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‘No’ to pro ball, ‘yes’ to the ministry

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–In 1958, at age 16, Brian Richardson was faced with a difficult, life-defining choice.

He was a star shortstop with the semi-pro Gloversville Merchants. In Richardson’s three years with the team — he cracked its starting lineup at age 14 — the Merchants had won the New York state championship each year (1956-58) and he had been named the state’s all-star shortstop the last two seasons.

Richardson’s prowess caught the eye of scout Johnny Coakley of the Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins).

“They offered me a contract,” Richardson said. “I was only 16, so my parents had to sign.”

They were not in favor of him playing ball and refused to sign. Richardson chose to abide by their wishes, despite the fact they never attended one of his games. Had he grown up in today’s culture, Richardson said he likely would have rebelled, but at the time that thought didn’t seriously enter his mind.

“I didn’t rebel because I felt the Lord was calling me to something besides playing baseball,” said Richardson, now professor of leadership and church ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “I knew that it would break my father’s heart in particular. He was dead set against me playing on Sundays, which I avoided as much as possible. In the ’50s, we didn’t play that many games on Sunday. In high school, we never played a game on Sunday. It wasn’t the issue that it is today.

“They also didn’t pay very much back then and that played a factor. If you made $10,000 a year, you were making a good salary. It wasn’t like I could become a millionaire and then go into ministry or something like that.”

Several of Richardson’s teammates went on to play in the majors, including Jack Sanford, who earned National League Rookie of the Year honors in 1957 with the Philadelphia Phillies and finished second to Don Drysdale in Cy Young voting in 1962 with the San Francisco Giants.

After turning down the offer, Richardson went off to Philadelphia College of Bible for a year before attending Campbell University in North Carolina. There he played baseball, basketball and soccer, but never seriously considered pursuing a professional sports career.

“If I was going to go into baseball, that would have taken my focus,” he said. “I would have had to give all of my energy to it. But I fell in love with a girl who is now my wife. I knew then that I needed to decide what I really wanted to do with my life and I felt the Lord calling me into full-time ministry.”

Richardson said he had great respect for his father, who led him to the Lord at age 11 or 12. After emigrating from Scotland at age 16, Richardson’s father worked as an office boy at a local carpet mill. Eventually he moved his way up to chief stylist and designer, while also attending seminary and pastoring a Baptist church in the General Association of Regular Baptists denomination.

“I’ve never known anybody who worked as hard as he did,” Richardson said. “He would work all week at his carpet mills job and then all weekend and Wednesday nights at church.

“I respected my father. You could ask him any question you wanted to on the Bible and 30 minutes later you were sorry you asked him: He was still going [with his answer]. He was obsessed with his call to ministry and with providing for his family.”

Richardson grew up only 40 miles from his future wife, Sharon Tagart, but they didn’t meet until a Youth for Christ International Convention in Canada when Richardson was 15. Sports played a key role in their meeting, Richardson said.

“They had a softball game, campers against staff, and they didn’t know I played semi-pro ball so they stuck me out in right field on the campers team,” he recounted. “I made a couple of great plays and then they asked me where I wanted to play and I moved in to shortstop. I was the star of the game. Afterwards I thought Sharon would be impressed because she saw the whole game. I asked her how she liked the game and she said, ‘Oh, what happened? Who won?'”

Richardson’s play did catch the eye of Tagart’s father and Richardson talked him into letting him ride home with their family. A year later Richardson and Sharon began dating and in 1961 — Richardson’s first year at Campbell — they were married.

“She is as godly a woman as you could ever hope for,” Richardson said. “She is totally committed to the Lord, as are our three children, for which we are very grateful.”

After graduating from Campbell, Richardson went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, an institution he selected because “at the time, it was the only conservative Southern Baptist seminary.”

Richardson earned his master of divinity and Ph.D. from Southwestern and in 1972 accepted a teaching position at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. In 1996, Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. made Richardson one of the first hires of his tenure.

Sports remains an integral part of Richardson’s life today. Multiple times a week, he can be found playing basketball against Southern students one third his age. Growing up, Richardson said he lived to play ball.

“All summer long I played baseball. I was good because I worked at it all the time,” he said. “I lived on a street that had a great big cement wall. As soon as it was daylight I was bouncing a baseball off that wall. I made a target and threw at that target. I fielded balls off the wall. As long as my parents didn’t call me in I was out there playing ball.”

While the Brooklyn Dodgers captivated Richardson’s attention growing up, he doesn’t claim a favorite team today.

“Back then, the teams stayed together,” he said. “As a kid, I could name every player who played for the Dodgers…. I can still give you their starting lineup from the ’50s. Today, players jump where the money is and I don’t have the kind of identification with a team that I did as a kid. Basically, today if I know someone is a Christian I root for him and it doesn’t matter which team he is on.”
Garrett Wishall is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

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  • Garrett E. Wishall