Paul Damon Thames received the 1998 ABCA National Player of the Year Award and smacked 60 career doubles before he became a ninth round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999. Thames also was a two-time All-American shortstop who collected a whopping 187 RBI’s in two seasons with the Owls while maintaining a school record .399 career batting average.
Jacob Fulbright Baker was an integral member of the 1997 Owls team that made Rice’s first ever trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. As the college roommate and now brother-in-law of Owls legend Lance Berkman, Baker was a career .346 hitter with an equally impressive 162 career RBI’s over three seasons.
Joe Hornberger is a 2002 graduate of Rice who, through hard work and determination, earned his distinction as a student-athlete. Hornberger was a walk-on to the Rice football team before earning a scholarship and varsity standing as a wide receiver in 2001. He later spent time as a graduate assistant for the Owls as well as a tight ends coach upon his return to South Main while remaining faithful to his commitments to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Chapter on campus.
Now, many years later, they are back on campus for another reason and, in Joe’s case, for two reasons. Joe currently serves as the Rice University FCA Campus Director. He also joins Damon and Jake as the leaders of the Rice Baseball Bible Study, held once a week in an effort to help shape the lives of the young men on the baseball team and offer advice and words of encouragement that may get them through some of the struggles that college and life in general bring.
And when I say, “the young men on the baseball team,” I am also including myself. All three of these leaders are incredible men of faith who I am blessed to have had as mentors in my own life since the start of my freshman year. They are able to relate to the lives of the student-athletes on campus and students in general because they were once in their position. They will tell you that all of the accolades and awards they have attained at Rice and even after Rice, are miniscule in comparison to what they have had for some time now — an identity and passion for Christ with a desire to share that passion with others. Written on Joe’s FCA bio online, the write-up states: “Perhaps his greatest joy comes in seeing student-athletes become the men and women that God desires them to be.”
So how does this relate to the game of baseball? Well, first and foremost, the game itself is designed to be enjoyable and is meant to be fun. But in many instances, for players, baseball can be a blast when things are going well and very disheartening when things are not. I look at the injuries on this team for guys who were having or were anticipated to have excellent seasons. Josh Pettitte, Jackson Parthasarathy and, more recently, Charlie Warren, are teammates that I care for, and should care for much more so than tracking wins and losses. These are the lessons that remain important long after baseball comes to an end.
Secondly, I look at the way each player attacks the game. One of the things Baker always reiterates is that a kind heart and a philanthropic spirit does not make you “soft” or unable to compete. But rather, the ability to play a game like baseball for a purpose greater than yourself, such as your God, your family or your teammates adds that extra ounce of drive that can give you the edge over your opponents.
And ultimately, there are life lessons to be learned that far surpass the diamond. Baseball offers times where you can take pride in overcoming obstacles as a team as well as in accepting hardship. Baseball and sports in general are designed to allow opportunities to pick somebody else up when they are down after a rough slump or injury and become a light by valuing others above yourself. There is the chance to show respect to your superiors and coaches while mentoring those below you, like incoming freshman struggling to adapt to the college environment. All in all, I am writing all of these points because I recognize that there is much room for improvement in my own life in every single one of these aspects, and there is no better time to start than now.
The overarching message here is that one of these days, I will graduate from Rice and my time around the game of baseball and in this setting will be over. If my identity was made up simply of being a four-year student manager for the team, traveling, eating team dinners and watching baseball, then I missed out on an opportunity to make a much greater impact on those around me. So whether you are motivated by your faith, your friends, your personal drive to succeed or any other reason, don’t be afraid to let that be known. It may lead you to places you never thought imaginable.