Spectators at the Oklahoma Christian University baseball games may be surprised to find Oklahoma Christian Dean of Spiritual Life Jeff McMillon dressed in full uniform, sitting in the dugout and occasionally filling in as first-base coach for the Eagles.
While not an assistant coach, McMillon serves as a mentor for several of the baseball players and coaches. According to McMillon, he became involved with the program three or four years ago, after two players asked him to lead a devotional in their locker room.
“They were pretty serious about their faith so I was nervous about leading the Bible study since I did not really know either of those guys,” McMillon said. “It went really well immediately, though. Early on, it was just about the devotional but then I got to know the guys and really began to care about all of them.”
In addition to leading a weekly Bible study, McMillon attends all of the home baseball games each season and has begun occasionally accompanying the team on road trips.
“That first road trip kind of cemented the whole thing,” McMillon said. “When I am with them on the road, I will go out and catch in when the guys are taking batting practice and warm the guys up. All of that kind of stuff is fun for me.”
According to McMillon, he hopes to provide an example of leadership to the players in a slightly different manner than that of a coach.
“All of the other guys my age in the dugout are coaches, but with my background in psychology, I am talking to them almost as a life coach,” McMillon said. “When they get ripped on by the coaches, I am the guy who comes, puts an arm around their shoulder and tells them, ‘You can do this. You got this.’ I think they like having me around but sometimes it still surprises me.”
Sophomore infielder Isaac Holt said he would consider McMillon a mentor to him and several of the other players on the Eagle roster.
“Jeff is like a rock for our team,” Holt said. “When things are not going well for us, he is the guy who keeps us together. During our trip to St. Mary’s last weekend, he came up and just talked about what it is like to be a leader and how we can help our team and love our team better. He just accurately shows Christ’s love and loves each of us just the way we are.”
Besides mentoring the players, Head Baseball Coach Lonny Cobble said McMillon also brings a level of calmness to the coaching staff.
“He is the guy I call when I am feeling down about how the team is playing or when I have a bad day because he has a way of making it all seem like the sky is not falling in,” Cobble said. “He keeps me sane, he is positive and just very real — the guys love that about him. They can be themselves around him and he is not judgmental at all. In a day and age when everyone is judging everyone, he takes people for who they are, which makes him a great influence on our players and coaches.”
While he has seen firsthand how difficult and time consuming it is as a collegiate athlete, McMillon said he hopes the players will realize the opportunity they also receive by playing for the Oklahoma Christian program.
“College athletics really provides you with consistent opportunities to grow in adversity, to learn how to work within a group, to deal with failure and success and to put aside personal goals for the sake of the team,” McMillon said. “There are so many people who get out in the real world and have not learned the lessons these athletes get the chance to learn every day.”
According to McMillon, spending time with the team has also taught him how the game of baseball transcends to life.
“Baseball is a really complicated game,” McMillon said. “I played when I was a kid and have watched and been a fan for years, but I love asking the guys questions in the dugout about what the signal to steal is or why the pitcher would throw that particular pitch in that situation. And the other thing these guys have taught me is that we are all at different points in our walk with Christ and we need to respect, keep challenging and encourage each other to grow, no matter where we are.”
Holt said one of the important ideals McMillon has taught him and the rest of the team is how to become a leader who accepts people as they are, while still showing them Christ’s love.
“He motivates and pushes us to be the best we can be, not only as baseball players, but just as young men,” Holt said. “I think it is so easy for people to view us only as our sport, but Jeff sees us for way more than that. He sees us for who we truly are. Baseball season is going to come to an end pretty soon, but he is trying to shape us into men who follow Christ and I think that is something he does extremely well.”
As the baseball team continues its spring season, McMillon said he hopes to see the players grow as young men both on and off the field.
“Winning or losing, I hope the guys see this as God giving them physical ability and the chance to grow socially and spiritually through being on a team,” McMillon said. “They should be able to look back at the end of the season and, whether or not they have met every winning goal, know they are better, more mature and stronger people. Yes, I want them to win and get a bid to the post-season tournament, but even if they do not, I do not think that is the only way winners are measured.”
The Eagles will travel to Southwestern Oklahoma State University to face the Bulldogs tomorrow at 2 p.m.