Monday, July 14, 2008

Parable of the pitcher

A sower went out to sow . . .

only in this case, it was a volunteer baseball coach throwing batting practice to a teenager. Batting practice is used to prepare a ballplayer to begin to see the ball, to learn how to hit in different situations, to develop one's rhythm and stroke. Sometimes the ball is thrown to practice groundballs, other times fly balls, and sometimes just thrown to the batter nice and easy, big 'fat' pitches to drive out of the park.

For years, Clay Council threw batting practice to hundreds of young boys and men, simply casting out his time and support to them. One, Josh Hamilton, became the # 1 pick in the baseball draft a few years ago. He was considered to be on the fast track to the majors, a five-tool player, a pure hitter with an incredible arm. And as that # 1 pick, he signed for an incredible amount of money.

And that's when this incredibly gifted athlete got stupid. That's when this five-tool player began to focus on only one thing - getting high. Alcohol, drugs, crack cocaine, Josh Hamilton threw away his talents, his career, his chances, and almost his life because of his addiction. Like many addicts, he tattooed his body, with over 20 'signings' of flames, and especially demons. His family turned their backs on him, his wife threw him out, Major League Baseball suspended him for over three years. The patient work that Clay Council had done with him, the seeds of ability and promise that had been planted in all the hours of batting practice seemed to have fallen on barren ground.

But with his only option, in his mind, being to die, Josh Hamilton went to his grandmother, who agreed to take him in on the condition that he clean himself up. And to everyone's surprise, that's exactly what happened. Through faith, through determination, through struggle, he sobered up, he convinced his wife to give him a second chance (for the millionth time), he became a new person, a person dedicated to his family, and to his belief in Jesus Christ. And wonder of wonders, he decided to try to become a professional baseball player again.

In only his second season as a major league player, Hamilton leads the majors in runs batted in, and is in the top ten in a host of other categories. He has remained sober, through faith, through the love of his wife and family, and the support of his teammates. And tonight, at Yankee Stadium, Josh Hamilton will step up to the plate as an All-Star, to participate in the Home Run Derby.

Each player gets to select the person to pitch to him during his attempts to become the one to hit the most home runs in the contest. It is batting practice on an international stage. And out of all the people, the supporters, the friends, the teammates Josh Hamilton could choose to pitch to him, 71-year-old Clay Council will take the mound at Yankee Stadium, a volunteer coach who influenced Josh so many years ago.

A sower went out to sow . . .

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman

1 comment:

journalismguy said...

Wow! This is an amazing story about Josh Hamilton. I saw him for the first time a couple nights ago in the home run derby. He hit something like 30 homers in that competition. What an athlete!

And what a man he had pitching to him!

Thanks for this inspiring anecdote.