EDITORS’ NOTE: BP Sports columnist Tim Ellsworth is in Florida this week to cover spring training as baseball players get ready to begin a new season. This is the first in a series of stories BP will publish over the next several days.
ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Chris Reitsma will acknowledge that baseball can be an all-consuming pursuit.
“You play 162 games in 180 days, and if you don’t perform you’re out the door,” the Atlanta Braves relief pitcher said.
But despite its demands, baseball isn’t the most important thing in the world to Reitsma. His faith in Christ takes that priority, and it’s that belief that helps him deal with the rigors of the baseball season.
“It helps, no question, knowing that this game is such a small aspect of life,” Reitsma said. “I’m here for a reason. I’m going to try to touch as many people as I can with my story and my life and what Christ has done for me. With that being the perspective you can get a better hold on the ups and downs. You can really just lean on him. He has to be your rock.”
A native of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Reitsma is in his second season with the Braves, after spending the first three years of his Major League career in Cincinnati.
Reitsma understands his role to be a witness to others, especially his teammates. He says questions about his faith and his beliefs will come up occasionally in the locker room.
“You take every opportunity you can,” he said. “They don’t come along often. In this world people think they’ve got it figured out, and they obviously don’t. I’m just trying to keep an ear to what’s going on.”
On the field, Reitsma might try to be tough on opposing batters, but away from the game he has a softer side when it comes to children — especially those with mental and physical handicaps.
“My heart’s always gone out to them,” Reitsma said. “I love helping them out and love being around them.”
Reitsma often spends time during the off season working with children with disabilities in Calgary. He’s also starting a foundation in Atlanta to benefit children who are physically and mentally handicapped.
“It adds perspective,” he said about such work. “We all need that. No matter what you do or who you are, if you’re healthy you need perspective in terms of being thankful every day for health and strength and mental capabilities and physical capabilities.”
Reitsma is no stranger to physical disability. His father Mike, a retired pastor, has Parkinson’s disease — a disorder that affects motor skills and muscular functions.
“It’s been very hard to watch his body and the muscles just kind of give way,” Reitsma said. “His mind’s still good. You go away for eight months and come back and he’s different again. It’s very difficult to see.”
Mike Reitsma retired from his position as pastor of First Christian Reformed Church in Calgary because the disease had made him unable to continue in that role. Parkinson’s disease especially affected his speech and made it difficult for him to preach.
“It’s very frustrating for him because his mind is still right but he can’t write very well and stuff like that,” Reitsma said.
Experiences like these have reinforced to Reitsma that there’s more to life than baseball. Still, the sport is where God has called him for now, and Reitsma wants to do his best.
“I’m competitive, I want to win as much as the next guy,” he said. “But if I can give my all every single day then I can look myself in the mirror and know that I’m doing what God’s made me to do.”
Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. He writes a weekly column on sports and faith for BP Sports.