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Published: Saturday, 8/1/2009

5 Mud Hens to share faith in pregame event

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Mud Hens outfielder Don Kelly, Bible in hand, said he made a commitment to follow Christ when
he was 8 years old and  it was the start of a great adventure.  He will speak Sunday along with
Brent Clevlen, Jeff Larish, Mike Hessman, Eddie Bonine, and former Detroit Tiger Willie Horton. Mud Hens outfielder Don Kelly, Bible in hand, said he made a commitment to follow Christ when he was 8 years old and it was the start of a great adventure. He will speak Sunday along with Brent Clevlen, Jeff Larish, Mike Hessman, Eddie Bonine, and former Detroit Tiger Willie Horton.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

"I'm not the kind of guy to stand on the street corner and preach," Don Kelly said with a shy smile.

But the Mud Hens outfielder said he is looking forward to Home Plate 2009, the pregame program tomorrow at Fifth Third Field in which the team's Christian players will talk about their faith in God.

Along with Mr. Kelly, the players slated to talk include legendary Detroit Tigers slugger Willie Horton and the Mud Hens' Brent Clevlen, Jeff Larish, Mike Hessman, and Eddie Bonine.

Mr. Kelly, 29, said in a locker-room interview earlier this week that he grew up in a Christian home and at age 8 made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ.

"It was the start of a great adventure," he said.

Being a professional baseball player can be a grind at times, and faith plays an important role in keeping things in perspective, he said.

"From a position player's standpoint, if you're failing 7 out of 10 times you can still be a Hall of Famer," he said, referring to a player who bats .300. "You've got to keep working hard to maximize the talent you've been given and put it all in his hands."

Making an out seven or more times for every 10 at-bats can take a toll on a player's mind and spirit.

"Faith in God really helps you stay on an even keel," Mr. Kelly said.

The native of Butler, Pa., said he realizes that youngsters look up to pro athletes as role models and wants them to know that faith is more important than hitting or throwing baseballs.

"It's hard to survive in baseball, but when you know Jesus you're more than a baseball player, you're a child of God first," he said.

Mr. Kelly said he had been scheduled to talk the last time a Home Plate event was held at Fifth Third Field in 2005 but was sent down to AA right before the program.

Mr. Clevlen, a 25-year-old outfielder from Austin, said he became a Christian three years ago after seeing the way God sparked a dramatic turnaround in the life of a former teammate, Kelly Hunt.

"Seeing how his life changed after he got saved, my girlfriend - now my wife - and I knew we were missing something," he said. "One day we just listened to the calling."

Like Mr. Kelly, he said his faith in God helps to keep baseball in perspective.

"With all the struggles you go through, it's just a game and you've got to realize that. There are more important things than baseball," said Mr. Clevlen, who was sporting a mohawk haircut. (He and eight other Mud Hens opted for that radical hairstyle for a recent "Bad Hair Day" promotional event at the ballpark.)

Mr. Clevlen said he loves reading his Bible and enjoys getting together with Christian teammates for Bible studies and chapel services.

"I'm eager to learn every day. I want to keep growing as a Christian," he said, adding that Matthew 19:26 is his favorite Bible verse: "With God all things are possible."

Mr. Larish, a 26-year-old first baseman from Iowa City, said he grew up in a Christian home but didn't get serious about God until his junior year at Arizona State University.

"I was dealing with some rough things and kind of turned to God," he said. "Since then it's been a gradual growth. I try to improve a little at a time."

He also said baseball can be a difficult way to make a living but God helps him through the tough times.

"This game will beat you down and it will definitely humble you," Mr. Larish said.

Mr. Horton, 67, was not available for an interview, but a baseball card with his testimony on the back will be handed out at the Home Plate event.

On the card, Mr. Horton - who was the youngest of 21 children - said that during this baseball career "I found myself straying from the religious upbringing my parents sought to give me."

In 2003, he visited a nephew who had cancer and the nephew told him: "You should be worrying about your own soul."

"His words hit me like a fastball to the ribs," Mr. Horton said.

A few days later, he got a phone call notifying him that the nephew died of a heart attack. Shortly after that, another of his nephews died tragically.

"At the church for his funeral, God's message of love overwhelmed me. I knew it was time and I received Jesus Christ as my Savior. Happiness and joy surround my life these days," Mr. Horton said.

Jeff Totten, the Tigers' chaplain, started Home Plate in Detroit and has held them several times in Toledo.

"Everyone is welcome and the idea is that it's a great way for people to invite friends that may be a little hesitant to go a church and listen to a sermon, but they'll go and hear ballplayers talk about their faith," he said.

Home Plate 2009 begins at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow at Fifth Third Field. Tickets are $14 and include seats for the 6:30 p.m. game between the Toledo Mud Hens and the Buffalo Bisons. Information is available online at mudhens.com/homeplate or by calling 419-725-4367.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-7154.



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