WINNING SPIRIT: Marlins chaplain goes the extra mile for players

EDITORS' NOTE: BP Sports columnist Tim Ellsworth is in Florida this week to cover spring training, as baseball players get ready to begin a new season. This is the second in a series of stories BP will publish over the next several days.

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)--Florida Marlins pitcher Tim Spooneybarger and team chaplain Chris Lane are standing at a practice facility talking about family, dogs and the condition of Spooneybarger's arm, which still hurts after two years of rehab.

The time comes for Spooneybarger to get in some pitching work, so he's about to leave. But before he does, Lane grabs his arm and prays, "Father, please help Tim pitch without pain. In Jesus' name, amen."

It's a quick prayer, but it communicates Lane's concern for a player under his care. As chaplain, Lane knows how much the spiritual development of many players depends upon him.

"They need somebody to really pour into them and feed them," Lane said. "They are used to getting everything. They're used to having everybody wait on them and everything handed to them. They don't want to make a whole lot of effort on things. You've got to really go the extra mile and really got to challenge them."

A south Florida native, Lane is in his sixth year as the Baseball Chapel representative to the Marlins. Baseball Chapel is an organization based in Springfield, Pa., that provides chaplains both to Major League and minor league teams.

Away from baseball, Lane is the south Florida executive director of First Priority, an inter-denominational ministry to public school students. He and his family are members at First Baptist Church of Pompano Beach, Fla.

"I love it," Lane said about his role as chaplain. "I grew up playing sports and played sports in college. Sports really had a big impact on my life and on my walk with Christ, too."

As chaplain, on weeks when the Marlins are in town, Lane leads a weekly chapel service on Sundays for the Marlins, the visiting team and the umpires. He also holds a weekly Bible study, usually on Friday afternoons.

"That's pretty much your tighter, core guys," Lane said. "Four or five guys."

He also ministers to players on a one-on-one basis, especially his leaders like infielder Damion Easley and pitcher Todd Jones.

Twelve players and coaches attended chapel during spring training March 20, including Easley, Jones, Dontrelle Willis, Juan Pierre and Josh Beckett, among others. Lane spoke about John the Baptist and his recognition that Jesus Christ was greater than he.

"You're forced to make a decision in your life," Lane told the players. "Is that true? Is Jesus God?"

He also encouraged the players to stay disciplined in reading the Bible.

"The God of this Bible will be faithful to reveal himself to you if you'll seek after him," he said.

Lane said one of his biggest challenges as chaplain is the demanding nature of the sport of baseball. During the season it consumes so much of the players' lives that they often don't even know what day it is -- all they know is they're out of the field playing the game. That makes it hard for Lane to get a strong commitment from many players to attend chapel and Bible study.

"You've got to put in some effort," he said. "Guys are hungry, but baseball is their life. You're competing against that."


Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. He writes a weekly column on sports and faith for BP Sports.

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