This past Thursday, July 27, 2006, I got called up to the big leagues by the Atlanta Braves after three years in the minor leagues. At the age of 32, my call-up was much later in life than I had planned.
As a young boy, I breathed, ate and slept Braves baseball. Thanks to the invention of cable television and Ted Turner’s vision for Superstation WTBS, I watched hundreds of Braves games and heard many a call from Braves announcers Pete Van Wieren, Ernie Johnson and Skip Caray.
My friend Jeff Hunter taught me how to read the Braves box scores in the Tennessean newspaper. I started collecting baseball cards and was a regular at E-Gad’s Baseball Card Shop at Harding Mall in Nashville. Dale Murphy, two-time MVP outfielder for the Braves, was my hero. Multiple Murph posters were tacked up in my room including my favorite entitled “Power Alley”. I collected over 200 different Dale Murphy baseball cards, often trading away much more “valuable” cards to acquire a Murph card I didn’t have. I kept a scrapbook of every picture and mention of the Murph I could find.
Family trips and church youth group outings introduced me to Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, home of the Braves. Most of the time the Braves lost and there weren’t many folks there to see it. One game I remember in particular was a game against the San Diego Padres. Rick Mahler was pitching for the Braves, Eric Show for the Padres. There couldn’t have been more than 4,000 people there to see it. I think just about everyone in our group got a foul ball that day. I always tried to get autographs from Braves players but never succeeded. We always got there too late. One time we did get there early enough to get autographs from some of the Houston Astros who were getting off their bus. Some guy named Nolan Ryan signed a 1985 Topps card for me that I traded later on that night for a Jose Canseco rookie card.
I was a Braves fan long before their run of 14-straight divisional titles. The Braves averaged only 65 wins per season from 1985-1990, finishing the last year of that span in last place. My first Braves heroes weren’t Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz , Andruw Jones and Greg Maddux. They were Dale Murphy, Glenn Hubbard, Claudell Washington, Rafael Ramirez, Bob Horner and Bruce Benedict.
As my baseball skills improved during my years at Overton High School and Lipscomb University, my dreams of playing for the Braves intensified. My jersey would be one of the most marketable in Major League Baseball – “HIGH 5”. At a Braves tryout camp during the summer following my freshman year of college, I had the chance to throw for Braves scout Jack Powell. I was clocked at 90 mph on the radar gun – the magical number at that point for right-handed pitchers. My 12-to-6 o’clock curve ball was especially nasty that day. Mr. Powell kept me after the tryout was over to throw some more for him. He took down all of my information and promised to monitor my progress the following year.
That off-season I worked harder than ever. I put in extra time in the weight room and was in the best shape of my life. In the first start of my sophomore season I threw a complete game, striking out 13 while giving up just three hits.
My second start against St. Xavier out of Illinois came at the end of a long Spring Break trip in Daytona Beach, Florida. We had used up all of our pitchers that week and so it was up to me to log some innings. I had never thrown any harder than I did that day. I was still throwing in the upper 80’s in the 8th inning. Only later did I learn that I had thrown 133 pitches in the game – probably 50 more than I should have in my second start of the young season. When I woke up the next morning my arm was toast. I couldn’t brush my teeth or comb my hair without excruciating pain in my shoulder. I had surgery to repair a torn labrum muscle in my shoulder and tried to make a comeback, but my 90 mph heater had been replaced by a 74 mph batting practice delight. I was cut from the team in the fall of 1994. I cried like a baby. My dream was shattered.
In the months that followed, I came to the realization that baseball had become my god. I had replaced God with baseball and I don’t think He liked that one bit.
Hebrews 12:5-6 says “…..My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
Whether He caused my labrum muscle to tear or not, I don’t know. That’s one of those questions I’ll save for Heaven. While selfishly I’d like to have continued chasing my baseball dreams, it causes me to shiver when I think of where I’d probably be spiritually if baseball hadn’t been taken away from me.
Thankfully the Braves executives weren’t concerned with the fact that I had been cut from an NAIA college team and that I hadn’t picked up a baseball or gripped a bat in 12 years. The training staff didn’t seem to care that I had put on 50 pounds since my last baseball card was printed in 1994, noting a 6’2” 175 lb. frame.
In the end what sealed the deal for my mid-season call-up was my God-given ability to help create events at games that simultaneously accomplish the goals of teams, churches and corporate sponsors. My company, Third Coast Sports, is partnering with more than 45 teams all over the country to put on and promote more than 75 of these events. Teams win in that they sell a bunch of tickets to groups that for the most part have never come before. Churches win in that we help set the table so they can accomplish their fellowship, involvement and outreach goals. Sponsors win by leveraging their messages to Christian consumers, decision makers and other influencers.
Thursday marked the first of three “Faith Days with the Atlanta Braves” at Turner Field. Following the Braves-Marlins game more than 3,000 fans stayed to hear Braves star pitcher John Smoltz speak about his personal relationship with the Lord (click here to hear John’s talk). Christian recording artists Aaron Shust and The Afters entertained the crowd with a mix of rock and acoustical selections. Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato from VeggieTales entertained kids at heart of all ages. Spiritual Outdoor Adventures handed out more than 1,000 camouflaged Heart of the Outdoors Bibles. Focus on the Family distributed resources for parents, teens and church leaders.
The media coverage of Thursday’s event was nothing short of remarkable. One of the Braves public relations officials said she hadn’t seen as much national media in one place since the NBA All-Star game. CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, CNN, ESPN, The 700 Club and Gospel Music Channel were all there to cover the event. Numerous regional and local broadcast and print outlets were represented.
About an hour before the game I was asked to make my way to the field with my wife Emily and our public relations director, Matt Toy. CBS Evening News and Gospel Music Channel wanted to interview me before the game. After waiting in the seats behind the Braves dugout for several minutes we were asked to sit in the Braves dugout while we waited for the reporters to finish interviewing Derek Schiller, the Braves senior VP of sales & marketing. We sat in the Braves dugout for more than 45 minutes – right up until game time. I chatted with Glenn Hubbard, the Braves second baseman from my childhood and current first base coach. Catcher Todd Pratt, starting pitcher Jason Shiell and shortstop Edgar Renteria all made their way past us as we waited in the dugout.
I saw something so amazing and encouraging in that dugout I asked Emily to make a picture of – the stack of batting gloves. Right beside the gloves with “C.J. 10” printed on them (Braves third baseman #10 Chipper Jones) were gloves with “Joshua 1:9” printed on the Velcro strap. It was only later that I found out these gloves belonged to starting right fielder Jeff Francoeur.
Joshua 1:9 says “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
As CBS and Gospel Music Channel finished up with Derek Schiller, it was noted that it was too close to game time to do any more interviews on the field. We were taken into a tunnel off the dugout where we waited for several minutes. We could see Braves manager Bobby Cox with his legs kicked up going over last minute details. Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche and outfielder Matt Diaz passed us on their way to the dugout. We were then escorted back by the Braves clubhouse. Second baseman Marcus Giles had his headphones dangling off the back of his ears but took time to greet us with a hardy, “Hey, how are you doing?”
We entered the final hallway on the way to our destination where we were told to be extremely quiet. As I rounded the corner of the final turn, I saw John Smoltz sitting in a chair under some bright lights with a big camera in his face being interviewed by The 700 Club. As he finished up his interview, he walked past me. We had never met, but I felt the need to make the connection.
“John,” I said as I stuck my hand out to introduce myself. “I’m Brent High. I’m the guy that got you into all this mess. I will be praying for you today.”
“Thank you,” John said. “I appreciate the opportunity.”
With that he made his way back towards the Braves clubhouse. I then sat where John had sat in preparation for an interview with William Wiegman from Gospel Music Channel. For some reason everything that had happened up until that point and everything that was about to happen finally started to sink in. I was suddenly so overcome with emotion I couldn’t speak. It took several seconds before I could go on.
It occurred to me that God was in fact allowing me to realize my boyhood dream, just in a much different way than I had planned. As I sat in that chair, I was at the perfect intersection of passion, vocation, purpose and ministry.
The Braves lost the game 6-1 but what happened in the two hours following the game was anything but a loss. More than 3,000 people filed into the area behind the left field wall designated for the concert – many more than we expected. It was a sultry day game on a Thursday in the middle of July against the Marlins – not exactly the most church-group friendly set of circumstances. I met John in the Braves dugout to make last second preparations. One of the Braves security guards drove John and me in a golf cart out to the stage in left field.
I served as the emcee for the event. I took time to recognize a very special friend, Russell Hendricks who was at the game with his family. The former Georgia Southern University pitcher stayed with our family one week when I was a teenager as part of an Athletes in Action tour. He taught me how to throw my 12-to-6 curve ball and was the first baseball player I’d ever seen give his personal testimony to a group of complete strangers after a game. That made a lasting impression on me.
One of the first things I did after I was hired by the Nashville Sounds in 2003 to head up their “Faith Nights” was add player testimonies to all of the events. Now it was time for a Cy Young Award winner with a good chance of being in the Hall of Fame to give his testimony in a Major League Baseball stadium.
John spoke for about 20 minutes about the importance of not having a “no-decision” when it comes to choosing Jesus as Savior. He talked about the moment in his life in 1995 when he decided to totally give his life to the Lord. I was amazed at how still and quiet a crowd of 3,000 could be for so long, even in the 95 degree heat. They hung on John’s every word and gave him a standing ovation when he was done. Aaron Shust performed his #1 hit My Savior, My God as a large percentage of the crowd sang along. The Afters followed up with a rocking end to an amazing day.
My major league debut was complete. “High, P” didn’t show up in the box score, but the name of Jesus was lifted up as media outlets representing as many as 40 million viewers and readers took note. My incredible business partners Mike Snider and Lynn Golden have allowed me the opportunity to live a dream. Third Coast Sports couldn’t be a more perfect convergence of my passions. I get to build events around professional sports games that have a very intentional outreach element. All day every day our incredible staff, led by Courtney Baker, Lindsay Beals and Matt Toy is encouraging thousands of church leaders from California to New York to use sporting events as a chance to reach out to those that don’t have a church home.
I got called up to the big leagues Thursday. Lord willing, I’ll be here for a while.