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Back In The Swing of Things

Josh Gerig | Howard Payne Baseball

From a young age, I’ve loved baseball.

Growing in a small town called Lebanon, Oregon, I would have my parents hit me ground balls in our backyard ever since I can remember. My passion for baseball then turned into a dream; a dream of playing at the next level.

I went to a very small Christian high school and wasn’t recruited to play anywhere, even after a solid senior season. I was also a late bloomer, and didn’t truly grow into my body until I was a sophomore in college. I enrolled at the local community college, which didn’t have a baseball program at the time, and believed my dream was over. At this point in my life, I felt like I was letting myself and even my family down. My mom played college softball at the University of Oregon, and I really wanted to be able to say I was a college athlete just like her. I knew that everyone is told that they can no longer play sports at some point in their life; I just felt like this shouldn’t be my time yet. 

During that spring I learned that the community college I was enrolled at was bringing back the program. I was able to play one last summer season of American Legion baseball after my first year of college. After the summer season I talked with the new coach at Linn-Benton Community college and was able to join the team. My dream of playing college baseball was coming true. 

However, that dream quickly turned into a nightmare. During fall workouts, my body was struggling, I ignored it and believed it was just caused by the workouts and practices. My body continued to fail me, I felt alone, and my love for baseball was disappearing. I no longer desired to be around the baseball field, or even think about baseball. I had trouble sleeping at times knowing that I had practice and weights the next day. I grew up listening to Mariners games and was obsessed with any baseball games or information, but during that point in my life, I didn’t even want to listen to their games. Josh, the same kid that begged my parents to hit just a few more grounders, didn’t even want to pick up a ball. My love for baseball was quickly turning into disgust for the game. 

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After a few weeks, I finally decided to quit baseball; it was a very difficult decision and time in my life. Months passed along, but my body was still struggling. I was exhausted all the time and continued to lose weight. In the fall I weighed almost 200 pounds; in January, I dropped to 160 pounds, and finally went to the doctor.

A quick blood test showed that I had Type 1 Diabetes. I was shocked, but also relieved. I finally knew what was wrong with my body but knew I had to quickly learn my new lifestyle. Right after the doctor, I visited a specialist, and went home with test strips, insulin, and all the other supplies I needed. My family took the news pretty hard; they love me very much, and it was difficult for them to see me struggle with diabetes, but they did a great job of being supportive and hiding their fear for me. On occasion, I would oversleep, and recently, I learned that my sisters were afraid to come and check on me- they thought I might have had low blood sugar, and possibly even died. While it was difficult for me to handle my blood sugar levels, I was still in control for the most part. My family, on the other hand, had little to no control of it- and that can be very difficult.  

Adjusting to life with diabetes wasn’t easy, there was so much information I had to learn, but I had great specialist that helped me learn and adjust to my new life. Once I had a good understanding of how my body worked, I was able to get an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor. These two systems made life so much easier for me; rather than using needles to deliver insulin every morning, evening, and at meals. I was able to use one pod for three days that automatically delivered the insulin. The continuous glucose monitor showed me trends in my blood sugar levels and alerted me to low or high levels.

With my new equipment and confidence in managing my diabetes, I signed up for a mission trip with a group called Athletes in Action. I was originally going to go on the trip the previous year but decided not to after being diagnosed. The trip would eventually change my life. I spent a month in Panama and Guatemala playing baseball, running camps, visiting orphanages and sharing the gospel. I returned home and was content with the conclusion of my baseball career, and I regained my love for the sport. 

I fell back in love with the game on a couple different occasions during the trip. The first occasion was my first at bat and fielding opportunity in Panama. The competition and chance to play baseball again helped me remember how much I missed the game. The next occasion was during a youth camp we ran. During the camp I saw the pure joy playing baseball brought to the kids. It reminded me of playing baseball in the backyard; baseball is a kid’s game, and when I played like a kid it freed me up to enjoy the game and play fearlessly. The final occasion that renewed my love for baseball occurred after a different youth camp. When we finished the camp, I had the opportunity to share my testimony and story of my life through a translator to the parents and kids. After sharing my testimony, a mom came up to me and said that she was experiencing some very difficult things in her life at the time, and my story really helped her. This experience of being able to help bring a little joy or comfort to the mom helped me realize that I could help others through sports. In that moment, I had an undeniable feeling that I was not done helping others through baseball. 

I stayed in touch with a few of the players on the team, but I stayed in touch with Chad Anders the most. My friendship with Chad has been one of the most interesting and rewarding friendships in my life. Before even going on the trip, I was looking up my future teammates on Facebook; when I got to Chad’s, I looked over to my mom and told her that I could see us getting to be good friends. To this day I don’t know what it was that made me say that, but it soon became true; little did I know that I would be standing next to him on his wedding day as a groomsman. It’s a little funny that we became such good friends, because during the trip we honestly didn’t really talk much. He was with the rowdier group, and I stayed around the quieter guys, but after the trip we stayed in touch and made our regular calls to each other on Thursdays. 

It was on one of those Thursdays he told me about Howard Payne University, and that his older brother was a coach there. I quickly research all about Howard Payne in Brownwood Texas. After contacting Robert Anders, Chad’s brother, about the opportunity of playing baseball there. I prayed about it, and I decided to take a giant leap of faith and head to Texas that spring term.

My first few days on campus in Texas were very busy. I checked into dorms, and got used to having a roommate for the first time. Since I was the only boy in the family, I was able to have my own room for my whole life; it was a little bit of a shock to have to share a small dorm room, but I was able to adjust. Since I didn’t have my own car in Texas, I had to ride the shuttle to my classes off campus and find rides to practice from teammates. We had a team meeting early in the school year, and I met my new teammates, coaches, and staff. Honestly, it was a little overwhelming, trying to remember everyone’s names and make sure I completed all the transfer paperwork and medical records. But despite the early nerves, I quickly grew close to my teammates and knew they were there for me, and the teachers and members of the community also welcomed me with open arms. While I still missed my family at home, I soon had found a new family, deep in the heart of Texas. 

My decision to transfer to Howard Payne changed my life. I was able to achieve my lifelong dream of playing college baseball, and this time it was more than I could ever ask for. I was the starting shortstop for three seasons at Howard Payne, and just finished my senior year in 2019. We won our first regular season conference title since 1997 and finished with one of the best records in school history. I finished the season hitting above .300, only committed two errors all season- with none in conference- and was voted an honorable mention in the American Southwest Conference.

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Life with diabetes is full of highs and lows, but that is also life in general. While diabetes has changed my life, I believe it changed it for the better. It led me to Howard Payne, where I met lifelong friends, played the game I loved, and grew in my faith significantly. I truly believe God has a plan for my life and has one for yours as well. He can use the most difficult times in our life for our good and his glory.

Here’s to whatever comes next.

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