By Brian Koonce
O’FALLON – How many bi-vocational ministers count professional baseball manager as their day job?
Not many, but Steve Brook, the worship leader at Bethesda Baptist in St. Charles, was just named field manager and director of baseball operations for an independent professional baseball team, the River City Rascals.
Brook grew up on the south side of Chicago, a city steeped in baseball tradition. He was an ace pitcher in high school and entertained several scholarship offers from big-name schools, deciding eventually to keep it close to home and play for Illinois Wesleyan. Through four years as a starter, he continued to hone his pitches but he simply didn’t have the speed needed to make it in Major League Baseball (MLB).
“I always won more than I lost and put up really good numbers, but I was not a hard thrower,” Brook said. “Scouts were looking for guys who were throwing 90-95 mph, and I was throwing 80-85. I could win, but that didn’t matter.”
Fortunately, Brook had a degree to fall back on. He began teaching high school and coaching in Chicago in 2003. He married his wife – Ellen – and continued to teach while still trying out for the pros. In early 2004 he caught the eye of the River City Rascals and signed his first contract. The Rascals are part of the Frontier League, an independent baseball league that focuses on small markets. The level of play is similar to the A-level in the MLB system, and though the players do get contracts and salaries, they’re not getting the millions commanded by players for the nearby St. Louis Cardinals. The salaries range from about $600 a month to $1,600.
Brook worked with his high school to work out the details that allowed him to come to Missouri to begin the season in May while allowing him the chance to return to the classroom and ask for his job back after the summer’s 96 games.
“I still had to resign, which meant losing that security and insurance,” he said. “It was a big deal.”
The team set Brook up with a host family in O’Fallon and he was on his way. He started his home opener as a Rascal with two strikeouts before breaking down in later innings, giving up a three-run homer and losing the game.
“In this business, it not uncommon for the coaches to look at that one game and decide that you don’t have what it takes,” he said.
But the coaches had faith and kept Brook on board. Over that first season, he became one of the team’s better relievers with an ERA of 2.90 and a record of 10-2.
Brook had faith, too. He returned to Chicago to teach but by this time he and Ellen had a baby on the way and they decided it was time to move permanently to Missouri.
“We fell in love with this area,” Brook said. “It was much more conservative, much more traditional, and the people and the churches we visited were just great.”
Brook grew up in a Presbyterian church but didn’t understand what It meant to be saved until he was 21 and in college.
“Church was a chore,” he said. “I knew who God was, and I knew who Jesus was but that didn’t mean anything to me.”
While in school, Brook played guitar in a band that gradually shifted from secular music to Christian music and playing in a weekly campus worship service.
“That’s when I started reading the Bible for myself and realized that I had to make this real,” he said.
One of those churches the Brooks visited after moving to Missouri was Bethesda Baptist in St. Charles. The church’s then-pastor, Randy Curless, served as the team’s chaplain and during chapel one day discovered that Brook used to lead worship at a campus ministry. He began leading worship for Bethesda in 2006, and a few weeks later he and Ellen joined the church.
“They’re a great church. You know how it is to be around other Christians,” he said. “They’re so helpful and supportive.”
Meanwhile, Brook finished his pitching career with the Rascals in 2007 after four seasons due to league age limits. He held the team records for innings pitched, wins and strikeouts. Brook was one of the few people who had been with the team through several coaching and roster changes, so he became of one the more recognizable names on the field. Though he couldn’t play anymore, the team’s owners asked him to stay on as the team’s pitching coach and eventually the bench coach. Last season he helped lead the team to the league championship series before losing to the Lake Erie Crushers in five games.
“I’m honored and humbled to have this opportunity,” he said. “I can’t wait to get to work and build off of the success we enjoyed as a team last year.”
On first glance, there isn’t much similarity between leading worship and coaching nine men on a baseball diamond. But Brook’s skill set and personality lend themselves to both.
“One of things I need to do as a manager is make sure people see Christ in me,” he said. “People are going to be watching and seeing how I react to certain things. I have to show them that I’m different. I should never get thrown out of a game. Leading worship is a very similar thing. You’re up there like anyone else worshipping the Lord, but people are watching you and it’s an awesome responsibility.”
The Rascals are currently selling full season and mini plan tickets for the 2010 season with opening day slated for May 25 against the Normal CornBelters. For more informationm go to www.rivercityrascals.com.