I was never and will never be the smartest guy in the room. I got a 13 on my ACT. Truth be told, I didn’t know or care the importance of this test I had to take. I didn’t visit colleges, take a big tour or get recruited for a sport. My parents weren’t even 100% sure I would go to college. Classes and tests were never quite my thing. I applied to Mount Vernon Nazarene College (now University) because my sister went there. I attended MVNC (now U) because they accepted me. No big drama. No cool story. 13 on the ACT and an acceptance letter.
When I walked that campus, I never imagined one day I’d return as the father of a student there. Nope. Not once. On September 28th, 2018 that all changed.
And with one tweet, the course of the next four year is decided. The road ahead is unknown but the starting point is not. All of the games, trips, hotels, teammates, practices, wins and losses have led to this one decision.
And it didn’t come lightly.
We began this summer with a quick change of plans on what team “FiveO” would play for. Originally scheduled to roll with his team of friends from the year before, an unexpected phone call and invitation suddenly placed him on the big stage with another team in the same organization. 6 of his new teammates were already committed to Division I colleges to play baseball. Several others would begin being courted our very first weekend of games. We were in uncharted waters and waiting for his number to be called too.
But the calls didn’t come immediately.
Throughout the summer, a few Universities would be in touch. They would watch him pitch. One would go silent and another one would emerge. It became a roller coaster of “what if” and “what about” different locations, mascots and logos. Nothing ever too serious. No baseball offers. Throughout the process, as is his nature, “Five-O” stayed humble and quiet (he gets that from his mama).
Getting passed by can feel like a great injury. But it’s not. It’s people like us who can be secretly incredible and get the most done. That’s the way Jesus’ reverse economy works. God loves the humble ones, and the humble ones often don’t make it as first-round draft picks for the jobs with big titles or positions. But they always seem to be the first-round picks for God when He’s looking for someone to use in a big way.
-Bob Goff (Love Does)
Then one day we heard that MVNU had been at one of his teams games and asked when he was scheduled to pitch. The life of a “Pitcher Only” means you show up for your game and hang around for others if you feel like it. We weren’t there that day so we missed them. Then at another one of his starts, a familiar Coach from my days at “The Naz” walked by. Interestingly enough, there was another competing University there that day too. That was the one we thought was beginning to really become an option. After the game Coach Veale from MVNU said “we’ll have to have you up sometime this Fall.”
The summer continued on with other texts from coaches, showcases and scouts. When it all came to a close our next course of action was to begin “official visits.” By now our list had been trimmed down to those that continued to show an active interest. We set the dates and hit the road. Just mom, dad and “the boy.” Like back when he was the only child 17 years ago. We enjoyed the visits. Never too high, never too low. I compared it to buying a home. Did it have everything you were looking for? How was the location? Is this where you want to put down roots? We started a list to rank a 20 or so different things about each one.
I’ve never purchased a wedding dress (that would be awkward) but I’ve heard you often purchase the first one you find. I also know that, like purchasing a home, when you see “the one” you will know. Our first official visit was to none other than that same University that accepted me and my 13 ACT. The campus that built me. I learned so much more than what they taught in the classroom. I made forever brothers and friends. Those friends became the guys in my wedding and I in theirs. I also lost two of those friends to an auto accident our senior year. So many memories on a visit that should have been all about “Five-O.” After the visit we went to Chipotle. It was odd. We didn’t know if we should be excited, upset, happy or frustrated. We just knew that there was a fit. I was surprised just how perfect the fit might actually be.
The visits continued but all roads appeared to lead to MVNU. While we enjoyed each campus, there was always a “but.” Then it happened, we found another University that we all loved. It was like that house you find that has it all but you know the bank will never approve a loan that high. You try to convince yourself you’ll never eat another meal and sell whatever you have but deep down you too worry about how you’ll cover the costs. You ignore these thoughts and even begin to talk as if you’ve found the one. After a prospect day, we even went to the bookstore to buy some gear since we thought we would some how “figure out how to pay for this place.” I commented “this is the first of many dollars we’ll spend here.” Now we just had to wait and see what the Government thinks we could afford (FAFSA form).
Before we could officially make any announcements, there was one more visit on the calendar. “FiveO” was invited to attend a prospect day at MVNU on our original visit. We loaded the car to go back where it all started (for me and for him). As we drove off I said “this is where the road ends. One last trip.” I don’t think we ever knew how the rest of that day would unfold. He did what he does on the mound. He pitched first and did well. From the dugout he sent me a text a few minutes later…..
“We can probably go now.”
I thought about it because I didn’t properly dress for the autumn weather but then said “we paid for it, we might as well stay for lunch.” Once the other players had finished their workout we all gathered and headed towards the familiar cafeteria I spent so many days in. We got our meals and one of the players waved us over to a table where several players were already eating. What happened the next 45 minutes was like going back in time to the days when I sat in that cafeteria laughing, eating and cutting up with all of my friends. I watched as he was more at home than I had seen him on any visit. He laughed. He talked (which is a lot if you know him well).
Something was changing.
After a group presentation from the coach, we decided to go by his office. This was just as a courtesy and follow-up. Each recruiting trip was an opportunity to teach about how to handle yourself as an adult. On the way, we talked through what his approach with the coach should be. This wasn’t a scheduled meeting. Remember, we nearly left a few hours earlier. It was just a chance to shake a hand, thank them for their time and give an update on our plans (we were going to wait on the FAFSA). That’s when the coach said the words….
“We would like to offer you a scholarship to come play baseball at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.”
What happened after that is still a bit of a blur. We didn’t go in expecting anything more than a handshake and an update on our visits. We were just offered a generous scholarship that completely changed the narrative. After leaving his office, all I could do was pat my son on the back and say “Congratulations, you’ve earned it!” On the way home we talked through a few things but I didn’t want to begin to fill his head. This was his decision, not mine. This next 4 years will be where he decides to spend them. All I could tell him that this might be the first of a lifetime of adult decisions he needs to make. Gather your data. Pray. Think about scenarios. Pray some more. Make your decision and never look back.
I began this post with a brief history of how I landed at MVNU. There are enough stories of my time there to fill many, many more blog posts. This isn’t about me though. Today is about “Five-O.” Today is about years of uniforms, tryouts, workouts, dugouts, groundouts and strikeouts. Today is about wins, losses, giving up a bunch of runs and no-hitters. He’s done it all. All of the work. All of the sweat. I just got to be his biggest fan along the way.
This decision was hard. There are 3 other coaches that wanted him as a part of their team. They saw value in him. One in particular, is a well known leader of men. He is respected between the lines, outside the lines and in our home. He is also the coach at that other University that we all loved, making it even tougher to decide. In the end, every door was open at MVNU. It became too obvious to deny. This is where God was leading him all along.
What began in that coaches office a few months ago came full circle today. The same University that built me, shaped me and taught me so much will now do the same for him. In August he will head to his new home for the next 4 years. He will earn a degree (if all goes well, a Masters in 4 years) and make lifelong friends. He’ll put on the uniform and compete like he always has.
And I’ll always be his biggest fan.