The twelve-year-old boy steps to the plate in the bottom of the last inning, his team down two runs.
His first-base coach calls time and motions the batter aside.
"This is the kind of game your mother would have liked," he tells the boy. The coach, Stan Allcorn, should know. He is also the little leaguer's pastor, and he buried his mother months earlier when she lost a long battle with cancer.
Not missing the import of the minute, the boy responds, Don't you think she's watching?"
The man and boy, Brian Smith, slap hands and the player stands a little straighter as he walks back to the plate. He swings hard at the first pitch and then the second. Nothing but air.
The team from DeRidder, La., holds its collective breath. A teammate stands on base hoping the next pitch does not signal the end of their mid-summer dream.
The batter steps back from the plate, and looks down the first-base line. His pastor/coach shouts an encouraging word and raises his hand slightly, pointing heavenward. The young player tips his hat to the coach, spreads his legs to gain more power and stares at the pitcher who will deliver his destiny.
The pitcher enters his stretch, then delivers the ball over home plate. The batter swings with all his might, and the crack of the bat smashing the ball resounds through the bleachers. He has not hit a home run all season … until now. The ball sails over the outfield fence, and suddenly, the game is tied.
The team goes on to win the game and claim its first district title in eighteen years, then wins the Louisiana tournament in Pineville for DeRidder's first-ever Dixie Youth State Championship. From there they go to the Dixie Youth World Series in Conway, S.C., where they placed fifth among twelve teams from 1,200 across the South.
Weeks afterwards, Allcorn still gets choked up recalling that moment. His emotion is reflective of the reason he spent his summer coaching eleven- and twelve-year olds. "I just love being with the boys," he says.
"I think there is still a little bit of boy in all of us."
Allcorn, pastor of First Baptist Church, DeRidder, was one of four coaches for the team, who won their first two World Series games before dropping the next two to knock themselves out of the tournament.
Allcorn's oldest son, Bill, was one of the DeRidder team members, several of whom also call Allcorn pastor.
"The ones that are church members had trouble knowing what to call me," Allcorn says. "They're use to calling me Bro. Stan, but when we first started practicing, they couldn't decide between Bro. Stan or Coach Stan."
He says in general the boys had little trouble with him being a pastor. "I don't think the boys acted any different around me," he says. "Maybe some of the parents did."
Allcorn says it has been good for him to be seen in the community outside of the pulpit.
"Pastors need an identity outside of their ministry," he says. "If the fruit of the Spirit doesn't work in your life daily, it doesn't matter what you say in the pulpit."
Being visible outside the pulpit also humanizes the pastor. "They see we're going to make mistakes, too, … that we're not perfect either."
Baseball also helped Allcorn become involved in the lives of unchurched people.
"People are not going to just walk into your office and ask you, 'How can I become a Christian?' I've had that happen one time in eight years.
"We're going to reach them by building relationships, being involved with their kids."
And those relationships have paid off. Allcorn recalls one year when he baptized the entire infield of a team he was coaching. "Not that I was being overly evangelistic," he notes. "We've never sat down on the baseball field and told them how to become a Christian."
Rather, Allcorn says the real impact of the time he has spent with the boys will be measured in years to come. "Down the line, maybe these kids don't have a pastor and they need to talk to someone, or maybe they'll get themselves in trouble and they can't talk to their parents, and they'll come to me because they know me."
He also has been of support to both players and parents during difficult periods. After the death of one of his players, the player's parents asked him to preach the funeral. This year's team includes two players who have lost their mothers in the past year.
In addition to opportunities to minister, Allcorn says there are similarities between leading a team and a congregation.
"A lot of the joys that come in coaching little leaguers is when they progress because of something you've taught them or showed them. That's the same as in the pastorate when you can see a church member growing in their Christian faith."
The coach adds it is rewarding "anytime you can impart lessons that were handed down to you to the next generation."
"I learned most of my baseball from my little league coach and, in the Christian life, that's where we learn about Christ — from our parents, our pastors, our Sunday school teachers."