Faith and Baseball

In 12 years of baseball camp, today was perhaps the most memorable day that I can recall. Simply put, Thursday was rough on our team and I was a bit concerned how they would bounce back today as the camp had a slate of six games.

After dropping their first game, they managed to string together five-straight wins while gaining plenty of confidence, supporting their teammates and overcoming adversity. We lost two of our campers due to injury today and the team came together and found a way to win. The coolest part was that I was able to play defense with them – granted it was right field and I had to dial it back. It was a great experience to be able to share my passion for the game of baseball with the campers by playing alongside them.

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However, the most important moment today came during our team time session where I was able to share my testimony which focuses on my Dad’s stroke. If you haven’t heard the story, let me know and I’ll gladly share it with you. Long story short – I told the campers that if my Dad had not suffered a stroke in 2003, I likely wouldn’t have been speaking with them in Germany and I likely would have never met them. His stoke changed his life, my life, my mom’s life, my sister’s life and the lives of our friends and family.

God has a plan for all of our lives and we have to trust in him through faith. Using the story of my Dad, the campers were very attentive and even asked several follow-up questions about God. One of my favorite memories growing up was playing catch with my Dad in our front lawn. To share his story at baseball camp while explaining God’s Grace, that was a tremendous feeling and I hope that a foundation was planted for my team so that they may ask more questions – not just about my Dad – but of God’s love for us.

Evening Service + Q&A

Tonight during our evening service we celebrated the 12-year partnership between FBCTW and the church in Lübbecke. The relationships that we have developed during the last dozen years have created what we have coined a baseball family that is focused on God.

While The Woodlands and Lübbecke have enjoyed a rich relationship throughout the years, we partnered with a church based in Kyle, Texas, during camp this week. Jonathan Leftwich is the senior pastor at Fellowship Church at Plum Creek and I sat down with him this evening to discuss his impressions of baseball camp and what his takeaways will be as Plum Creek begins to evaluate a prospective partnership with a Germany church. Click the SoundCloud link below to listen.

What If I Stumble?

As it turns out, the Big Red Machine can be stopped – temporarily.

After beginning the camp with a perfect 4-0 record, our team dropped their two games today, but I think it was for the best. Although we stumbled, we were able to see some things that we could improve upon and I feel that the team became more open and supportive of one another – and more receptive during team time sessions.

My campers wanted to see me take a few swings in the batting cage this afternoon — it felt great.

When it comes to the team stumbling, the first thing I was reminded of was the DC Talk song “What if I stumble,” which you can listen to here. To me, that song has a direct connection with our team time discussion today that focused on Romans 5:8-9. The song centers upon Christians and their constant struggle with missing the mark and falling short in life. Romans tells us that Christ died for the ungodly – which is all of us. It’s not based on how loveable we are, but God’s supreme love for us. Essentially, Christ paid our debt and reconciled our sin because God has unconditional love for us.

As mentioned earlier this week, baseball camp is more than just winning and losing – and I hope that our team was able to see that today through our games as well as team time and our discussions.

Q&A with Thomas Albrecht

Continuing with our interview series today, I spoke with Thomas Albrecht who plays an instrumental role in organizing the annual camp in Germany. Find out what he has to say about Baseball Camp in Lübbecke.


Reds move to 4-0; Cheer Camp is on Fire

First off, thanks to everyone for reading these posts and sending me emails or texts – it means a lot and is quite encouraging.

Cheer Camp in Germany

With rain in the forecast this morning, we dodged a bit of a bullet and had sunshine all day with temperatures in the mid-80s – perfect baseball weather! For those of you keeping track, the Reds moved to a perfect 4-0 on the season and outscored their opponents 13-3 with all three proving to be unearned. The kids are having a great time and are quite responsive to our discussions both on and off of the field. Tonight we’ll meet up at the church for an evening service with great music and games.

Here’s a quick video from the afternoon of the team running out to their positions.

Cheer Camp

As mentioned yesterday, Cheer Camp has become quite popular here in Lübbecke and has been the highlight of the week for many of our campers. I had the chance to speak with our cheer coordinator, Tammy Washburn, following today’s camp. Take a listen as she discusses some of the highlights of the week and how the camp has grown here in Germany.

That’s all for now! As they say in Germany, tschüss!

The Big Red Machine

Today marked the first official day of baseball camp in Lübbecke and it was quite the success. With nearly perfect temperatures in the mid-70s, more than 200 campers showed up this morning – about 120 for baseball and 80 for our cheer camp.

We opened this morning with a meeting between the coaches, translators and volunteers and I was tasked with leading our devotional of the day which covered Ephesians 2:8-10 – Grace through Faith. I stressed that baseball camp is more than a game and that this week is not about winning or losing. Rather, our primary focus here is to use baseball as the tool to glorify God by making disciples who transform the world.

My team, the Reds, is comprised of campers ranging between 15 and 18 and you can meet them by watching the below video. At work, one of our core values is One Team and the Reds are the perfect example of what that means. The entire group is highly supportive and many are camp four-year camp veterans.

Transitioning from a station leader to a coach has been a great experience and allows us to develop one-on-one relationships with our core group of campers while being intentional about discipleship. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the rest of the week has in store.

Q&A with Darryl Egley

While trying to upload a video interview yesterday, I realized that it would be a difficult task with a spotty internet connection. With that being said, I really liked the Q&A format that we had and wanted to continue that as the week moved along. However, today our audio is actually audible. Please listen below as I spoke with Darryl Egley about his experience at the baseball camp and what his outlook is for the remainder of the week.

As always, please leave comments and/or feedback below.

Baseball Camp Preview with Krischaan Albrecht

UPDATE: While waiting for the video to load to YouTube, you can listen to the audio on SoundCloud or you can listen to it below!

Hey, everyone. Thanks for following along as I post updates from baseball camp. I wanted to let you all know that I recorded a video interview with Krischaan Albrecht on my GoPro this evening. The audio is a bit faint but it’s a good outlook on what the camp has meant for the community her in Lübbecke. With that being said — hold tight. The video is taking quiet a while to upload. I’m hoping to have a compressed file loaded shortly. Stay tuned.

Germany Bound

Editor’s Note: After 595 days, I know everyone has eagerly awaited my latest post. Well, here it is!

It’s that time of year again – baseball camp in Germany. For the past 13 years, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Lübbecke, Germany, for a sports-based mission trip that uses baseball as the tool to glorify God by making disciples who transform the world.

From July 20-25 we will host our annual camp in Lübbecke for approximately 120 kids that range from ages 8 to 18. For the first time, I will be transitioning from an instructor that teaches the fundamentals of the game, to a coach, which is tasked with working one-on-one with a team of ~12 campers while building relationships with them on and off of the field.1930619_576198446623_2958_n

I’m thoroughly excited to see what God has in store for us during the baseball camp and cannot wait to see how the week pans out. Throughout the camp I will be posting updates on this website as well as photos on my Instagram page.

For those asking how you can help, I’d recommend prayer that we can reach the campers that aren’t familiar with Ephesians 2:8.

Growth Group

As many of you know, I’ve been involved with a Growth Group at GBC Houston. Growth Groups cover some of the most foundational truths and ministry skills needed to participate in God’s Kingdom work. In 2014, I was a member of a group, and in 2015 I have served as a co-lead for a great group here in Houston.

I feel that the last 1.5 years have helped to prepare me for my new role as a coach for our camp.

Podcast

And one last plug before we call it a night. Late last month, I had an opportunity to record a podcast with Rachel Duke that covers John 5. If you are looking for something to listen to while you work, I’d recommend giving it a listen by clicking on this link.

HOLD THAT TIGER: Memphis U’s Coach Builds With H-Town Ties

As mentioned in prior posts, I’ve dialed back signifigantly in my sports writing career due to work obligations. However, below is my latest feature for VYPE Magazine profiling Memphis head coach Josh Pastner. He was a phenomenal interview and is doing great things at Memphis.

HOLD THAT TIGER: Memphis U’s Coach Builds With H-Town Ties
by Austin Staton

Basketball is a way of life for the University of Memphis head coach Josh Pastner. At the age of 36, the Kingwood, Texas-native has spent time under the tutelage of perhaps the greatest minds in the game of basketball and has quickly become one of the elite young coaches at the collegiate level.

Josh Pastner

Josh Pastner grew up in Kingwood, Texas, and currently is the head basketball coach at the University of Memphis.

For Pastner, he has spent the last 18 seasons at the NCAA Division I level as a player, staff member, assistant coach and head coach while guiding teams to 12 conference championships during the span.

“I loved the game of basketball growing up and I recognized that my playing days would eventually come to an end,” says Pastner, who has posted a 106-34 record as the Memphis coach. “I knew the adrenaline rush of coaching and I really focused all of my energy towards that at a young age and was very fortunate to be at the University of Arizona and then at Memphis before becoming the school’s head coach.”

While learning the intricacies of the game under the likes of Lute Olson, John Calipari and Kingwood’s Royce Huseman, Pastner says that much of the credit to his coaching success came from his days as a coach for the Houston Hoops AAU program.

“Without that experience as an AAU coach, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn,” says Pastner, who has coached nearly 25 NBA Draft selections as an NCAA head or assistant coach and AAU head coach. “I was recruiting, making travel plans and managing personalities so the program is something that has helped shape me today.”

But for Pastner, his connection to Houston Hoops runs much deeper than the coaching experience – his father Hal founded the program while he was in grade school.

“It just evolved and it gave us a great connection and an opportunity to spend time together in different areas,” he says. “I’ve cherished that time and my father is my best friend. I’m able to bounce things off of him and he is able to give me a good perspective on things with both the game of basketball and life.”

As a young coach coming off back-to-back regular season conference championships and three-straight berths to the NCAA tournament, Pastner focuses his efforts on creating positive energy and a positive atmosphere for his players while setting the standard for a high-level of excellence.

The 2013-14 edition of his Memphis Tigers are one the three favorites in the newly-formed American Athletic Conference and boast a preseason Top 15 ranking in the Associated Press basketball poll.

Despite the success and expectations that Pastner has experienced, he’s still humble to his beginnings and recognizes his past when looking towards his future.

“Not in one second in my wildest dreams did I talk about being the head coach at Memphis … and it happened at 31 years of age,” he says. “When I got the job, I felt that my experiences coaching AAU basketball prepared me to be the head coach.

“That experience is because of Houston basketball. There are so many great coaches on the high school and AAU level and there are so many great players in Houston – it’s a hotbed and one of the great basketball cities in all of the United States of America.”

Breaking barriers, one obstacle at a time

Since beginning work at BP, I’ve been able to keep writing with VYPE Magazine on occasion. In the September issue of VYPE, I profiled a unique student-athlete from Cy-Creek. Payton Brown, a senior libero who is profoundly deaf. Her story is remarkable and she has quickly become my favorite student-athlete to profile. Read it below:

Breaking barriers, one obstacle at a time
by Austin Staton

Obstacles in life can either make or break an individual.

For Cy-Creek senior Payton Brown, she doesn’t see obstacles; she sees walls that are meant to be crashed through.

As a 5-foot-3 libero, Payton is just like any other student-athlete — she is a fierce competitor and brings an abundance of energy and excitement to the floor during matches. She is an honor roll student, a member of the National Honor Society and is an active member of Cy-Fair Christian Church.

But her story is atypical — she is profoundly deaf.

A LIFE-CHANGING MOMENT

Born to Chuck and Kristen Brown on Nov. 13, 1995, Payton was hospitalized just 10 days into her young life with a 101 degree fever that required immediate medical attention.

During a three-day stay in the hospital, Payton was given a spinal tap out of fear that she had contracted bacterial meningitis. One of the side effects was that the treatment involved antibiotics that were ototoxic and it caused damage to the hair cells inside Payton’s cochlea — the auditory portion of the inner ear — which would render her profoundly deaf.

 “I was numb,” recalls Payton’s father, Chuck, when recounting her diagnosis. “It was shocking because everything was fine when she went into the hospital, but she came out deaf.”

After consulting with The Center for Hearing and Speech (CHS), when Payton was still an infant, her parents began to explore the possibilities of teaching Payton verbal communication.

“We were told by the CHS that the hardest thing that Payton will have to do in her life is learn to speak,” says Kristen, who left her position as an advertising account manager for the Houston Chronicle in order to work with Payton as a defacto speech therapist. “I thought if that was a possibility, we’ll try it.”

At the age of 30 months and following in-depth research, it was decided that Payton would undergo life-changing surgery to implant an electronic device that would provide a sense of sound through a cochlear implant.

Following the surgery, Payton underwent daily speech therapy with a target to begin reading prior to Kindergarten — a goal in which she met without hesitation.

“Every accomplishment in her life, even the smallest thing, is so different from other children,” Kristen explains. “In Kindergarten they begin learning 35 sight words that they are required to know by Christmas — Payton said them by the first week of school. To me, when she did that, I knew that things were going to be ok.”

THE CHALLENGES

“It was definitely a challenge growing up,” says Payton. “People would make fun of me and tell me that I couldn’t hear. Some people can still be rude about my situation but I just look past it because it doesn’t matter. I definitely use that to fuel my motivation because I want to prove that deaf people can do the same things that hearing people can do.”

For Payton, her current circumstances have been defined by her courage when faced with difficult situations. In setting out to prove people wrong about the stereotypes contrived with the deaf culture, Payton began to compete competitively in national club volleyball in 2007, alongside her school program at Northland Christian.

Cy-Creek senior Payton Brown

Cy-Creek senior Payton Brown

After undergoing surgery to receive a second cochlear implant for her other ear immediately before her freshman year, Payton elected to transfer to Cy-Creek for her sophomore season — a better fit for her both academically and athletically.

“We were very lucky she transferred,” says Tami Combs, third-year volleyball head coach at Cy-Creek. “Initially it was a challenge because we were both trying to get a feel for each other and her teammates. As the the team has matured, she’s probably communicating with the team more so than anybody on that court and her leadership is outstanding.”

As a three-year varsity standout at both libero and defensive specialist, Payton has been tabbed Cy-Creek defensive MVP, a second team all-District performer, and has ranked as the district leader in digs per game and among the leaders in total digs per season. On the club front, she has been named the most valuable defensive player several times, including the last two years for her Houston Skyline Juniors team while garnering interests from several collegiate volleyball programs.  Payton knows that she will be playing volleyball in college and is looking forward to that challenge.

DONNING THE RED, WHITE AND BLUE

After being scouted at a regional qualifier for the Junior National Championships this past May, Payton was given the opportunity of a lifetime to represent the United States in the 2013 Deaflympics.

Originally founded as the International Silent Games in 1924, the 2013 Deaflympics featured 20 events and were held in Sofia, Bulgaria, in which Payton was the youngest representative on the US volleyball team.

“My first thought was that this couldn’t be real,” says Payton, who had been told by some that she was too young to compete. “I immediately called my dad to come over after being offered a spot on the team and we accepted right then and there.

“I’ve never felt any luckier or blessed to have this opportunity to go overseas and play international ball with some of the best deaf athletes in the world.”

Although she was overjoyed with the opportunity to play in Bulgaria, there was an adjustment period as Payton was told she couldn’t compete with her cochlear implants as the rules provide that they would create an uneven advantage.

“It was a challenge at first because I thought we would be able to wear the implants for one practice so we could get used to the Olympic ball,” she explains. “It was rough the first few times we played, but we got better.”

As the squads’ libero, Payton typically relies on the sounds of the game as well as her vision to determine what movements she should take on the court. During the Deaflympics she was forced to look at the game from a new perspective by only being able to analyze the spin and rotation of the ball.

“Not many people have that opportunity to see that higher level of play at a young age,” says Combs. “It was out of her comfort zone not being able to hear anything during competition but I think it’s an advantage because she now understands body movements and a whole new element to the game.”

Posting wins against Canada, Russia, Uzbekistan, Poland, Italy and Mexico during the Games, the United States was knocked off of the medal podium in a fierce rematch with the Russian team.

“Playing together with the team this summer made me grow as a person with the deaf culture,” says Payton, who developed lifelong friends and has now picked up sign language to enhance her communication efforts. “It doesn’t bother me anymore that I’m deaf — after my experience this summer, I just say ‘who cares?’”

MOVING FORWARD

With one final year of high school remaining before heading off to college next fall, Payton is looking forward to excelling in the classroom, enjoying the time with her friends and teammates and giving back to the community.

Payton and her Cy-Creek teammates opened play in the ultra-competitive District 17-5A on Aug. 27 where they are vying for one of four coveted playoff spots and Payton is one of the key components and senior leaders for the Cougars’ squad.

Although both academics and volleyball can consume her schedule, Payton still finds time to give back to the community by volunteering at the Star of Hope Women’s and Children’s Homeless Shelter, and Via Colori, a street art festival benefiting the Center for Hearing and Speech in Houston.

“I want to be a role model that inspires others to give back,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if I’m in a rough situation — I still need to help other people. At Via Colori, working with little children that have hearing aids or implants and just being there for them and helping them know that they’re not alone is so much fun.”

Much of Payton’s desire to give back to the community stems from her faith in God and the strong network of support that she has received over the years from her immediate family, doctor, speech therapists, teachers, teammates and her grandparents.

“If you would ask me now which would I prefer — a hearing impaired kid or a normal kid — before Payton, I would have said that I wanted a normal kid,” says Chuck. “Now, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Payton’s drive and determination in her life echoes her father’s sentiment.

“Don’t let anything stop you,” she says. “There are always obstacles in life but you have to look past them and get over them and that is how you can reach success.”

LÜBBECKE BASEBALL CAMP: THE REST OF THE WEEK

Tuesday/Thursday

Camp on Tuesday and Thursday were quite similar to Monday — station rotations followed by games in the pool play. Throughout the two days, you could tell that the kids were steadily improving their skillset, and enjoyed the friendly competition during games. As a station leader working with the older campers (ages 13-19), it’s always fun to see the returnees and the excitement that they share for the little things that we take for granted in baseball – base hits, catching fly balls, putouts, etc.

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During the evening portion of the camp on Tuesday, we hosted a Texas night – which played to nearly all of the stereotypes you hear of Texas – I’m not sure if this was a good or bad thing. Regardless, we brought the game corn hole over to Germany and it seemed to be a big success. The night featured everything from country music, two-stepping, balloons for the little Germans, and corn hole.

Wednesday

Because this was the 10th anniversary of the baseball camp in Germany, Wednesday was a bit different than usual. In years past, we’ve taken half of the day to either visit various sites or play an exhibition game against a local baseball club in the region.

This year was different.

Rather than hosting camp for the morning, Wednesday was just a full day off that we spent with the Germans and the translators who do so much to make the camp a possibility each year.  We began the morning at 11 a.m. with a brunch and tour of a local mill that played a large role in the region’s economy in the 19th century.

Following the tour, we went with our host family to a famous eis café in town before we met up with our team at the camp fields at 3 p.m. for a field day full of games, human foosball, and the new German pastime – corn hole.

The day concluded with a BBQ and reflection time on the past 10 years and perhaps what is to come with the future partnership of Synergy and EFG Lübbecke. It was fascinating to hear many of the stories from those that have either attended the camp from the start and/or had just attended for the first time.

Friday

If you were looking for two words to describe Friday: record heat. According to the local paper, Friday’s temp approached nearly 100 degrees – well above average – and was the hottest recorded temperature in Western Europe that day. Needless to say, it was the hottest day of the year.

While we’re familiar with warm temperatures in Texas, Germans aren’t – and it showed with the campers. Much of them displayed visible signs of fatigue, so it was critical that we hydrated them and kept them in shaded areas as much as possible. The day was spent entirely playing baseball as part of the pool portion of the camp, so finding proper shade proved to be difficult at times.

Following the camp in Lübbecke, I traveled to Bramsche to immediately lead/coach a follow-up camp that EFG Bramsche was leading nearly two weeks after their camp. I had been to Bramsche for two prior camps – 2010, 2011 – so it was great to see many familiar faces. The evening began with a non-traditional dinner – at a local Chinese restaurant – and the night ended up around 10 or 11 p.m. as we wrapped up the extra training session.

Saturday

Saturday marked the end of the baseball camp as it concluded with the tournament. We had great crowds on hand as many parents and members of the community came out to support the kids. We wrapped up the day by reflecting on the camp as a group and spending time with our host families and German friends.

Lübbecke Baseball Camp: Day One

Editor’s Note: We are right at midnight here in Germany so my thoughts are a bit jumbled. Please excuse the poor grammar – hopefully I’ll have the time to edit and format this later.

The first day of baseball camp in Lübbecke is in the books. Below you will find highlights of each day since we left Houston on Friday.

Friday/Saturday

After arriving at IAH, we departed for Newark at 11:01 a.m. and left the Garden State for Amsterdam just after 7 p.m.

I’ve always been a fan of window seats so that I can try and capture cool images from the plane. As we wrapped up our approach to Newark, I snapped this photo of Lower Manhattan and the Freedom Tower to the North and topped it with this photo as we were taxiing the runway prior to our departure to Amsterdam. Because our flight was not direct, I didn’t sleep much on the flight across the Atlantic. However, it allowed me to take this picture of the rising sun as we entered Irish airspace.

We arrived in Amsterdam shortly after 7:45 a.m. on Saturday and met representatives from Lübbecke at the airport where we had a bus waiting for us that would take us to Germany. Unfortunately the weather is unseasonably warm right now, and the bus didn’t have air conditioning, so it made for a long four-hour ride to Lübbecke.

However, it was great catching up with my host family—the Wache’s—when we arrived.

Sunday

We met up at EFG Lübbecke Sunday morning and followed with a lunch at a local Biergarten in which everyone in our party enjoyed Schnitzel – a German staple. After a bit of downtime, we began meeting with the translators for the camp – most of which were once campers themselves – and went over the logistics of the camp and began to sort equipment.

That evening we were informed that the field that we were going to use had suffered a slight mishap late last week. Apparently the grounds crew had fertilized the field, but failed to water the grass, which caused the field to burn. Luckily, we were able to relocate the camp to Blasheim and utilized two of their soccer fields.

We closed the night with a BBQ at the Hinnah’s household, and enjoyed great conversation with our team and Germany friends.

Monday

The camp this year is a bit smaller than normal with 75-ish campers … but we are also hosting another camp about 10 km away, so I imagine that has impacted the attendance total.

Camp began this morning with a team meeting at 8:30 a.m. and the campers began to arrive shortly thereafter. After a stretching session, the campers paired off into their teams and began rotations where they learned various offensive and defensive skills. I was one of the hitting instructors during the morning and taught them the basics before throwing BP. My gear for baseball camp.

We finished the day with a pair of six-inning games and I was the ump for the older campers. Many of the older kids have attended seven-plus camps, so it’s always nice to see familiar faces and to see many of them grow.

However, because we have so many campers that have attended over the years, it becomes difficult to recognize all of the kids, even though most of them remember the Americans. Oddly enough, I think that is one of the coolest things because I hope that it means that we’re actually making a difference in their lives.

Due to some inclement weather, we had to cut the games short which allowed the coaches to build stronger relationships and learn more about the kids on their team.

We closed the night back at EFG Lübbecke with some skits, worship, games and a great message delivered by a German speaker.

For a photo montage of day one of the camp, I’d recommend checking out this photo gallery that was put together by Krischaan Albrecht.

Tuesday is Texas night here in Germany and I have two words: Texas Forever.