Players in the Columbus Church Softball League face a curious question as carefully as facing an unfamiliar pitcher.
How can believers usually concerned about winning souls also be just as concerned simply about winning?
“Everyone wants to have fun,” said Mark Fisher of Community Church of Columbus’ powerhouse squad. “But everyone also naturally wants to win. You’ve got some guys who might get too serious about that.
“But most people here keep things in perspective.”
After all, the league motto is, “In Jesus’ name, we play.”
Without regard for runs, hits and errors.
“I think this builds a rapport, even among players on opposing teams,” Fisher said. “This is kind of like the get-togethers with the old-fashioned hymn sings. Except we’re doing this with softball.”
So it is in the weekly, Friday night, 16-team competition on the four diamonds at Kenneth O. Dunn Stadium through the league championship in mid-August.
League president Adam Fish plays for the Jonesville Christian Church team that won only one of its first eight games. But no one complained or hung their head as players prepped for a recent game. In fact, opposing players greeted each other like good neighbors.
“This is not quite as intense as other (mainstream leagues),” Fish said.
He should know. He plays in three other leagues, giving a chunk of his April-through-August every year to the game.
Perhaps the most serious and intense part of a church league game unfolds before the first pitch.
Players often bring prayer requests to their pregame, home-plate meeting. There, they also petition God for safety, sportsmanship and to be good examples of character and perseverance.
Even when they might get a bad call and feel tempted to utter an equally bad expression,
“Even SpongeBob says there are 13 words you should never say,” longtime umpire Dave Curtsinger said.
He acknowledged that, in years past, even a good Christian or two has run more at the mouth than on the base paths...And has been tossed by him.
But, like the players, the ump has learned more self-control over time.
“The longer you do this,” he said, “the smaller your ears get.”
Amid the rocket arms in the outfield and power hitters at the plate, two elements largely go missing from church league softball: egos and bravado.
Even frenetic, inside-the-park homers earn only a quick, subdued celebration, as if not to sting opponents’ pride excessively. The fact that games are limited to either seven completed innings or one hour of time also tends to trim flamboyant displays or even arguments.
Also contributing to restraint are biblical reminders, linked even to players wearing their faith on their sleeve, if you will.
Columbus’ First Church of the Nazarene’s bright, colorful, orange jerseys bearing a large cross offer all the subtlety of Jesus’ in-your-face rebuke of the self-righteous Pharisees. Scripture from 1 Peter 1:16 crawls across the back bottom of the shirts: “Be holy, for I am holy.”
First Church’s Chris Anderson mentioned that players have earned positive feedback on the apparel from fans and competitors alike.
“They like the fact that we have a bold message,” Anderson said.
Even a circular patch on the sleeve carries a phrase as direct as a line drive: “Holiness unto the Lord.” Anderson clearly indicated it hardly reads as holier than thou.
“Everybody here already knows we’re not perfect,” he said.
Yet, Anderson said that softball sometimes serves as the perfect tool to reach non-Christian men with the gospel.
He said quite a few of the Nazarene players from past few years initially began attending church after making friends with softball players, and then joined the team. League rules require that players attend two church services per month.
“Some guys who haven’t really attended church previously might not be able to relate to much else in a church,” Fisher said.
A family atmosphere, including youngsters swinging plastic, toy bats near the stands, dominates on the diamonds.
When Columbus First Assembly’s Deyo Dada stepped to the plate against The Ridge, 10-year-old son Kayode stepped upon the first row of metal bleachers and raised his arms triumphantly — and hopefully.
“Go dad. Go dad. Go dad,” he shouted.
Dada, his father, slightly pulled his bat down from its poised position. And he glanced at his boy and broke into a wide grin and mild laughter.
“I’m not really very good,” Dada said after the game. “I’m much better at ultimate Frisbee.”
Yet, some show substantial polish with both the bat and the glove.
Third-year church league player Corey Gardner of Jonesville Christian plays junior college baseball at Salem International University in Salem, West Virginia. Occasionally, in jest when stepping to the plate, he has kicked dirt on umpire Curtsinger, who called some of Gardner’s youth-league games.
“There’s definitely some good-natured trash talking,” Gardner said.