For Love of Jesus (and the Game)

For the past seventeen years, some of the members of Creekside Christian Church in Elk Grove, California, have been leading a week-long baseball camp with two goals in mind: to provide kids with the highest level of instruction around and, more importantly, share the Gospel with members of the community who maybe would not typically visit a church or attend a ministry-related event.

This is Sandlot Ministries.

Darin Boyd

It all began at a weekly Bible study. “At one period, we decided it was great for us to get together and do Bible study,” said Darin Boyd, “but we should maybe get out there and do something.” At the time, Darin, who serves as an elder at Creekside, owned and operated a baseball training facility, and the rest of the guys in the Bible study similarly were experienced players and coaches. They decided to host a baseball camp for young kids and players, using that as a platform to present the Gospel to them.

“[We’re] doing something that we all love to do,” Darin said. “They love the game, they love being around the game, and they get to use that platform to share the love of Christ with the players.”

That first year, they hoped to get around thirty-five kids to come out. Ultimately, 125 showed up. Since then, they’ve hosted anywhere from 200 to 300 kids each year. This year, 190 young baseball players attended the week-long camp, in addition to eighty-five different volunteers and guests who helped, visited, or participated in some way.

More importantly, by the end of the week, forty-four people had chosen for the first time to follow Jesus. Darin explained that they don’t just cut them loose at week’s end. Because many of the volunteers currently coach or volunteer in the local baseball community, “they see kids not only on the teams that they work with and they’re around, but they see kids at church, they see kids at school, they see kids in their community. They work with youth programs around the area, so there’s an opportunity to stay connected with players.”

One of the unique aspects of Sandlot Ministries is the wide breadth of attendees. For some of the kids, this is their first time playing baseball at all, while others are experienced all-star players seeking to further hone their skills. There is room for all of them. In fact, one of the philosophies Sandlot Ministries uses is, “There’s always room for one more.”

Not only does this mean they will accommodate players of any skill level, it also means if a kid shows up on day two or three, they will figure out how to integrate them into the camp. In fact, Darin emphasized their desire to be inclusive. “[It] doesn’t cost anything for players to attend. If they don’t have any gear or they don’t have any equipment, we provide all that for them. We’ve really tried to position the camp to break any barrier that might prevent attendance for a player.”

When talking about the lasting impact of the past seventeen years of Sandlot Ministry, Darin shared that out of the eight different high schools in the immediate area, “we have players that represent every one of those high schools, and they have the opportunity to share their witness with their immediate sphere of influence, whether that be on their team or their friendships at their schools.” He said it’s also a great opportunity for a lot of athletes to get to share their testimony.

He said, “We have players that, as they’ve gone through their career, it’s given them the confidence to live out their faith in a more open manner.”

Even beyond the impact on the players, another byproduct of Sandlot Ministries has been stirring up others to love and good works. “I think we’ve really tried to take the position to inspire people to use whatever skill or talent or interest they have as a platform to share the Gospel and influence their communities,” said Darin. “None of our staff or people are professionally trained. They have no theological training. They’re just laypeople who said, ‘Hey, I think we can do this. Let’s try and see what happens.’”