Few things are more relaxing than spring training baseball under the warm Arizona sun. But as the Kansas City Royals learned in the spring of 2020, everything can change in a heartbeat.
“A group of us was presenting about the organization to our brand-new ownership group in Surprise, Ariz.,” said Mike Marasco, the team’s director of leadership development. “The phones starting pinging that MLB was canceling that day’s games. They were taking players off the spring training fields while we were talking about the organization. By Sunday night, our assistant general manager, J.J. Picollo, called the staff together, saying, `we have to get home and we have to get out of here fast. They are recommending that you drive home.’
“My wife and four kids were visiting over that spring break period, so we took off on a trip from Surprise to Kansas City. It was memorable. I had flashbacks of Chevy Chase in `Vacation.’”
Marasco shared his experiences at a recent luncheon at Kauffman Stadium to kick off plans for the annual Faith and Family Day at the ballpark. This year’s event will be held on Saturday, July 17, following the Royals’ 6:05 game against the Baltimore Orioles. The program will feature player testimonies, a performance by award-winning musician Zach Williams and a gospel message by Scott Dawson, founder of Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association and Safe at Home Ministries.
The pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s event, as well as the entire Royals season. Picollo encouraged Marasco at the beginning of the pandemic to look at the situation in two ways.
“First, he said this is a crisis,” Marasco said. “It’s going to be difficult, and we don’t even know the level of crisis that we are facing, but we also have to see this as an opportunity. We must acknowledge the crisis but also steward the opportunity.”
That is exactly what the Royals did. At a time when many major league franchises stopped paying their minor league players, several top Royals officials took pay cuts to help fund their salaries.
“The focus of the entire Royals organization last year was, `how do we come out of this stronger than we went in?’” he said. “Some people made a tremendous sacrifice to come out stronger. That was our rallying cry going into this. While some organizations went dark and didn’t stay in touch with their players, ours poured on the gas all the more to support and care for our guys. As (manager) Mike Matheny said, `use the opportunity to build relationships and rapport with guys that normally would not be possible.’”
As a result, the faith of many players grew stronger.
“It’s good to see God at work in the hearts of these players, how he is changing and molding them, and the questions they are asking in the midst of one of the toughest professions out there,” team chaplain Mike Farmer said. “They wrestle with their identity and become rooted in Jesus, not in how they perform.”
This commitment came from the top down, from the ownership group and General Manager Dayton Moore.
“One of the principles that Dayton has instilled in us is to remain calm in the eye of the storm,” Marasco said. “There was an urgency and a recognition of the situation, but there also was a calmness in the eye of the storm. How were we able to do that? There is a deep reservoir of leadership and character that allowed them to flourish at that time. Looking at the fruit, we are able to say we came out of it stronger than when we went in.”
Dawson encouraged Christian leaders to making the same commitment to seeing lives changed on Faith and Family Day.
“In 2020, everything our world put its trust in materially was snatched away,” he said. “If there ever were a message for today’s society, it’s that Jesus Christ is the answer for the world. It’s time for us to gather back together. This is more than an event. This is a lifechanging encounter for someone inside this stadium. What we can do together is so much more than what we can do apart. This is when the body of Christ will walk together. Isn’t it time for the world to know what we stand for instead of what we stand against?”
Because attendance guidelines are changing from month to month during the pandemic, tickets for the event are not yet on sale. The latest information will be available at www.royals.com/faith.
The biggest need is for counselors for the event, Dawson said. Two live training events will be available in the Kansas City area, and interested people also can train online at www.scottdawson.org/encourage-training. Information about the event is available at Safe at Home Ministries..
Marasco encourages Christians to reflect on the lessons of the pandemic and then move forward with a new sense of purpose.
“As ready as we are to move on and move forward, we have an opportunity to learn from our experiences over the past year,” he said. “Learning a new way of doing things comes from processing where we have been.”
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice