Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
"Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come... Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." – 1 Timothy 4:6 and 12.
The Apostle Paul wrote those words in his first letter to his colleague, Timothy, regarding his Christian ministry in the Turkish city of Ephesus. Now, approximately 1,950 years later, it would appear a perfect mirror of Paul's message in that passage exists in the form of a local high school baseball team: the Mineral Wells Rams.
Whether on or off the baseball diamond, the Rams are guided by their over-arching faith in Jesus Christ. And under the leadership of head coach Bret Barrick, the group of 19 young men are united by their faith and knit closer than many families.
"While I'm a coach and a teacher, my job is to expand God's kingdom," Barrick said. "I don't want to be a holy roller and try to run it down people's throats, but we are going to have faith.
"I believe in Jesus Christ as my savior. I make that known, there's no secret about that. I'm not afraid or ashamed to say it out in public. Our kids have bought into that. If I'm open about my faith, it makes them comfortable to be open about their faith. That's all I want them to do."
As it says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, Barrick said his team strives to glorify God in everything they do, especially on the baseball field.
"We realize that our talents and abilities are God-given," he said. "We try to glorify God with the way we play, the way we act and the things we do. We want to win with grace, lose with grace and be humble about our position. That humility and that grace comes from our Lord and savior.
"We realize that, win or lose, no matter what, God gave us the ability to come out here and play. That's the important thing. You look around and there are a lot of kids that can't play baseball. There are a lot of kids with disabilities where they can't get out and do that, and we're able to do that."
A big part of the way the Rams glorify God is through a student-led team prayer before and after every game. Often seen leading the prayer is senior pitcher and leadoff man Chris Rapp.
"As a senior, I feel like I should be a leader and take that initiative; I just feel led to," Rapp said of leading the team prayers. "I believe our faith should be No. 1 on our list, before the team, before the win, before district champions, before state. We praise God before every game and we praise God after. As long as we give all the glory to Him, that's all that matters."
Paden Patino, another senior leader for the Rams, said actions like praying together are what draws this team so close.
"After we get done praying before we start our game is the best feeling ever," he said. "I love each and every one of my teammates. (They are like my) brothers and every one of them plays a huge role on the field and in my life, personally.
"We come together as if we literally are all family. We are an emotional team. We hate to lose and when one of us messes up, we get upset, but we always pick each other up and never let anyone keep their head down."
The close bond formed by shared faith not only makes for success on the baseball field. The team's camaraderie also means they have brothers in Christ to hold each other accountable and continue to grow in their walks with God.
Each Ram has at least one fellow team member who they said helps them grow in Christ, but the two names that came up most often were Chance Wade and Chris Ortiz.
Ortiz, the Rams' freshman second baseman, has not only established himself as one of many spiritual leaders on the team, but he has even led a teammate to Christ.
Sophomore McCain Mason said it was Ortiz that helped him take the first steps into a life lived for Jesus about one year ago. Now, the two teammates attend church together.
"I had been wanting to get into Christ for so long and he just helped me make that move and stop being afraid of what might happen," Mason said. "Becoming a Christian has changed my life.
"Faith is the most important thing and our team has a lot of it. The Christian atmosphere is the best atmosphere to be in. I thank God every day for the brothers I have out here. They keep me in line.
"(Ortiz) is a great friend to all of us and he reaches out to so many people and encourages everybody to reach out to each other. It really brings the team together."
Ortiz, although thrilled that his teammate is now living in Christ, said he takes none of the credit for himself.
"All glory goes to Jesus, it's not me," he said. "I don't glorify myself or anybody else, I glorify my God. If it wasn't for His Son, I wouldn't be here spreading the name. He's led me to be successful and teach these things and it's awesome.
"Faith carries this team. Every day, we come closer with God. As long as we're spreading the gospel, that's the biggest thing. That's all I want out of this team. I'll hang up the cleats, but I'll never stop talking about Christ."
Yet another incident that has further bound this team together, building on their faith, was the unexpected death of beloved community member Robin Allen, last September. For Allen – mother of Mineral Wells' sophomore catcher Braxton Allen – the Rams were an "R.A." stitched on the side of their baseball caps.
James 1:2-4 says: "Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
Like gold that is tested in fire, the Rams have used the tragedy of Allen's death to mature and grow with Christ and each other, just as the epistle teaches.
"We play for two people: God and Robin Allen," the youngest Allen said. "She raised me to have faith and let God do what He's got to do to you. He's got a plan for each and every one of us.
"This team this year has changed me a lot. We look to God because He's got His hands on us. If we have faith in each other, we're unstoppable."
It's challenges like the death of a loved one that can bring out the best in a family or a team. Just like in the game of baseball, it's how one responds to adversity that often defines them.
In the case of a Christian, that can mean leaning not on your own understanding and handing over your struggles and fears to the Lord.
For the Rams, the game of baseball provides the perfect training ground for life. An unpredictable journey, fraught with challenges, that would be impossible without a support system around you.
"We struggle daily and some of us go down," Ortiz said. "As a team, whether we're older or younger, stronger or faster, we have that ability to pick each other up with Christ when we get down on ourselves. Every day's a learning experience and a new day with Christ."
The Rams' faith as a team is personified by a symbol they carry with them to every game, home or away.
Outside of the Rams' dugout hangs a wooden cross, adorned with baseballs and a description that reads: "Everyone commits errors, bit His sacrifice will bring you home."
In just its second season of service, the cross made by Sal Martinez – father of former Mineral Wells center fielder Brandon Martinez – and Gary Lee has already become an irreplaceable staple of Mineral Wells baseball.
"Last year, we had a case of the errors, bad," Barrick said. "Sal made that cross as a little way for us to remember that we're all going to make errors. We just have to go out there and play as hard as we can for the glory of God.
"Kids can beat themselves up with errors. Our kids are harder on themselves than I am. It's just one of those things where you stick it over there and the kids feel like if we don't have it, they won't play very well."
"Brandon was in the hospital for a long time and Robin had been in the hospital for a long time," Mason said. "The cross was just something to keep us hopeful and show that God's there. It's something that we've just held on to, because we realized that it was a big deal."
"It explains why we play," Ortiz said of the cross. "You can't go wrong with a cross with baseballs on it. It's the perfect description of why we're out here: playing for Jesus."
The 2014 Rams of Mineral Wells have lofty goals for their season, all of which they are more than capable of achieving. But, regarding what's most important, it's fair to say the Rams are already champions.
"We just love God with all our hearts and try to glorify Him in everything that we do," Barrick said. "It shows in the way we play and the things that we do."
"If you just come out and play baseball for yourself, it's useless," Ortiz said. "Jesus died for us 2,000 years ago and I'll play for Jesus. I'll play for somebody that died for me. He gave me the talent and ability to come out and play."
Who knows? Perhaps the sky is the limit for what Mineral Wells baseball can accomplish this year.
After all, Jesus said in what many Rams called their favorite verse: "What is impossible with man is possible with God."