Anyone who has known me for the past ten years knows that coaching baseball at Maple Park here in Florence was once a great part of my life. I loved the opportunities I had to minister to kids and to families as a coach out there, and was able to do this for six seasons. At one time, people used to joke about me being the “Pastor of Maple Park.”
Then some dark things happened. I was never a fan of the politics of MP, and the older Drew got, the more aware of them I became. And, quite abruptly, it all ended for me. On the evening before draft day at the beginning of what would’ve been my seventh season, one of the board members called and explained to me they no longer needed my services as a volunteer coach. I’d been to the meetings. I’d been certified. And suddenly I was no longer needed.
Not to dwell, but I took it pretty well until I was told by several of plans to remove me. One guy came to me and told me how he was drafted at the last minute to take a new team because they did not have enough coaches. Another told me how he was asked weeks ago if he would be willing to take my team if they could get rid of me. Then a church member told me why I was removed: A board member told her I was removed because I was too nice and not cut-throat enough.
That really hurt me. When I looked at some of the men who were still coaching out there, and how some of them were ANYTHING but positive role models, I was offended. (I will never forget the day I heard one of those coaches offer to buy his team of 9 – 10 year olds a beer if they would beat their opponent.)
Even worse, guys I thought were my friends orchestrated it. I was angry and lost all confidence in a lot of folks in Florence, especially around the realms of organized recreation. And the bitterness grew to the park … Even though Drew was still playing (and he played for three seasons after this), I hated going out there. The pit of my stomach would churn when I saw those board members, former friends of mine who would not speak for the most part. I carried a grudge. And what good did it do??
Years later, something hit me. Something good and positive. I will be honest about the fact that there are a couple of men from that incident I still DO NOT TRUST. And, thank God, we don’t really walk in the same circles anymore. But this morning I reached for an old shirt and it was an OLLLLLLD Maple Park shirt. I love old t-shirts, but Diana will not permit me to wear them away from home. This particular shirt had an old logo from MP on it that reads “Where Sportsmanship Begins.” And it hit me: Those guys could trash me, could take coaching away from me, but they can NEVER TAKE the Godly influence I invested into the lives of those kids away. They could never take the ministry to families I had away.
God continues to use that everyday. He used it last year as I walked into McLeod Hospital and was stopped on the sidewalk by a young man who asked “Aren’t you Coach David?” I answered and discovered his father was upstairs and not doing well. I prayed with him on the sidewalk and went up to see his dad. Sadly, his dad passed away not long after that. But I got the chance to minister to that kid and his family. This year I am driving a morning carpool to WFHS of guys that I coached at Maple Park. And I have a relationship with them that I wouldn’t have if not for being their coach.
So, this morning what hit me was this: I had six years to make a difference at that place. And God allowed me to do that. And maybe I helped sportsmanship begin for twelve kids every year for six years. And, after many years, that made me proud to wear that shirt again.
But Diana STILL won’t let me wear it out of the house.