Monday, October 19, 2009

"Baseball has been very, very good to me..."

The baseball playoffs are in full swing, and I am SOOOO happy! (By the way, Rob Thomson, the Yankees third base coach, had a daughter in one of my youth groups...I am such a name dropper!)  Sports have always been an integral part of my life.  I was 6 years old when I watched the first Super Bowl with my Dad and Ed Carrol, who would be my assistant principal in high school.  Dad and I would watch football on Saturdays and Sundays, and I became a Washington Redskins and Notre Dame fan (I got over both!).  Summers would bring the baseball game of the week on NBC, and we would watch.  I pulled for the Yankees (my little league team) and the Red Sox (they had Carl Yazstremski), not understanding at the time what a sin it was to pull for both of those teams! From abut 1970 on I became a Braves fan and would listen to their games on AM radio with Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson Sr.  I grew up in NC; we didn't know the NBA existed, but the UNC Tarheels were the best basketball team of the planet.  I grew up in a neighborhood where we were very seasonal; we played football in my front yard during football season; we played basketball in my back yard during basketball season; and we played baseball anywhere we could without smashing windows during baseball season.  From ages 8-12 I played Little League baseball for the Guilford College Yankees and loved every minute of it.  Well...almost every minute!  My first day of practice everyone was warming up, and 12 year old Mark Gunther grabbed me and said "warm me up Jonesy."  Turns out that Mark, who everyone called "Swifty," threw much harder than anyone I had ever caught before, and he almost killed me the first day (Mark turned out to be the best 3 sport athlete my high school ever produced!). But I survived, and loved playing for the incredible Charlie King (more on him later this week) and the Yankees.

I was a better football and basketball player, but baseball was always my first love.  My Uncle Don Dormstetter took me to see the Washington Senators (now Texas Rangers) on "Bat Night" and I was amazed by big league baseball.  My family took regular trips to Atlanta to see the Braves play, and we were there the night Hank Aaron hit his 700th career home run.  In 1979, the Greensboro Hornets, a Class-A affiliate of the Yankees, came to town and I went to several games, taking New Garden youth with me on a number of occasions.  And then came the 1980 season...

Working at New Garden Friends Meeting didn't pay many bills, and 1980 found me working a second job at Pizza Inn.  One night in the Spring of '80, a group of young men came in late one night to get pizza and beer, and I waited on them (even though I was a cook at the time).  It turned out to be a bunch of Greensboro Hornets, and as we talked I discovered who they were.  Some names I do not remember; others I will never forget.  That Hornets team included Otis Nixon, Greg Gagne, Matt Winters and Don Mattingly.  Yes- THAT Don Mattingly, also known to Yankees fans everywhere as "Donnie Baseball."  All I knew at the time is that they were young guys, about my age, playing pro baseball- so they were beyond cool!  I remember Otis as quite a character, and Matt Winters gave me a Hornets hat and left passes for me for games for the rest of the season.  And I gave them free beer!  If I had known Don Mattingly would become one of the all-time great Yankees, I would have hit him up for an autograph- but I didn't.  If I had known Otis Nixon would become a star for my beloved Braves, but also would struggle with substance abuse, I wouldn't have given him beer- but I did!  And no one would have ever believed that Greg Gagne would start at shortstop for the world champion Minnesota Twins of 1991 (they beat my Braves).  But the person about whom I have thought the most in the years that have passed since those days was Matt Winters.

Matt was a star.  He was in Greensboro for most of 3 seasons, and he hit the cover off the ball the entire time.  But the Yankees were loaded in those days (as they are now) with big money free agent outfielders, and Matt never really got a chance.  He eventually made the majors with Kansas City, but never had a breakout season.  I think about him so often partly because he gave me a hat that I still have, and partly because he is a great example of someone who had great skills and small opportunity.  Matt had better numbers than other Hornets who went on to stardom, including Mike Pagliorulio, Greg Gagne and Derek Jeter (who made about 100 errors his year in G'boro!).  But he did not get the same opportunity to succeed.

As the years have gone by, I have tried to always give the youth I have worked with the opportunities to do the things they are gifted by God to do.  Some sing, some write, some act and some play sports; everyone has a gift!  For some (perhaps many) of the students I have known, I missed their gifts, and didn't help them to become the people God made them to be; that was left to others.   Many reached higher heights because of their experiences in our student ministries, and I thank God for that.

I still love sports, though I am not as fanatical as I once was.  I still love baseball.  I never got that Don Mattingly (currently hitting coach for the Dodgers) autograph, so Donnie, if you are out there, you owe me!  And Matt Winters- you are still a star in my book!   May God give us all the opportunity to use our gifts in ways that are pleasing to Him.

Because of Jesus,

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for reading,and thanks for your comment!