Christian-based Indiana baseball team lives out life lessons

ANDERSON, Ind. — Playing year-round is common for baseball players. Professional players, particularly those in the minor leagues looking to climb up the ranks, spend their winters in the Caribbean and South America honing skills for when spring training rolls around. For college baseball players the off-season is now. A handful of teams are still alive in playoff tournaments at different levels. The vast majority of players need to seek out private instruction or join a summer league. One of the most prestigious is the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League. It’s funded in part by major league baseball and is magnet for professional scouts, an attraction for any player. Nine of the 10 teams are based in Ohio. One is based in Indiana, but its significance stretches well beyond geography. The Anderson Servants are a Christian team and makes no effort to hide it. In fact, stitched on the back of their caps is “1 Cor 9:25,” standing for the verse in 1 Corinthians which reads: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (NIV) It’s a verse Greg Lymberopoulos and his 23-year-old son Kyle have taken to heart in directing the team with a program that both acknowledge is not necessarily going to be for everyone. Each year the team recruits and attracts players from around the country to come to this hardscrabble city an hour north of Indianapolis. Anderson has worked for years to redefine itself economically as a former General Motors boomtown. Players room together in close quarters in a renovated former UAW hall on a local church property. Throughout the summer, Greg Lymberopoulos walks his players through the Gospel of John. The team’s general manager and head coach says it provides his young men with a biblical cornerstone to help them ground their faith when they aren’t busy improving their baseball skills. “We have 13 different states represented,” said Kyle, a former Lee University pitcher and Servants assistant coach. “We’ve got a good diverse group of guys. You’ve got guys from Maine speaking their Northeastern, you’ve got Cali(fornia) boys doing their lingo and you’ve got Georgia boys doing their Deep South. The clubhouse is culture shock for some of these guys. There’s no doubt, though, it’s a good group of guys.” As is the case with many large groups of Christians, players are at different places in their faith walk. That’s fine with Greg and Kyle as long as team members understand the ultimate goal revolves around the cross and crown emblazoned on the front of the team’s caps. “With baseball players you have a different crowd, baseball has its own culture,” Kyle said. “With recruiting and there not being many Christian summer teams, the players know right there what our main objective is, and that’s to glorify God and serve Jesus Christ. They know that we’re different and have different expectations. We’re not going to make you go door-to-door. We’re not going to make you go to the opposing team and say something you’re not comfortable with. All we ask for is that you’re respectful and you’re open to listening what we have to say.” The Servants have been in the Great Lakes League since 2003 and previously played in Indianapolis. Greg had worked to get local host families to care for the players, but last year when families were hard to come by, the quickly set up a dormitory in a local Boys and Girls Club. That experience led to the refurbishing of the former UAW hall for this season. “For these guys right now, baseball is their life,” Greg said. “It’s their passion. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to improve to try and make it in baseball. My objective is to try to teach these guys that there is more to life. Jesus just shows up through our Bible study and through our experiences.” He joked that sometimes friends will mention he looks too stressed at times, to which he responds, “How would you like it if you had 28 college guys under your supervision?” Kidding aside, Greg feels the Holy Spirit has flowed freely though the program and kept him and the team energized. “I like baseball, but I couldn’t do this if it was just baseball,” he said. “Baseball to me is a microcosm of life. There are so many teaching opportunities we have. There’s going to be injuries, there’s going to be success, there’s going to be tension between players; life issues are alive. What’s really amazing is that usually what we’re teaching, He is orchestrating events to put an exclamation point on the teaching. I just feel so blessed by that. That’s the way you learn.” For example, he described when he felt God was leading them to divert off for a while to study the Gospel of James. The study of trials in that book played in perfectly to an unexpected post-game encounter. “All of a sudden a guy walked over from the other team and it was a player who had played for us before,” Greg recalled. “He was a very courageous young man. He had been having cancer treatments and kept playing. We invited him into the dugout and were reading in James about how God will be with us through our various trials. He shared with our team what he going through, crying and talking about how God had been faithful to him. That’s just one example of many. It opens these guys’ eyes that God is relevant and working in their lives.” That’s a message that resonates with Riley Diaz. Diaz is a 21-year-old junior at Salve Regina University, a Division III school in Newport, R.I. The Miami native plays primarily first base and right field and is in his second year with the Servants. From a baseball perspective, he acknowledged the opportunity to get seen regularly by professional scouts is very attractive. “You’ve got to love the game to do this,” he said. “You’re a long way from home and you have friends who are saying, ‘Hey just come hang out for the summer.’ You have to have your priorities straight to be able to play here. If you ask anybody here, it’s their dream to get drafted and play professional baseball as long as they can. You always want to get paid for what you love to do. We always have at least one scout at every game. It’s an incentive to play well, too. The more games you win, the more likely you are to get more attention.” From faith and service perspectives it has enriched his beliefs to a point where a return to the team was a necessity. “It’s helped me appreciate the Bible more and appreciate what people do for their community,” Diaz said. “Staying last year at the Boys and Girls Club, we met some neat kids from some tough situations. It’s really cool to meet the kids when you can and try and give back to the community where we stay.” Links: Anderson Servants home page: http://www.servantsbaseball.org/ Anderson Servants on Twitter: http://twitter.com/GLSCL_Servants Great Lakes Collegiate Summer League: http://www.greatlakesleague.org/ Salve Regina University baseball: http://www.salve.edu/athletics/teams/baseball/

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