Keeping Baseball in Its Place
SPORTS were always a big part of life in our family when I was growing up in Oregon. Baseball, football, track, and wrestling were some of the sports I engaged in during my school years.
In my early teens I became more interested in baseball when my father became a baseball coach. As my brother and I got older, my father would take us to see games in the higher baseball leagues. This helped to develop in me a great interest in that sport.
Interest in Umpiring Develops
Then, when I was just 15 years old, an opportunity arose that began my development in a career that I thought would always take first place in my life. Because of my interest in baseball and my knowledge of it, I was asked to umpire baseball games between teams made up of younger players. I was offered money to umpire those games. While I was happy to do the umpiring, at first I declined to accept payment because that would make me lose my amateur standing in sports. If that happened, then I could no longer compete in sports in school.
However, in time, I came to realize that this was what I really wanted to do with my life, and so I began to umpire baseball games on the semiprofessional level, accepting payment. I would umpire as many as 15 games a week during summer, starting early in the morning on weekends and working 3 or 4 games a day, plus doubleheaders on weekdays.
Because of my love of sports, I realized that I could pursue a sports career on a professional basis as a baseball umpire. Since that is what I really wanted to do as my life’s work, I left college after having attended three years and enrolled in a major-league umpiring school in Florida.
When I graduated from the school in 1957, I was just 21 years old. At that time I was one of the youngest to start umpiring professionally, although today that would not be considered all that young to start. Then I accepted a contract with the Georgia-Florida Baseball League and thus began my professional baseball umpiring career.
Another Need to Consider
That first year was quite a learning experience, and I really enjoyed my work. However, as time passed I also gradually came to appreciate that there must be more to life than just working, no matter how much I enjoyed the work I was doing. There must be a spiritual side to life, too, I felt.
I thought that the way to care for my spiritual need was just to attend a religious service on Sundays when my baseball schedule would allow. It didn’t make any difference to me which church I went to, but I will have to say that some people in the churches I attended made me feel unwelcome because I was a Northerner.
After the first season was over, I returned to Oregon to await the next one. It was while I was there that I came in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses and had some Bible studies with them. The more I studied, the more appealing I found the Bible’s truths, especially its promise of a new system of righteousness that would shortly replace this decaying, unsatisfying old world.
I appreciated what I was learning, although I realized that I needed to know much more. Yet, what I did know about the Bible’s hope for the future, I was able to share with fellow bus passengers when I went South to attend another umpires’ school as an instructor. That was in South Carolina in January 1958.
Later, during spring training in Georgia, I made arrangements to get baptized. That was about six months after coming in contact with the Witnesses. And at the end of spring training, I was baptized at an assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Florida. That symbolized my dedication to do God’s will henceforth.
During the 1958 baseball season, my umpiring meant that I would be doing much traveling from city to city. As often as was possible, I contacted Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city I was in and, if time allowed, attended the meetings at the local Kingdom Hall. I also made arrangements to go out in the preaching work along with other Witnesses.
A Problem That I Had to Solve
However, as the months passed, I saw a problem arising that needed to be solved. I knew that meeting with other Christians is not just something that it would be nice to do. God’s Word commands at Hebrews 10:24, 25: “Let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.”
Yes, the day of God’s judgment against this corrupt world is drawing near. Thus, the command ‘not to forsake assembling together’ with other fellow Christians is an urgent one. But how could I do that when the meetings often were at the time when I was required to umpire a baseball game? This struggle with my conscience continued all during the season.
When the season ended, I returned home again. Now I was able to engage in all the Christian activities that I knew I should. Also, I informed my parents that I was now one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were not happy about that, but they finally accepted it. They realized that it was becoming the most important thing in my life, yes, even more important than baseball.
During the next year, the 1959 season, I moved up to a higher league, the Northwest Baseball League. I arranged my schedule to attend more meetings and to share more in the preaching activity. My work took me to a different league city every few days, and when I arrived, I arranged to be in the preaching work with the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In this way, I had the privilege of being with many older, mature Christians. I learned a lot from them, and they were a great encouragement to me.
Still, I could not really concentrate on the spiritual part of my life. My constant traveling to baseball games was bound to interfere with my Christian activities, and it did. So I knew that as long as I had to travel so much, it would be very difficult for me to get established in a congregation and make more of a contribution to the preaching work.
Wanting to Do More
After the 1959 season, I decided to do more in the Christian ministry, and for two months I engaged in it full-time. Being young and single, I also began to wonder about the possibility of applying to serve at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York. When I discussed this with an experienced Witness, I felt encouraged to apply.
Thus, in December I decided to turn in my application for full-time service at Bethel, as the world headquarters in New York is called. But right at that time, I received a new baseball contract! The league president promised me advancement to a higher league, the Pacific Coast League, if I would stay in baseball one more year. That was the kind of advancement I had wanted so much when I first started to umpire games.
What would I do? There was no doubt in my mind. I thanked the league president but walked out of professional baseball. There was much more to life than ball games. This was a critical time in world history, and there was something much more important to do with my life. Thus, early in 1960, my application to work at the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses was accepted, and I went there to take up my new way of life.
While I did enjoy being a part of baseball, I’ll have to admit that there were aspects of it that were not pleasant. For example, there were times when it got very tense, such as when players and managers—and fans—disagreed with some of my decisions. They let me know about it in no uncertain terms! Too, on more than one occasion, I had to receive medical attention for incidents on the ball field. Such aspects of the game I surely don’t miss.
Have I ever had regrets that I gave up an umpiring career for the Christian ministry? Not at all. In fact, an incident that took place in 1963 reinforced my decision. In New York City, there is, of course, the famous Yankee Stadium, where the New York Yankee baseball team plays. While umpiring, it had been my dream to be in the big leagues some day and umpire a game at that stadium!
Indeed, in the summer of 1963, I went to Yankee Stadium—but not to umpire a baseball game! It was, instead, to attend a large international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses that was being held there. It was thrilling for me to be at the stadium along with tens of thousands of God’s servants. In fact, I even participated in a part on the program, and the platform where I stood was not far from home plate! I thought to myself: ‘How much better to be here on the Yankee Stadium ball field this way than to be umpiring a ball game!’ I’ll admit that this was a very satisfying occasion for me.
During my stay at Bethel, I met my wife, Joanne. She was in a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, engaged in the full-time ministry. Thus, in 1964, after four years of service at Bethel, I left to get married. For a number of years, my wife and I kept up the full-time ministry. During those interesting years, we were privileged to assist congregations in Vermont as well as in Wyoming. And how strengthening it has been to have a wife who shares the same interests that I do.
However, in 1969 we had to return to Oregon to care for my father who was seriously ill. And the next year, our daughter Elise was born. Although I have to do more secular work now to support my family, we have continued to serve our Creator regularly in the ministry and are also training our daughter to respect his laws and purposes. Too, from time to time I have the opportunity to serve in various other capacities in the congregation.
In 1984 I even had the privilege of returning to Bethel in New York for two weeks. This was as one of many volunteer workers, often family men with trades, who come in temporarily to assist with the large construction projects in progress there. My wife gladly cooperated and accepted my absence. It was a privilege to have a share in working on the expanding factory, office, and housing facilities at Bethel. The huge complex with over 2,500 volunteers is used to support the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses all over the world and to direct the huge expansion now taking place among them. Those two weeks were very gratifying to me.
No, I have never regretted giving up my career in baseball—not for a minute! While I still enjoy baseball, I keep it in its place. I am more convinced than ever that I made the right decision and that there is something far more important in life than sports. And it is this: serving my Creator now, with the hope of serving him forever in his new system of righteousness soon to come.—As told by Richard DeChaine.
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Not all the players agreed with my umpiring calls!
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Learning about the Bible with my wife Joanne and daughter Elise