Here today, gone tomorrow" is one of the poorest parts of contemporary media practice. A publication makes someone temporarily famous or infamous, but we never learn what happened to him afterwards. At WORLD we want to show how God works and keeps working on His creatures, so we are beginning this month a new feature, "Where are they now?" We'll report on what has happened to some who were in our pages four or six years ago.
Today's subject is baseball coach Mike Easler, now 49. I wrote about him in March 1994 when he impressed me with how he taught both batting and biblical thinking to young major leaguers. Back then he was the hitting coach of the Boston Red Sox and a licensed Baptist minister in San Antonio during the off-season. Now he continues with the same two callings, except that he has moved from Red Sox to Redbirds. Mr. Easler's advice hasn't changed: "Just track the ball, then explode," he counseled young St. Louis Cardinals outfielder J.D. Drew, a likely future star who said after a lot of swings, "It's getting better." Mr. Easler responded, amid the thwack! thwack! of bat perfectly hitting ball, "Yes, it is, you're getting the basics, milk before meat, baseball or Bible."
Is there a biblical worldview of batting? Listening to Mr. Easler as the Cardinals took their batting cage cuts, it seems that way. To Ray Lankford he said, "We ain't gonna be perfect, but we're going to turn on those pitches." To Brian McRae he said, "Gotta hit those low pitches! Yes! Everything you do, you want to be in control." Mr. McRae, who did not hit well last year, replied pensively, "I don't think I need to be as quick as I've tried to be. If I'm fluid, it'll come." Mr. Easler agreed, "Yes, keep the word 'flow' in your mind. We're not smart enough to think about 3 or 4 different things ... we do what feels good, so get used to doing things right, and then that will feel good." Mr. McRae responded, "And I know the feeling is good because it produces good results. I'm not fighting the ball." Thwack! Thwack! "Yes!" Mr. Easler responded. "Now you're ready to explode. It's from within! Boom! Power comes from within!" Mr. McRae responded, "Yes, that felt right."
Baseball displays a profound democracy. At one batting practice session a father told his 3-year-old son, "There's Mark McGwire," and the boy asked, "Does he have to wait his turn?" Mr. McGwire did, and joined other players in picking up the dozens of balls at the session's end and putting them in baskets. But democracy also means that players come and go: On March 18 the Cardinals, trying to shore up their bullpen, traded a utility player well-liked by players and fans, Joe McEwing, for Jesse Orosco, a veteran left-hander who holds the record for most games pitched in-1,090. Manager Tony La Russa mournfully said right after the trade's announcement, "Part of the joy you have coming to the ballpark is knowing you have Joe coming to the clubhouse. But we don't enjoy getting beat. This is the real world. You don't have everything. We're close to being good. We needed something to be better."
J.D. Drew, sitting in front of his locker, was wearing a T-shirt showing a baseball labeled, "Official Savior of Mankind," and under those words a cursive "Jesus Christ." (Official major league baseballs have the signature of the American or National League president in that spot.) On March 18, right after the McEwing-for-Orosco announcement, Mr. Drew sadly thought through what he said was his first experience of a buddy being traded: "I love the way Joe plays. We competed with, not against, each other." But two days later it was fun to watch him in the batting cage with Mr. Easler, and jubilant sounds coming from both: "Coil! Like a whip! Boom! Yes! Hoo-hah!"
Mr. Easler knows about trades; he played for six major league teams from 1973 to 1987, becoming so proficient at his particular skill that he was known as "The Hit Man." Now that he's been in professional baseball for three decades, he sees the physical automatically; just as talented mechanics can look under the hood of a car and quickly discern problems, so Mr. Easler at a batting cage can watch a swing and instantly know the correction that is needed. "What I really work at," he said, "is reading the personality. The external is easy, the internal far more difficult." That's the difference as well between Phariseeism and Christianity, and when I asked Mr. Easler about what was similar in teaching batting and Bible, he grinned and said, "Certain absolutes. Always go back to basics. Jesus came to save us from our sins. Do the basics. Everything flows from them."