The chance of a lifetime comes only once. For Bobby, this summer would offer adventure, escape and a season of change.
As a pastor’s and Sunday School teacher’s son, Bobby felt he had grown up with pressure in every part of his life, from church to part-time jobs. All Bobby had ever wanted to do was play ball. So when the opportunity came to not only play ball, but leave the country, he snatched it as if his life depended on it. Needless to say, his parents weren’t pleased when his news overshadowed their plans of a mission trip in four U.S. cities, that included him. They thought perhaps, with only two years left in college, this summer would be their last chance to reach him before he left home for good. The scout, however, had given him other options.
Last year, he had gotten his hopes up after talking to scouts from three different teams, only to be passed by in the end. Now, he was sure this season would be his big break. Some players would turn down the offer, waiting for a chance to play in the United States, but Bobby had more than baseball on his mind. He was to leave immediately for training in Florida before spending four months in Italy. Baseball in Italy could be the stepping stone Bobby needed, but also, the opportunity to discover his own future, on his own terms.
When the team arrived in Rimini, Bobby was craving change too much to be intimidated by culture shock. But he was still alone in a strange country. Miguel, the team’s pitching coach, sensed a need in the young man’s life. Taking on the role of mentor, and friend, he invited Bobby to dinner at his home after settling into his room and calling home. Bobby gladly accepted, but had no desire to phone anyone.
Upon entering the modest Italian home, aromas of a home-cooked, authentic Italian meal emitting from the kitchen reminded Bobby of past Sunday dinners when he enjoyed being at home. As the family sat down to eat, he was surprised, yet not uncomfortable, when the coach, his wife and all three kids bowed their heads to pray. He was even more surprised when Miguel included his name as he prayed, “Father, we thank you for this food, for the one who prepared it; thank you for this special guest you have sent our way. We ask that you bless his career and his life. We pray these things in the name of Jesus our Lord, Amen.”
An unexpected tear rolled down Bobby’s face as a feeling of homesickness surged through his heart, but not for the U.S.
The following week, Bobby watched Miguel closely at home and on the field. When Miguel’s wife asked him to church on Sunday, he hesitated, but his curiosity outweighed his anger at the moment, so he agreed. The preacher at the small but lovely church seemed genuinely excited to welcome their visitor. By the end of the service, Bobby felt as if he belonged, as if he were part of the congregation, the family. Later that afternoon, he confronted Miguel with a question that he wasn’t sure how to phrase.
“Miguel,” he began, trying to make sense of it himself, “how do you serve God and coach baseball? I mean, doesn’t one get in the way of the other?”
Miguel smiled and gestured, leading Bobby into a small den that he hadn’t noticed before. He stared at the wall as Miguel stood back and humbly watched. Bobby stood in awe as his eyes surveyed trophies, pictures, and newspaper articles with photos of Miguel’s career.
“You played in the pros?” Bobby asked.
“Twelve years,” Miguel replied proudly, then correcting himself, “God blessed me to play 12 years with winning seasons and good health.”
“But how did you play ball and, you know, know God?” Bobby asked clumsily, still frustrated with the concept.
“Bobby,” Miguel began in his broken English, “God doesn’t ask you to give up the life He gave you; only to put Him first. I am a Christian who happens to be a baseball player. You have talent, Bobby. Do I need to tell you where it comes from?”
Bobby realized, or maybe just finally admitted to himself, that he would never be happy, even doing what he loved, without God. After all, God had met him halfway across the world to show him He cared.
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