THE LOST SEASON … and the story of 7 seniors whose stars never got to shine.

As I talked about in last Sunday’s message, it was later in life that baseball became a ministry for me. As a kid, and as a high schooler and as a college player, baseball was all about me. It was my time to shine. It was my pedestal, and I savored my awards and trophies. But as God moved into my heart and changed my way of seeing the world, baseball was part of the transformation. 

Since then, baseball is about something much more than me … and much more important than me! God moved into my life and changed everything, and baseball became a ministry about serving others and God.  And, as many of you know from first-hand experience, when God comes into your life in a mighty way, everything in your life gets altered. Today, baseball is just another platform for God to work in my life, which brings us to “the lost season of 2020.”

Three years ago, when I moved to Arthur as the new pastor at Vine Street Christian Church, another opportunity became available. I was offered the head coaching position for the ALAH baseball program. Because baseball was now a ministry in my life, it seemed like a great way to become part of the community here and to meet some young guys who could help me in my own walk of faith. And that’s exactly has what happened. 

So, three years ago my coaching tenure for the Knights began. That first year we had 2 seniors, and the next year, we had one. So, as this season approached, there were 7 players that had been part of the team for three years, and they were ready to shine as seniors! 

But, as we all know, that didn’t happen. Those 7 players, who had invested countless hours into their own development as baseball players and as young men of character (this is a big emphasis of our program), never had the chance to do what we quietly but confidently we’re hoping for in 2020 – to make a run for a Class A state championship in baseball. 

Winning that championship was a goal … a hope … a mere possibility. But spending a full season with those guys, and a solid group of underclassmen as well, was really what I was looking forward to. Wins and losses in baseball are funny things, sometimes very hard to predict. That’s the nature of the game. But playing through the season together is what the experience is really all about. Going through the ups and downs together, celebrating the victories and surviving the losses, builds camaraderie and a fellowship among guys that is hard to replicate, and that stays with you for years … even a lifetime. 

That didn’t happen in 2020. We lost that whole experience. We didn’t just lose the chance to play games; we lost the opportunity to become a team together; to walk with each other through a season and become linked by our common goal in a way very few things in the lives of young men can do. And that’s not fair! But then, neither is life.  

So, here in this “church newsletter” article, as high school sports have resumed competition and games get played once more, I would like to honor those 7 players who lost their senior season at ALAH and never got a chance to shine on the ball field in 2020.

MASON BERNIUS — the gentle giant of the team; loved and respected by all of us, “Bernie” (as we called him) was everyone’s favorite teammate. Not only did he win the award for best teammate, but he lived it out every day with us. Mason is more football than baseball. Baseball didn’t come naturally for him. But he dedicated himself to getting better every day, and all our coaches were looking forward to getting him more playing time his senior year — he had earned it. Still, I’ll not remember Bernie as a player, but as a mature young man, the adult in the room on a baseball team full of kids (including the coaches!). Honk that horn on your truck one more time, Bernie, for the lost season and your fellow seniors. 

JAKE HOLLINGSWORTH — my “right-hand man” even though Jake is left-handed. Jake was one of the key leaders in our program who loved everything baseball. He would lead our “open workouts” when coaches were not permitted to do so, and he hardly ever missed a workout, a practice or a game. We thought of Jake as a “pitcher-only” — but I believed his senior year was going to be different. When not pitching, I was hoping Jake would be our right fielder … and I could see him having a great senior year on the mound and at the plate. Finally, I loved to watch Jake pitch. A relatively quiet and unassuming kid, he turned into a “bulldog” on the mound and was willing to face any team, anytime. And I love that about any pitcher! 

SCOTT McCLAIN — the soccer player who became a baseball player. Scott was one of the guys who early on took on the challenge of becoming a baseball player, not just a kid who played baseball. He worked very hard at the game, and it paid off. Scott earned his 2nd base position and I’m sure his senior year was going to his best. Baseball is a game that doesn’t come naturally to all athletes, and it didn’t, at first, for Scott. But he proved the old adage true once again, that if you want something bad enough and you’re willing to work for it, things will come together in your favor. 

CODY MILLER — I love free spirits, and Cody was the free spirit of our team. Quiet almost to a fault, but a great athlete and wonderful long hair! I suspect one reason I liked Cody so much was because his hair would flip out beneath his hat, forming wings, just like mine used to do when I had hair! I still wear the bruise Cody left on my back by hitting a sharp screaming line drive right back at me during cage work. But my favorite day of Cody’s was the day he came right up to me and declared boldly that he could handle playing shortstop just fine, thank you very much. So I put him there. And he played it beautifully. And from that day forward, Cody was our shortstop. I’ll miss his slick defense, and his flowing hair — but not the bruise on my back! 

LUCAS OTTO — a superior athlete who played football, and basketball for a while, but Lucas was born to be a baseball player. And he is continuing his baseball career in junior college. But one of my biggest regrets of the lost season is not getting to see Lucas be that totally dominant high school player that he worked so hard to become during the three years we spent together. Frankly, the baseball stuff was not hard for him … but the leadership role was something he had to grow in to. And he did. As Lucas prepared for his senior year, he became a self-directed and disciplined player who was willing to lead the team and himself to a higher level. And he did that too! I am anxiously looking forward to Lucas playing at the next level, but I’ll always regret not seeing him perform as a senior for ALAH.

WYATT SCHLABACH — If Cody was the free spirit, and Lucas the star, then Wyatt was the glue that kept all of us on an even keel and did all the little things each and every day that help make this tough and challenging game a pure joy. As far as I can tell, Wyatt hasn’t had a bad day in the 3 years I’ve known him, and he always, always, always, put a smile on my face and reminded me that baseball is supposed to be fun! He was the first winner of the Best Teammate award, and I have considered naming the award after him! Wyatt accepted every role he played on our team with gratitude and grace, and I especially loved watching him run the bases — his reckless abandonment with a big broad smile on his face always made me feel good. 

RYAN YEAKLEY — I’m sure Ryan was born with baseball in his blood, and there wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t do something special on the field — whether hitting, fielding or pitching. Without a doubt the most versatile high school player I’ve coached, Ryan could literally play all 9 positions and play them well. He was attuned to the details of the game (and there are a lot of details in baseball!), and walked onto the field each day with a confidence and passion that many players lack. Ryan was a worker, a hustler, a hard-nosed full speed player who would be the first in line to dive for a ball or take an extra base — he would’ve had a great highlight video if we had played in 2020. Ryan has one more important gift as well — he mows my front yard like it’s a major league playing surface — now that’s special! 

When God brought baseball back into my life — I learned to love players in a new way — not as players only, but just for who they are. I love each and every one of these “seniors” and I will hold them in my prayers as life goes on. Because life does go on. But I’ll never forget the Lost Season of 2020 and the 7 seniors, whose stars never got to shine, 

Faith, Hope & Love … But most of all — Love,

Pastor Bob Silvanik