On one of the bookcase shelves in my office sits a beautifully hand-made shadow box. It features the baseball I captured off the bat of former Kansas City Royal Matt Stairs during a game Sept. 21, 2005, at Kauffman Stadium. I was sitting in the second deck directly behind home plate when Stairs fouled a pitch straight back that barely cleared the backstop netting. It came directly at me. I raised my right hand and the ball smacked right into my palm, ricocheting straight down. It bounced off the concrete, went straight up in the air and came down right into my waiting hands. I have attended many Major League Baseball games and had come close to getting a foul ball on several occasions, but had failed to secure one – until that memorable day.
The shadow box displaying Stairs’ foul ball also contains a baseball card of Stairs and a reproduced box score from the Royals’ 4-3 victory against the Detroit Tigers that autumn afternoon (the Royals scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win it). It is a treasure of inestimable value. The shadow box was made by my step-dad, Joe Pratt of Coopertown, although he would tell you that he was raised near Mount Sharon on a central Tennessee county farm, cutting tobacco, bailing hay, milking cows, slaughtering hogs and learning how to make lip-smacking buttermilk biscuits that melt in your mouth.
It seems like there isn’t anything that Joe can’t do. Something wrong with your tractor? Call Joe. Need a ceiling fan installed? Call Joe. Got a leaky roof? Call Joe. Need a “green thumb”? Call Joe. Need a tenor for the Christmas cantata or your Southern Gospel quartet? Call Joe. Want to feed breakfast to the whole church? Call Joe – and put him in charge of the biscuits!
You get the picture. The man is amazing. I have never seen anyone so universally gifted – and tough (he is also an Army veteran). But what truly makes Joe special is that he devotes his giftedness to serving the Lord Jesus by doing for others. I do not know many 80-year-old men who could fully recover after falling off a ladder while repairing a roof during a mission trip to the poor Appalachian region of Kentucky. But Joe did.
He is a true craftsman – especially when it comes to wood. Joe has never met a tree he didn’t like. And he knows everyone one of them by name, whether it’s white oak, elm, ash, maple, cedar or hickory. Put a saw and lathe in Joe’s hands, and you will witness magic.
This is a man who, in his 60s, constructed a magnificent new worship center for Grace Baptist Church in Springfield, Tenn., a community about 30 miles north of Nashville. I am blessed in that I was saved and baptized in the century-old version of Grace Baptist Church built by my granddaddy and then had the privilege of preaching a homecoming service at the new version to replace it built by my step-dad.
Mom and Joe met after both had experienced pain following the deaths of their spouses. Both had been happily, faithfully married – mom for 38 years with dad, Joe similarly with his late wife, Ann. Both were still young and most importantly, both have always been committed to Jesus Christ.
I have known many people who love God’s Word, and I put Joe at the top of that list. He has read the Bible every day that I have known him. And he tries to do what it says.
Joe built not one, but two, new homes for my mother during their years together. Mom recently reminded me that, shortly before she married Joe, I told folks, “If anyone is worthy of marrying my mom, it’s Joe Pratt.” I meant it, and after 28 years I’ve been proven right.
Every time I have ever heard Joe pray, he always asks Jesus to help him be a blessing to someone in need. Well, he has. Joe has always been there for mom, for my family and for me.
Joe’s health has declined and the jigs and saws have given way to Hospice. Joe will tell you that Jesus has been faithful to Him and that you ought to place your life in Jesus’ hands. He knows from 87 years of faithfulness and the true words from the Bible that are written on his heart.
I will always love Joe Pratt.