Ken Whitten used to dream of playing professional baseball.
But even though God closed that door following Whitten’s college pitching career nearly 40 years ago at Eastern Illinois University, He reopens another door into baseball for Whitten each spring as Major League players and coaches — especially New York Yankees — descend on the Tampa-area Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz where he has served as pastor for 26 years.
With the Yankees’ spring training facility less than half an hour away, some 8-12 players and coaches worship at the church each year. That has afforded Whitten the opportunity to forge relationships with legendary Yankees like Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Joe Girardi and Reggie Jackson. Former MLB player and manager Lou Piniella is an Idlewild member, and Angels slugger Albert Pujols is among other baseball personalities to whom Whitten has ministered.
In 2014 when Whitten celebrated 25 years at Idlewild in Lutz, Fla., the church honored him with bobble head dolls featuring their pastor dressed in a Yankees uniform with a Bible under his arm.
“God’s calling on my life into ministry was not really saying no to baseball,” Whitten told Baptist Press. “It was saying yes in a more eternal way, and that was that I get to minister to these guys in a spiritual way.”
Two pastors on the Idlewild staff are official chaplains for the Tampa Yankees, one of the team’s minor league affiliates, and Whitten has led Bible studies with Major League Yankee players.
“Seeing some of them come to Christ is always a special treat,” he said.
On a lighter note, Whitten added that Reggie Jackson, a Hall of Fame outfielder, “can hijack a Bible study quicker than anyone. He’s always got a baseball story. And of course, we egg him on a little bit.”
Piniella, manager of the year twice in the American League and once in the National League, credits Whitten as one of the people who helped lead him to Jesus. Reared as a Roman Catholic, Piniella began attending Idlewild more than 20 years ago when he moved back to his home city of Tampa, Fla., and quickly learned about knowing Christ personally as Lord and Savior.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press