How did Gates Brown make it to the major leagues as a Detroit Tiger? Pastor Scott Sherrill tells the story.
Vassar First United Methodist Church
Gates Brown was a baseball player for the Detroit Tigers from 1963 to 1975. He was part of the world champion team in 1968, and Gates has the interesting distinction of holding the Major League record for the most pinch-hit at-bats in a career. Other than these interesting facts, Gates was basically an average to slightly better than average professional ball player; still, an amazing baseball player compared to you and me.
It’s not Gate’s career that’s particularly interesting to me, but how he became a Detroit Tiger.
Before he joined the Major Leagues, Gates Brown was a felon. He was arrested and convicted of burglary at 18 and went to prison at the Ohio State Reformatory. While in prison, Gates joined the prison baseball team to keep himself busy while he was outside of his cell. The prison team had a coach, an unnamed prison guard.
After a few practices, that unnamed guard immediately saw that Gates had real potential as a baseball player. This 18-year-old kid was good enough to play in the Major League. The unnamed coach spotted the athletic gift inside of Gates Brown.
Except the coach did more than recognize Gates’ gift. The coach took it upon himself to invite a couple of scouts from the Detroit Tigers to visit and see Gates play. Then he encouraged Gates to try out for the Tigers. The unnamed guard even advocated for Gates in the court system to reduce his sentence. All to give Gates a chance at a better life and to play baseball.
That unnamed prison guard went above and beyond and changed the life trajectory of Gates Brown. Through his time, his love and compassion for the young man, the guard created opportunity and a chance for redemption. And he gave Gates the opportunity to utilize his God-given talent in baseball.
After playing for the Tigers for those 12 years on the field, Gates stayed on in the Tigers organization as a scout and rookie coach, helping other young men live into their God-given talent of baseball, too.
Ephesians 4 from The Message translation says:
But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled the earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.
Each of us has one or maybe more than one gift from Christ. And these gifts we each have are often things we don’t usually associate with the church: gifts of photography, cooking, painting, encouragement, teaching, patience, healing, and more.
Each of us has been given our specific gifts to go out and build up the Kingdom of God both inside and outside the church’s walls. But what I’ve found is most of us don’t recognize the gifts inside of us. Like Gates, we need someone in our life to point out to us, hey Scott, you are a talented baseball player (which I am not!). Or hey Steve, you are a natural teacher, etc.
We need people in our lives to encourage us, to empower us, to sometimes just plainly point out the gifts we have from Christ.
Once we recognize the Christ-given gifts in ourselves, and when we feel empowered to use them, friends, we can change the world.
Before I answered my call into ministry, I was an IT professional, and part of my job was leading workshops and training events for k12 teachers.
At one class I was leading that had NOTHING to do with the church or religion, an attendee came up to me after the class was done and said Scott, I think you should be a pastor. He saw something in me, a gift in me. He pointed to that gift he could plainly see that I couldn’t see in myself. It changed my life forever, putting me on the path towards ministry and the calling I live into today.
I’m going to give you an assignment. I would like you to find a person in your community—either your neighborhood, your circle of friends, or your church family. After you’ve found that person, please tell them about the gift of Christ you see in them. That’s it. That’s my assignment. Find one person, and show them the gift you can see inside of them.
And then let’s see what happens. Let’s see how the awareness of the gift creates opportunity and the courage to use the gift. Let’s see how the world is changed by these new servants in Christ.
~ Reprinted with permission from Extraordinary Connection, April 22, 2021.