Inside Pitch Magazine, January/February 2018

Intentional Walk: The Heart of the Game

By Keith Madison
America at the Seams BookRecently, Wright State University assistant baseball coach Nate Metzger shared an excerpt from a fascinating baseball book written by Nathan Rueckert titled, America at the Seams (50 Stories About 50 States of How Baseball Unites Our Country). This story resonated with me since I had just completed a study of how important the condition of our heart is to God. I trust you will be touched in a positive way, as well. — Coach Madison

“You weren’t going to build a team around Michael Collins’ talent—he hit ninth and played second base. You were going to build a team around his heart,” said Nate Metzger, a coach at Wright State University, and Michael’s head coach at heartland Community College. “Before his sophomore season, we had a team-building activity and it was really important to me that the guys take it seriously. I asked them to share their biggest fears—and to give me something real. To this day, I remember Michael’s story.

“Michael said, ‘When I was a kid, I remember going to the grocery store with my parents. Every time we went through the checkout line, they bought me something small, like gum or candy. My biggest fear is that I’m not going to be able to provide for my family the way my parents have always provided for me.’

“That was Michael’s heart—always thinking of others,” Nate said. Michael’s love for baseball started at a young age. His dad, Jim, even remembers him going to bed with catcher’s gear when he was only seven years old. Jim coached Michael’s baseball teams throughout the years.

The summer after high school graduation, Michael played on Jim’s team. A mid-week double header was scheduled before the last tournament, and Jim asked Michael to help pitch so the other pitchers could stay fresh.

“We both knew it’d be his last time pitching because he wouldn’t pitch collegiately,” Jim said. “He threw a solid five innings and left the game in the lead. I went out to the mound to get him, and, just like in For the Love of the Game, he went to the dugout, signed a baseball, and then tossed it to me. It really was a touching gesture to me—but somehow, I lost track of the ball.

“Three years later, he agreed to help me coach a high school team and was throwing batting practice in the gym. He reached into the bucket and froze, then looked at me and said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ He then tossed me the ball, worn and faded, but you could see where he had signed it. It was almost like using the Babe Ruth baseball in The Sandlot! Now that ball sits on my desk.”

At the age of 22, mere weeks before his collegiate graduation, Michael was killed by a drunk driver. Even in his death, Michael thought of others, having registered as an organ donor. His liver, pancreas and kidneys saved lives. His corneas restored sight to a blind woman in New York.

Brock Stewart, who made his Dodgers MLB debut in 2016, said, “I played with Michael from Little League ball all the way through high school. Michael loved the game so much and busted his behind every day. I try to emulate him in my game now, and I know he’s proud when looking down upon me.”

In life and in death, Michael displayed one of life’s most important truths—true joy comes through giving. — Nathan Rueckert

Acts 20:35 …It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Psalm 51:10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Inside Pitch Magazine is published six times per year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt association founded in 1945. Copyright American Baseball Coaches Association. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any way without prior written permission. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained herein, it is impossible to make such a guarantee. The opinions expressed herein are those of the writers.