I love baseball. I played shortstop for the New York Mets, and I got my first hit during a game in Atlanta. That ball flew off the tee and went right over second base into center field. It was amazing. The only problem, I ran to third base first. You’re supposed to run to first base first. I couldn’t figure out why everybody screaming at me seemed so upset. Life is hard for a five-year-old baseball star. At the end of the season, our team went to an Atlanta Braves game. We sat out in right field, which is where Hank Aaron played. I shouted his name at the top of my lungs that entire game, but he never looked at me. I was hoping he’d notice me in my uniform and give me a wink or thumbs up. But it was okay. We baseball players know that when you’re on the field, it’s all business.
I was traded to the Micaville Mustangs in 1973. We actually moved to Yancey County so Dad could pastor three churches, and so I could play second base. When we moved to Cherokee, a Little League team signed me because they needed a catcher. The catcher gets to wear lots of cool gear, and life was good. But my promising career took a hit my freshman year at Cherokee High School. I made it onto the team, but I never made it onto the field. I sat in the dugout. I stood in the dugout. I leaned on the fence. I leaned on the water cooler. I never got into the game. So my sophomore year I didn’t even try. I’d just go home on the bus and watch Leave It to Beaver and Gilligan’s Island.
The next year I transferred to Sylva-Webster High School and that Spring I went to baseball tryouts. Every position was three and four deep, and these guys were good. So after the second day of tryouts, I put my glove in the attic, bought some running shoes, and ran for the track team. I just wanted to get in the game, and I’ve been running ever since.
Our faith journey can be like my baseball journey. I can be in the bleachers watching from a distance—frustrated that people are running the wrong way or not giving me the attention I want. It’s possible I can go an entire season without realizing that God wants something different for my life. Just sitting in the stands or even in the dugout is not good enough. Sideline restlessness comes from the simple fact that God has created me for more. I might have to try out for several different positions to find my place on the team, but I must never forget that I have a place on the team. My skills and abilities need to be in play if the team is going to accomplish its goals.
In his first letter to the church, Peter the Apostle said, “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” In other words, get your glove out of the attic. Get in the game.