AIA Alaska Moves to Chugiak-Eagle River

CHUGIAK-EAGLE RIVER, AK – There’s a new wind blowin’ through the Alaska Baseball League. The name and logo for the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks — formerly known as the AIA Fire — were unveiled at a meeting of the team’s new booster club Thursday night at the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center.

 

 

 

 

“I think we’re going to go places,” said Lee Jordan, who was elected booster club president at the meeting. “Go Chinooks!”

Formerly based in Fairbanks, the Athletes in Action team made the decision to move to Loretta French Park in Peters Creek last summer. At the time, team officials said having the team closer to the four other Southcentral-based ABL squads (two in Anchorage, one in Palmer and one in Kenai) made more sense from a travel cost perspective.

During Thursday’s meeting, Jordan — with the help of Bear Paw princess Maggie Wallace — unveiled its new logo, a tough-looking king salmon getting ready to toss a baseball.

Jordan said the Chinook name was chosen for several reasons, including the notorious wintertime Chinook winds that blow through the area, the well-known Chinook helicopters used by the U.S. military and — of course — the state’s largest and most sought-after salmon.

In addition to electing Jordan as club president, the enthusiastic group of boosters who turned out for Thursday’s meeting also elected Rep. Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak/Mat-Su) as vice president, Darrell Breese as secretary and Ted Carlson as treasurer. Although the Ohio-based Athletes in Action team will foot the bill for some costs (such as travel to Alaska and paying coaches) Jordan said the club will need to raise about $50,000 to take care of things like uniforms, travel and equipment. The booster club will also be responsible for securing host families for the players, promoting the team and selling any concessions.

“It’s all volunteer,” Jordan said.

 

From Matt Tunseth of the Chugiak-Eagle River Star. (Read Here)

Brown shares about his summer with AIA Baseball

 

MOUNT VERNON, OH – The past two months have been an amazing journey that has been such a powerful experience for me in my life. Just one week after our season ended at MVNU in pool play at the NCCAA national tournament, I set out on May 28th from my home in Westerville, Ohio for a six-hour car drive to upstate New York to a small town called Alfred. Feelings of apprehension and nerves were hitting me hard with each mile. This was going to be the longest I had been away from home by myself in my entire life. I was going to be staying with a host family that I had never met, and I was going to be playing in a highly competitive collegiate league with players from all over the United States. I was excited for the challenge athletically and spiritually. The prospect of playing with a Christian organization called Athletes in Action was very attractive for me, but I did not know how great the summer would actually turn out to be.

As I stand on the other side of the journey, I look back and can honestly say this was one of the best summers of my life. All my feelings of apprehension were washed away day by day. My host family turned out to be the perfect fit. I could not have asked for a better situation, I had four host siblings who were all a blast to be with and my roommate was an outfielder from Chicago with a great sense of humor that matched mine perfectly. My host mom took great care of me and my roommate, packing us lunches to take with us on trips, and my host dad was so supportive at all of our games. The Ryan family is an amazing group of people that I feel blessed to have been able to stay with.

Playing with Athletes in Action was the best decision I could have made for the summer. I gained 23 great friends from all over the country. We participated in daily group Bible Studies hearing from three separate chaplains from Athletes in Action staff on the campuses of Colorado State, UCLA, and Ball State. Over the course of the summer, we participated in numerous community service projects as well as visiting a homeless shelter in Rochester to serve food. We participated in prison ministry playing softball against the inmates at a local prison. We visited a nursing home and shared a meal with people who normally do not receive visits from even their families. The highlight of our ministry by far, though, was the opportunity to share the Gospel with the opposing teams in the league. We shared the AIA principles that were life changing for me as an athlete

Our team name was the Alfred Thunder and we were in the New York Collegiate Baseball League (NYCBL). The NYCBL is one of eight leagues that make up the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball. It is partially funded by Major League Baseball and is a tool for development and scouting for amateur baseball players. Within the NYCBL, there are two divisions – East and West. The Alfred Thunder participated in the West Division. The schedule consisted of 44 games within a two-month span. Every day, we would play at 7 p.m. We would be picked up sometime in the early afternoon and we would head to our home church to have discipleship together.

On the mound, I had a very successful summer. On the first day of training camp, the pitchers were standing in one spot and you could say that I was the “Roy Oswalt”of the staff. I was the smallest pitcher of the staff standing at 6-1. The rest of the pitchers were in the range of 6-3 to 6-6. Despite my disadvantage in physique I tied for the team lead in appearances with 13, complete games with 2, led the team in strikeouts with 30 in 34 innings pitched, and I was selected to the NYCBL West Division All-Star Team.

Playing in the NYCBL was a great experience for me and without a doubt helped me grow as a pitcher. I am so thankful for the success I had this summer, but more importantly I grew immensely in my spiritual walk with the Lord. The discipleships with the team were by far the best part of the experience for me. One thing that I gained from this experience was the realization that God is the only thing that will satisfy the desires of my heart. I had always agreed with that statement intellectually, but I think this summer was the first time that all my inmost being realized the truth in that. God is enough, God is enough to satisfy the desires of my heart, and nothing else will ever come close. The game of baseball may fail me, my abilities on the field may fail me, but He will never fail me. He is the solid rock on which I stand. I am excited to head back to Mount Vernon to start another championship run with the Cougars in a new conference. We’ll all be back on campus in no time!

Zobrist’s Path to MLB included a Summer with AIA Baseball

 

TAMPA, FL – The summer of 2001, after his first year at Olivet Nazarene University near Kankakee, Illinois, Ben Zobrist had the opportunity to play summer baseball in Central America (Mexico and Nicaragua) with Athletes in Action. The competition was intense against some very good players, and the experience uniquely combined playing baseball and ministry to the people in the towns where they played.

Although Ben Zobrist’s experience with AIA was similar to most other college players who play baseball for AIA, his career did not end with college ball. Ben has become a star utility player for the American League Tampa Bay Rays.

From Small Town Illinois

Ben grew up in the small town of Eureka, Illinois, and as the son of a pastor he became a Christian at an early age. Growing up, and especially during high school, Ben’s Christian faith grew. “I did the things to help me grow in my relationship with the Lord—reading, prayer, camps, conferences and attending Sunday school and church,” he says. He participated in the high school FCA huddle group, even attending an FCA camp.

With a 3.98 GPA, Zobrist wanted to go to college. Despite playing varsity baseball all four years of high school, and having a great senior year, there were no baseball offers. So he decided to go to Calvary Bible College in Kansas City, Missouri, his father’s alma mater. However, his plans changed.

“I was scared, not knowing what was ahead”

“My senior year I realized I was going away from home and was going to make my own choices,” says Zobrist. “So I was scared, not knowing what was ahead, and I started worrying about the future. I hit my knees in prayer and said, ‘Okay, Lord, whatever You want me to do and for whatever reason You are allowing this fear into my life, I want You to take it away. My life is Yours and I am not trying to be in charge.

“As for sports, You can have that too,’” he added. “I gave everything over to Him. If God wants me to do something else with my life, then that is where I want to be.”

It is not surprising what happened next

So, it is not surprising what happened next. After graduation, with plans to go to Calvary Bible College, his high school baseball coach called and told him of a tryout where some scouts and college coaches would be attending.

“I was not sure,” Ben confesses, “whether I should go or not, but because I did not want to quit playing baseball, I went to see what could happen. Each player would take a few ground balls, a few fly balls, throw some, hit some and pitch some, and that was it.”

Unbeknownst to Ben, there was a college coach there looking for prospects. Ben continues, “Coach Elliott Johnson of Olivet Nazarene University contacted me and said, ‘We are looking for solid Christian players to build our baseball program at Olivet.’”

“The day I got back I got a call”

The following week, Ben attended a church conference and the theme was “Keeping the door of your life open to what God may want you to do, regardless of what it is.” “The day I got back I got a call from Coach Johnson offering a full-ride scholarship,” Ben says. “At that point it was God saying, ‘let’s go work on baseball at this Christian school.’”

Zobrist played baseball at Olivet Nazarene for three years and the summer of his freshman year participated in the AIA summer baseball program. At Olivet, Ben focused on his walk with the Lord and baseball. He spent many hours alone in the batting cage, either hitting off a batting tee or bribing his best friend and teammate, Jason Miller, to pitch to him.

His senior year Ben transferred to Dallas Baptist University in Texas because “I wanted to know really how good I was.” He was able to test his skills against some Big 12 schools such as Texas A & M and Baylor. Ben was drafted in the MLB 6th round of the 2004 June draft by the Houston Astros. Ben went back to Dallas Baptist the fall semester and graduated in December.

“I felt confident he had his focus right”

The night before Ben left for his first assignment in New York, his father went to his room to pray with him. Rev. Zobrist says, “I told him, ‘Here is what is important to me. I don’t care what you do for a living as long as you live for God.’ When Ben left, I felt confident he had his focus right. He was not worried about success in baseball but his service to the Lord.”

The 2006 season was one that saw a quick climb in Zobrist’s career starting in Double A ball in Corpus Christi in the Texas League where he was doing well and made the Texas League All-Star Team. Then in the middle of July, Ben was traded from the Astros organization to the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays organization. The Rays sent him to Triple A at Durham, N.C. The parent team called him up August 1. He spent the rest of that season with the Rays. His first RBI came on a squeeze bunt on August 2 against Detroit. The first homerun Ben hit was against Boston on August 6. He finished the season batting .224 average, and headed for the Arizona Fall League.

But in 2007 after starting with the Rays, he was not playing well, and was sent down to the Triple A Durham team.

“I wondered why God allowed this to happen”

“I wondered why God allowed this to happen and I started to have lots of doubts,” Zobrist says. “Where is baseball going to fit into all of this? I did not have much peace.

“But God allows things to happen the way He wants,” Zobrist noted. “And we need to accept it joyfully and to love Him through things that don’t happen the way we would like in life. The Bible says: ’For all things work together for good with those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.’(Romans 8:28) Being sent up and down in both 2007 and 2008 was a great lesson for me. I had a prideful and wrong attitude of success.”

The last part of the 2008 season became very exciting as the Rays won the American League Championship before falling to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

“The World Series…Wow!”

“God was saying to me, “Keep working, keep glorifying Me; wherever you are, don’t grow weary in doing good for in due time, you will reap,’” Ben says. He ended up on the playoff roster and starting two games in the World Series. “I am learning to enjoy the experience God put me in at the moment and glorifying Him in that. The World Series…Wow!”

One could talk a lot about Ben’s major league exploits, especially the beginning of this 2009 season with a couple of grand slams and some other timely hits and his ability to play three infield positions and three outfield positions.

Former teammate Brian Shouse comments, “Ben is the kind of player you would want on your team…he plays hard, he wants to learn and improve, and he has a great attitude.

“Ben is a devoted family man who is absolutely tickled to be a husband and father,” Shouse adds. “He is a very active Christian and he looks for ways he can help and encourage others in life. He loves the Lord and he has found peace and joy in his life through his faith in Jesus.”

Another former teammate Gabe Gross adds, “Ben, the teammate we called Zorilla for his monster homeruns, has had to work hard his whole career. He has come up with some very timely hits for our team, and often the big hits have been homeruns.” The first thought that comes to Gross about Ben as a person is “uncompromising.”

“He lives it; that is who he is.”

“Ben’s faith, his belief in Christ as his Savior covers every aspect of his life,” Gross adds. “He lives it; that is who he is.”

Two things are more important in Ben’s life than baseball. They are his Christian faith and his family. His dad, Rev. Zobrist commented, “Ben is very good about staying in touch; and as busy as a professional ball player is, he will take the time to call his grandparents, us, and his brothers and sisters. Family is important to him.”

Zobrist says, “Julianna has been a wonderful, supportive and loving wife, having to ‘roll with the punches’ with all the travel and away time. She is a professional singer of Christian music. We support each other with the things we love doing individually.”

About his son, Ben says, “When it comes to Zion, God has truly blessed us with a most precious gift.” The Zobrist’s have a second child on the way.

As Ben continues to find success in the Major Leagues, he says, “When I dream of Major League baseball, I don’t dream of fame, fortune or popularity; but for me, if God allows me to [continue to] play, I will have a different perspective—to direct people back to the Lord.”

By Mark and Bruce Darnall