan. It wasn’t about a particular team, or even a player, it was about the game. He loved everything about baseball, the strategy, the stats, the competition, everything. Sportswriter Roger Kahn once described baseball as “Chess at 90 miles per hour.” It just seemed to suit Ytterock’s brainiac personality.
David didn’t start the tradition of softball at Life Challenge, but he managed the team when his health allowed and took the job very, very seriously. He didn’t like to lose. I heard a story once that he left on a long road trip out west with his best friend. They were two 60-something nerds on a bucket list adventure to visit as many national parks as they could in one summer. According to the story, David insisted on stopping at every roadside phone booth they passed. He needed to check the score, make line up changes and summon late-inning relievers on game days.
Today, the legacy is carried on by Dan Martin, Education Secretary for Life Challenge.
“It’s always a scramble this time of the year. Generating interest among students has never been difficult, but finding equipment, gathering gloves and bats, that’s another story,” he says. “I stop at all the yard sales I come across hoping to find that special bat or glove for the team.”
He enjoys going to the yard sales because “most of the home owners have a funny story that comes with the equipment they are selling. I always enjoy hearing about their glory days in sports,” he says. “When I tell them about Life Challenge, they often go the extra mile and search their closets and double check the garage to bless our team.”
Dan says that the program at Life Challenge is demanding. The students are immersed in their studies and spiritual disciplines throughout the year. “By the time spring arrives the men are ready to play ball,” he says. “We want them to be able to exercise their bodies as well as their minds.”
Life Challenge participates in a Christian softball league, the Michigan Assemblies of God Athletics Association. The league promotes fellowship in Christ, sportsmanship and fair play. It also gives the men an opportunity to play and develop together as a team. They can share their love of Christ both on and off the field.
In order to play, students must maintain passing grades in all their classes and they cannot have more than two disciplinary hours to complete. Dan says anyone else who enjoys the spirit of competition and wants to have a great season of fun is welcome to join the team.
Weather permitting, the games are played every Monday night at Hines Park, through the summer season. The games start at 6 pm sharp and they typically finish a double header by 9 pm.
The only hurdle right now is the annual entry fee. It costs $530 to participate in the league. The students always chip in what they can and the staff tries to donate the rest. “Like everything else at the center, our softball team is faith-based.” Dan says they would welcome a corporate sponsor who could step up.
‘I’ve been the manager of this team for several years now” he says, “and I’m grateful to have this privilege.” Dan is quick to point out that the team has also been blessed to have Dion Rodriguez, another former student, as the head coach.
The team has just finished tryouts and Dan is looking forward to the season ahead. The really good news is that everyone on the team tried out for the same position. Third.