The "Hit Man" returns

National | After disappointment, Christian ballplayer relishes battling back into the majors

Issue: "School-to-Work debate," Sept. 5, 1998

in Nashua, N.H. - In the cool darkness of the Nashua Pride dugout at Holman Stadium, Mike Easler peered out at his players taking batting practice, listened to the rhythmic cadence of ball after ball thwacking through the late afternoon sunlight and into the shadows beyond, and discussed his rise, his fall, and his rise again in the game of baseball. Mr. Easler was one of the purest hitters in the majors during his 14-season tenure there from 1973 through 1987. He batted over .300 on four occasions, gained the nickname, "The Hit Man," and was a member of the "We Are Family" World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979. After his playing days ended, Mr. Easler hooked on with the Boston Red Sox as a hitting coach (see WORLD profile, March 19, 1994) and was credited with turning Mo Vaughn into the fearsome slugger that he is today. Mr. Easler's growing stature and reputation in the majors as a hitting coach, however, did not bring him more inner peace. Although he was a part-time Baptist minister, Mr. Easler grew more and more bitter at the Red Sox management over issues including his salary and his role coaching replacement players during the 1995 strike-marred spring training. Specifically, Mr. Easler was unhappy that replacement players would be paid more money than he was being paid to coach them. He also fought with former Red Sox pitching coach Al Nipper while the two of them were coaching a winter league team in Puerto Rico. The Red Sox quickly fired him, and he found himself out of the big leagues, and with a severely tarnished reputation. "I was at a point in my life where I wasn't at peace with myself about what was going on with my career," Mr. Easler told WORLD. "I thought I should've been paid more as a coach. Even as a Christian, I was fighting so many things. I just wasn't at peace with myself. I was battling selfishness and bitterness inside of me, and I was so angry about so many things. I had just lost my parents, and I was just filled with turmoil. "It was at this point that I opened up the Bible to the 23rd Psalm and began to read it," Mr. Easler continued. "I read where it said, 'Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.' "That brought a peace to me that had been missing in my life. I knew that I had single-handedly tried to battle the demons that were inside of me-pride, bitterness, selfishness-and I had to learn that I couldn't do it alone. So God used that time of turmoil to humble me, and I'm so much more thankful and grateful now, and I'm relying solely on his grace every day." Mr. Easler spent the last two baseball seasons coaching at National Christian University in San Antonio, and then this past winter the Nashua Pride of the Atlantic League telephoned him. The Pride is part of a new, six-team, East Coast-based, independent league, and they needed a manager. Mo Vaughn told the club's owner to contact Mike Easler. He did, and Mr. Easler accepted the position. "The Atlantic League is highly competitive," Mr. Easler remarked. "We're trying to get guys back to the majors who've already been there. We've got ex-major leaguers like Joe Grahe (Colorado Rockies), Milt Cuyler (Detroit Tigers), and Felix Jose (Kansas City Royals) on my club. It's a situation where guys are still honing their skills, but not at an expense to a major-league organization. So it's a good league for guys like that to come to. "I know that God has placed me there with this club for a purpose," Mr. Easler continued as the sun set behind the brick ballyard. "God allowed me to reorganize my life and its direction. This is a wonderful challenge for me, and allows me to do what I've always wanted to do-manage. God allowed me to go through what I did with the Red Sox for a greater purpose, and now he has blessed me by allowing me to start the road back to the majors right here."

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