“7 on three, 7 on three… one, two, three, 7!” In the state of Ohio it takes 7 games to win a high school state championship in baseball. From the moment our tryouts were over, we started breaking down the huddle by chanting 7! 7 games, 7 wins, one state champion.
During my four years of high school baseball, we advanced to the state Final Four two times and competed in the state championship once only to lose to our rival in the final innings of the game. Even though we objectively had great success, it still feels like we didn’t accomplish our ultimate goal: winning a state championship.
I had another chance to compete at a high level when I went to play college baseball. My freshman roommate was a 6’7 goofy lefty pitcher – a true southpaw – and I was a tall righty pitcher. Not only were we on the baseball team together, we also were in the same Calculus II course and we both became Religious Studies majors. My roommate made our freshman year memorable, both in class and on the field. Our bond as roommates not only helped us to develop as young college pitchers, but we also teamed up with our friends who were engineers to study for our Calc exams.
I loved the camaraderie that the pitchers, in particular, shared: the long toss, the training, and competing on the mound. But as my college years went by, I became more and more frustrated with the party culture on my college campus and the baseball team’s integral part in it. I wanted to help our team compete for a league championship, but I felt that our partying was inhibiting our progress to that goal. In the end, I lost my desire to play on the team, and I told my coach I wanted to stop playing just before my senior season.
Throughout my first three years of college I was discerning a vocation to the Jesuits, and in my senior year I went through the application process and received my acceptance letter from the provincial. My senior year felt like a time of discovering my identity after baseball. I wasn’t sure that I would have the chance to be around the game again, and that was okay with me.
In my second year as a Jesuit, however, I was missioned to a Jesuit high school for the spring semester to be a student teacher. My novice director encouraged me to get involved with the baseball team while I was there. He knew that baseball was a passion of mine, perhaps even more than I thought it was at the time. I hadn’t really considered the fact that baseball could be a part of my ministry as a Jesuit. A spot opened up just before the season to be the JV pitching coach, and I jumped at the opportunity.
I received some great mentoring from the Varsity pitching coach, who taught me about how to manage the various pitchers on my team. I was actually grateful to be on the JV level because our team was focused more on developing players than winning a championship. In the first game of the year, I was standing up against the fence loudly cheering on our players with every pitch. “Good eye! You’ve got this!” Some of the guys on the bench asked what I was so excited about, and I just had to say, “We’re playing baseball!”
My time as the JV pitching coach was healing for me. I could enjoy the game of baseball without being so caught up with the goal of winning a state championship. I could invest in my players and enjoy our team without being distracted by outside issues. I could be involved in baseball in a real way as a Jesuit. I started to rediscover my love for baseball.
Four years later, I was missioned to Loyola High School in Detroit for regency. I was excited to find out that Loyola was starting up a baseball team.
The school has about 150 students, almost all of whom are African American. We have fielded a state championship football team and all three levels of basketball teams, but baseball draws much less interest than the headliner sports. We can’t just sit back and wait for students to come to us. The two other coaches and I actively ask students if they’re interested in playing so that we can have enough players to field a team.
This team, therefore, is unlike any other I have been a part of before. We have one player who plays summer baseball on a travel team, another who has played all four years of high school, and a few others who played sometime in middle school or maybe before that. That leaves a fair number of guys on our team who are learning how to hit, throw, field, and even understand the rules of baseball. In 2020, our season was canceled due to COVID. Last year we played 10 games as a club team. This year will be our first year competing in the MHSAA and the Catholic League. In other words, we will be competing for a state championship, but that’s only part of our focus.
“Bulldogs on three, Family on six… one, two, three, Bulldogs!, four, five, six, Family!” The main goals of our team are to have fun, to build a brotherhood on our team, and to give our students a quality experience of playing baseball, maybe even for the first time. Last year we went through about 5 catchers, only one of whom had any experience at catcher. By the midway point of the season we were starting a freshman who just loved being part of every play. This season we have some returning players from last year’s team who are being great leaders for the new players. We are building a baseball program from the ground up.
I realize that although baseball was my first love, there have been lots of ups and downs in this relationship. Real love entails heartbreak and disappointment and even pain. God has revealed new desires within baseball through the lives and the experiences of the players I have the opportunity to coach. Being part of this team and working for a different kind of success has made me fall back in love.