Baseball chaplain has dream job

Love of baseball leads to personal ministry By Sheila Allen
By Sheila Allen, Northwest Baptist Witness
NW Baptist Convention

SPOKANE, Wash. — A childhood love of baseball has turned into a unique ministry for a Northwest pastor. “My attempts at organized sports took me as far as center field for the Sanger Avenue Squirrels back in 1960,” said Bobby Watkins. “Although I was never the athlete, God did give me some other things to do and I have just celebrated 35 years of full time vocational ministry,” said the worship pastor for Crossover Church in Mead, Wash. Watkins credits the love of the game to early years spent watching the “game of the week” with his grandpa on Saturdays while growing up. His interest in baseball has continued throughout his life by attending baseball games and collecting baseball cards.

A new opportunity in the sports arena has developed in recent months when Watkins was recommended for a volunteer position through Baseball Chapel, a biblically strong organization with access to professional baseball clubhouses that has provided ministry to players and staff for about 30 years. Watkins is now the chaplain for the Spokane Indians, a Triple-A Pacific Coast League team in a partnership with the Texas Rangers who play home games at Avista Stadium.

“I lead chapel at home games, and it usually consists of prayer and a brief devotional held in the middle of game prep,” Watkins said. “In some areas, mid-week Bible studies have started but we have not been able to do that.”

With his first season drawing to a close, Watkins is growing in confidence in his role with the team. “For me it has stretched me to become bold enough to just walk out on the field and find the folks I need to talk with,” Watkins said. “You sometimes must be brave enough to walk into the visiting clubhouse and say ‘I am the chapel guy, when do you want to offer chapel?’” Watkins makes the time to stop by the stadium once or twice a week to say hello and he attends at least one game a week. He has had as few as three people and over 20 attend the chapel services from week to week.

“I have taken several players out to lunch and developed a friendship,” Watkins said. “Chapel Sundays are the most demanding, but in my case I had the first three weekends of the season in a row and then only three more throughout the season.”

The team consists of young men from all around the United States, and Watkins has found some players and coaches committed to Christ. The work calls for him to conduct chapel on home Sundays for the Indians and visiting teams, as well as an offer to the umpires, which are all at different times. “There are some young men who really want to honor the Lord and at the same time, they all want to make it to Major League Baseball,” Watkins noted. “That is a challenge.”

Watkins is excited about the opportunity to make a difference for Christ in the lives of these young men. “I can truly say I have been richly blessed,” Watkins said.

Opportunities for local families exist in many areas as host families for players who spend much of their summer on the road. The Indians seek those who might provide sleeping accommodations and an occasional meal for one or two young men while they are in town during the season. Other teams may offer other opportunities to reach out to those with a common interest in sports.

“Most minor league teams look for host families,” Watkins said. There are teams in our league in many cities in the Northwest, and those interested may inquire with local teams.”

Watkins sets an example of one who is willing to stretch beyond his comfort zone to affect others for Christ. “I didn’t go looking for it, I am not an athlete and most people just look at me as the singer guy, but God knocked on the door and I have decided to trust him to do well beyond me,” Watkins said.

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