Inside Jacobs Field with Travis Fryman

by George Mason

With heads bowed and bibles in hand, the hushed crowd began the meeting with prayer. And as the word was opened and the message proclaimed, the gathered men listened intently as Jerry Birch, Elder of New Community Bible Fellowship, spoke of peace in the midst of trials and hope in the midst of heartache. "Jesus will make a way where there is no way", he said. "He will make a way for those who walk by faith and not by sight. He will make a way for those who fear the Lord and find delight in His commands."

A worship service at the local assembly? No. This is Sunday evening at the ‘Jake’! Welcome to Baseball Chapel at Jacobs Fields.

Just what is Baseball Chapel and what is its purpose? According to Tom Petersburg, Ohio director of Athletes in Action, the baseball chapel movement began in the late 1960’s in a New York City hotel when retired Detroit sportswriter, Waddy Spoelstra, and Red Barber, the announcer for the Yankees met for fellowship and prayer. Taking their cue from the on-the-road ministry work already underway among professional football players, these two men would make the rounds of the NY hotels gathering up players, believers and non-believers alike, for their ‘church on the road’. Out of their desire to offer ball players the opportunity to fellowship with other believers and from their vision to share the good news of redemption through God’s Son, Jesus, Spoelstra and Barber planted seeds that continue to produce a harvest 30, 60, 100 times over.

What those early chapel meetings may have lacked in numbers, they more than made up for in the enthusiasm and dedication of the participants. Indeed the response was so deep that the idea of ministry to professional athletes spread not only to the rest of the major league cities and teams but also to the minor league players as well. As surely as the favor of the Lord deserves the credit for baseball chapel’s popularity and growth, there is no doubt that the Chapel grew because it touched a deep need in the hearts of the men on the team.

Talk with the players–they’ll tell you. They’ll tell you that behind the glamour of a professional sports career lie the rigors and trials of a demanding life both on and off the field–and especially when they’re on the road. You see, when the lights go down and the last fan leaves, when the cheers fade, and the bags are packed, the players are there alone and away. Away from family, away from friends, and away from the fellowship of home-church believers. It is at this ‘away’ point that the ministry of the baseball chapel can have the greatest impact. Hearing a sermon is one thing–seeing a sermon is totally different. That’s where the player representatives come in and for the Cleveland Indians, one of those representatives is Travis Fryman.

Travis Fryman came to the Indians from the Detroit Tigers in a late season trade last year and while he is new to Cleveland, he is not new to baseball. He began his career in 1990 with the Detroit Tigers and in nine years as a pro has racked up some pretty impressive numbers: lifetime batting average, .275 and lifetime fielding average, .975. His solid play for Cleveland and his timely hitting, (288 batting average), has kept the tribe on top of the American League Central Division and positioned for another helping of post-season excitement.

In the time between the Chapel and suiting up for the evening’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, Travis shared his thoughts on a variety of subjects. What follows are insights into Travis Fryman; the man, the player, and our brother in the Lord.

What are your feelings on the issue of players as role models?
"Whether we think we are or not, the fact is we are role models–the emphasis on sports in our culture has made us that. Therefore, it is important for professional athletes to remember that in or out of uniform what we say and do affects people, especially the younger fans."

How do you maintain your motivation day in and day out?
"I do the best I can every day. This way, I don’t get uptight about the daily box scores or statistics. It is scriptural to approach everything we do as though we are doing it for the Lord. On or off the field, my priority has got to be to love my Lord with every fiber of my being and to love my neighbor as myself. Again, it comes down to: we have got to walk the walk not just talk it."

Can you tell us about your relationship with the Lord?
"I accepted the Lord as a youngster. Growing up and watching the lives of my family, especially my father and grandfather, I could not help but notice the profound influence a relationship with Jesus had in their lives. As I grew older and baseball grew in importance in my life, I realized I had to keep my priorities in order lest a career in professional baseball overshadow what is truly the most important goal we can have: to serve the Lord Jesus."

Is there a scripture that you are especially fond of?
"In my life and my ministry to the professional athletes I work with, I look for inspiration to 1 Timothy 4:8; "Training the body helps a little, but godly living helps in every way. Godly living has the promise of life now and in the world to come." In a profession where the emphasis is on speed, strength, and endurance, it is essential to keep our focus on what really matters. This is laying up treasure in heaven – this makes sense."

As Mr. Fryman walked into the locker room it was clear he knew what he was about and where he drew his strength from. Later that evening, in the second inning to be exact, Travis displayed this strength at the plate when he took a 3-1 pitch deep into the left-field bleachers for his career high 23rd homer of the season. And, while it was that long blast that began the tribe’s 5-3 victory over the Orioles, the look on his face as he rounded the bases said it all: "Training the body helps little, but godly living helps in every way. Godly living has the promise of life now and in the world to come."