MBC’s Ulveling ministers to semi-pro baseball team
By Brian Koonce
July 12, 2005
COLUMBIA– Put me in coach, I’m ready to pray.
That’s the attitude of Joe Ulveling, the Missouri Baptist Convention’s family ministries specialist, and chaplain of the semi-professional baseball team, the Mid-Missouri Mavericks.
Seven times this summer, every Sunday home game, Ulveling leads a short devotion and prayer time. He meets first with the home team, then the visiting team, then the umpires.
“I’m trying to build relationships,” he said. “I talk to them, listen and cut up a little bit. They get to know who I am and what I’m about.”
What he’s about, is ministering to a group of people who travel around the midwest by bus, and whose Sunday mornings are usually spent warming up or working in a few swings of batting practice.
“Their schedule is pretty grueling,” Ulveling said. “They don’t have access to a minister. They don’t have anyone to encourage them in the spiritual development.”
So he takes on that role.
“I’m there to pray for them and encourage them,” he said. “If they need me, they know I’m there for their spiritual development, to share Christ and to encourage them in their development in baseball.
“It’s all about relationships and being there,” said Ulveling, who stays for most of the games. “If they see you’re sincere, instead of them building up a wall, the wall drops. It starts things off and then you can eventually get deeper.”
The Mavericks play in the professional Frontier League (FL), an independent baseball league made up of 12 teams in Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Although the teams are not officially affiliated with a major league baseball team, some of the players will probably make the move up to “the big show.” Kansas City Royals pitcher D.J. Carrasco came from the FL. Players are paid, but earn nowhere near the millions that are standard in the major leagues. During the season, they live with host families and travel by bus, not plane, and use the University of Missouri’s baseball facilities.
This is Ulveling’s second year working with the Mavericks. At the first chapel meeting of this year, one of the players who had faithfully been attending chapel faithfully last season came to Joe and told him that he had accepted Christ as his personal savior two months earlier while at home.
“I just feel so clean,” he told Ulveling. “I don’t have any of the desires I used to have.”
“It’s so awesome,” Ulveling said. “Here he is a babe in Christ and he wants to learn and grow. I’m so thankful I’ll be able to put some tools in his hands.”
Ulveling connected with the Mavericks through Baseball Chapel (BC). The ministry is recognized by major and minor league baseball and is responsible for the appointment and oversight of more than 400 team chapel leaders at all levels of professional baseball. Chaplains serve leagues in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Japan.
“BC fit right in with my own heart,” he said. “They’re there to give, not to expect anything in return.”
Out of the 24 on a roster, 10-20 usually attend the pre-game services.
“They’re very respectful about chapel,” Ulveling said. “They don’t talk and almost every player – home or visitor – will come up and shake my hand afterward.”
BC also provides free Bibles and devotional materials to the players.
Even though Ulveling is a baseball fan and pitched on the college level, Sundays at the baseball diamond are not times for asking for autographs or snapping pictures. He uses his background to minister specifically to the athletes.
“I try to bring in baseball analogies,” he said. “They’re trying to reach their peak performance on the field, but no matter how hard we try or practice, there’s nothing we can do to get to heaven.”