Sometime in October of 1965, as the Minnesota Twins were battling the LA Dodgers in the World Series, my love for baseball was born. The recollections of a seven-year-old are quite foggy, for sure, but with the help of a sports-crazy neighbor named George, I became hooked on the game for life.
Memories from my first night game at the Old Met Stadium just four years later are much clearer. My dad was given two tickets to a Twins-Orioles game, but it was my Grandpa Monte that took me to our awesome seats just up from the first base dugout. The September air was crisp, but the infield grass smelled like heaven. While I couldn’t quite reach the foul pop up that landed on the other side of Grandpa, I didn’t miss the biggest play of the night. My new hero, Tony Oliva, hit a late-inning solo homer to win the game as the home team triumphed 2-1.
From then on, baseball was all about Tony-O. Every day I studied his game stats in the box score and looked for his picture in Sid Hartman’s sports column in the Minneapolis Tribune. I also traded with my friends for every Tony Oliva baseball card I could get my hands on, my favorite being his 1964 Topps rookie card.
But more than anything else, I wanted to bat like the man who wore number 6. I loved to mimic his swing and even taught myself how to bat left-handed. To this day, every swing from the left side takes me back to my boyhood dreams.
Sadly, in 1972, knee injuries cut short Oliva’s playing days in the outfield. That same year I ended my own baseball “career,” trading athletics for journalism as I entered high school. Ironically, Tony-O’s last major league at-bat came in September 1976, which just happened to be my first month of soccer played in Northwestern College’s inaugural club season.
Life, of course, is bigger than baseball and, today, a different “hero” commands the focus of my affections. This story goes back to October 10, 1965, the night my father led me to a saving faith in Jesus Christ after Sunday night church. Coincidentally, Game 4 of the ’65 Twins-Dodgers World Series was played that same day and guess who clubbed his own only series homer in that contest?
In the fifty-two plus years since that game-changing night, Jesus has dominated my thinking and been first in my decisions (more times than not!). Though too often failing him, I study his life and words, so as to be able to imitate his endlessly generous love.
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children,” the apostle Paul challenged the believers in Ephesus. “And live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
With an ultimate goal of someday being mistaken for Jesus, I’ve designated that passage in Ephesians 5:1-2 to be my “life verses.” I’m far from Faith’s “Hall of Fame,” but every day I make it my aim to more and more mirror the Master’s life in mine – through his power, of course!
As followers of Christ, our “career” won’t be finished until we cross heaven’s home plate at the return of Christ. As if describing the greatest game ever played, the apostle John called the play by play: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is!” (I John 3:2)
Want to join the team? It’s spring training and reports are that Jesus is still recruiting. Let’s play ball!
– Bill “Bobber Bill” Abeler