Last Friday, I had the opportunity to bring Atlanta Braves Hall of Famer Dale Murphy to Columbus, Ga. for an All-Star Leadership Luncheon. The crowd included some real All-Stars in our military community, but everyone was there to see “the Murph”.
The event was a guilty pleasure for sure. As a baseball-loving kid growing up in southeast Ohio, it would have been natural for me to become an Indians (now Guardians), Reds, or even Pirates fan. But for Turner Broadcast System.
The self-proclaimed “America’s Team” reached my cinder block house on the top of Marietta’s Harmer Hill. On the screen, Dale would race across the outfield for a diving catch or cut down a runner with his cannon-like arm. At bat, Dale would hit a game-winning home run – or at least that is what my prayer was about each time he stepped in the batter’s box.
Meeting Dale did not disappoint. The youngest player to ever win the National League’s Most Valuable Player award consecutively is easily the most gracious public figure I have ever met. Just like the lead character in The Andy Griffith Show that preceded every TBS Braves telecast, Dale was humble and kind in speech and action.
The best part is that Dale maximizes his baseball fame into worthy endeavors to provide lessons on leadership and character to audiences of ages.
The very next day I was able to hear another one of my heroes speak.
Prior to the start of the annual Mogadishu Mile 5k in uptown Columbus, Ranger veteran Jeff Struecker gave the invocation.
Many people know Jeff from his service in the Ranger Regiment. Jeff is kind of a big deal. He is a Best Ranger Competition winner. He is a member of Task Force Ranger, the combined special operations unit that on this day 29 years ago fought for their lives during the Battle of the Black Sea, now immortalized on the silver screen in the movie, Black Hawk Down.
Jeff left the Regiment to become a chaplain and ultimately he returned to the Ranger Regiment in that role. Now, Jeff leads 2 Cities Church in Columbus, Ga. where his military career began.
For years I was encouraged to meet Jeff. Upon returning to Columbus to lead the Ranger Outreach Center, friends and associates alike would ask if I had met Jeff yet. But, if you know me, the answer was always, “No.”
It took one of my friends to invite Jeff to The ROC for us to meet. Since then, Jeff Struecker has been one of my mentors and biggest fans because we desire the same thing – to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
I might speak to Jeff a couple of days in a row or go a few weeks without contact, but I know I can always talk to one of my heroes about something more important than sports, politics, or current events.
Jeff’s in the Ranger Hall of Fame and we are holding out hope for baseball’s hall for Dale. But, we all believe there is an assurance of eternal life and that is a message to be shared.
Yes, I still have heroes. I reserve just one sport for an idol. He took human form to show us all a path to redemption and hope in those who believe in Him and carry their cross daily.