DOMINICAN REPUBLIC -- Gary Garrison may coach baseball for a living, but baseball is not the main event for him.
It never is.
Garrison - the head coach of the MBU Sabercats Baseball Team - recently returned from his 11th trip to the Dominican Republic, where he has done the same thing each time: use the game of baseball to connect with local boys with the end goal of telling them about Jesus Christ.
A Perfect Fit
The gospel is the main event. Not the sport. And to take baseball to the Dominican Republic is a perfect fit because the Dominican people live and breathe the game. This country, which is half the size of Indiana, has produced top baseball talent at a rate that is anomalous for its size.*
"For many of them, [baseball] is daily life," Garrison said. "I don't know how to put it into words what [baseball] means to the average Dominican boy."
So to know baseball makes you fit in. But to be an American makes you stand out. Garrison and four other men from the ¡PlayBall! Organization made an immediate impact.
"They love Americans," Garrison said. "If you're an American that can coach baseball and spend time on the field with them, it's like, 'all hail'. So when we go down there, we use baseball as an opportunity for them to lend us their ear."
This time, the sessions were exclusive and advanced. In past trips, Garrison and his co-ops conducted clinics for over a hundred boys at a time. This time, the clinic was limited to 24 gifted young boys. Former and current pro players Gabino and Rafael Mejia joined the ¡PlayBall! staff, lending their expertise to the advanced coaching. Brent Casteel - Garrison's friend and former Single-A ballplayer - conducted a hitting station while Garrison taught baserunning.
To Garrison, honing his baseball skill opens new doors to impact boys on a deeper level. And making the impact demands a blend of technical knowledge and quality time spent.
"We want to offer quality baseball instruction," Garrison noted. "And not everyone can do that, so it's a matter of using what you've been gifted with. These boys know baseball, but what makes the real difference to these boys is spending time on the field with them - that's the difference."
The group of 24 boys finished each session by listening to a clear biblical lesson, which culminated with a straightforward gospel message on the final day. AKA the "main event".
"Baseball gives us a platform," Garrison said. "It's a platform to do what we really came to do, and that's to present Christ."
Leading the Way
As a leader, Garrison sets the example by getting involved with missions. Over his 11 trips, Garrison has seen the Lord work, estimating that some 1,000 boys have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as a result of the clinics.
And one of the best parts for him is bringing the MBU student-athletes along. For the third time since 2011, Garrison will visit the D.R. with the team, and the trip is set for March of 2019. Garrison brings the team down every four years.
Why every four years? It's Garrison's way of ensuring that anyone that comes through the program for four seasons will be guaranteed the opportunity to go. Garrison's goal is that each young man that puts on an MBU ballcap will have the chance to use baseball to share Jesus Christ.
After all, that's the main event.
*1 in 10 MLB players and 1 in 5 minor-league players are from the Dominican Republic.