By Jessie Brantley (as told to the Story Team)
As a family, we moved to Texas from Lexington, Kentucky, in the middle of 2014 for my job negotiating property rights for energy companies. Before we moved, I can remember talking with my wife, Renee, struggling with this feeling I was having, and saying, “I know God wants me to do something, but I don’t know what it is.”
That went on for a couple of years.
When we moved to Dickinson I still hadn’t figured it out. But I knew my boys wanted to play baseball (because we’re a baseball family), and so I went to find out where they were going to play.
I drove around Dickinson, and I passed the Dickinson Little League fields. The grass was chest-high and there was ivy all over the fences. And I remember thinking to myself, This must be abandoned. They must be playing somewhere else. This must be the old park.
So, I kept driving around, and I was searching on my phone for baseball fields. I ended up at League City Sportsplex. Whew! What a relief! This place is nice. We can do this.
Baseball sign-up time came around, and low and behold, I was wrong. Dickinson Little League is where we played.
I talked to the president of the league and said, “Hey, I just need to know where the keys to the lawnmower are.” I started cutting the grass and weed-eating. I’d get off work, and I’d go over to the fields. I had been really involved with the Little League in Kentucky. I volunteered out there, helping as much as I could and even coached a couple of teams. But because we were in a new town, and because my kids were transitioning too, I didn’t want to be front and center. I didn’t want to take away from my kids’ experience. I wanted to be a background guy. So, I just tried to help out where I could.
* * *
Fast-forward to the spring season of 2016. I was still just cutting grass.
The people who were running the league asked me if I would be on the league board. I said, “Sure. Whatever it takes.”
That summer, those same folks who had been running the organization for a few years, said, “Hey, we’re aging out. We’re leaving. Here’s the keys.” And I was volun-told that I was going to be the next president of Dickinson Little League.
I really didn’t do much in the fall of 2016. I had worked for a month or so, just trying to grab anyone who was willing to come help. Dickinson Little League has always been a private organization. There’s no city funding. There’s no county funding. It’s all just folks rolling up their sleeves. Even being president is just another volunteer role. I still work 40-60 hours every week at my job, but Little League never really stops. We’ve just learned how to make it work.
So, in the midst of all of this, I had still been asking Renee, “Hey, what does God want me to do?” And it was right about that time at the end of 2016, or the beginning of 2017, that I started getting the smallest idea that God had a mission for Dickinson Little League. I had been looking for this big thing, you know? I was looking for this big project. All the while God was telling me, “Hey, it’s right there. I want you to be a ball coach. I want you to teach baseball and I want you to help with the Little League.”
And that’s how it all got started with Dickinson Little League, which is now Dickinson Youth Sports Little League.
It didn’t take long and we were beginning to look like we’d actually turned a corner. We had some funds, we could start making some small changes; nothing major, but just small improvements here or there; maybe repair a fence here, or get some new dirt.
But at the end of the day, this park needed major renovations.
Dickinson Little League started in 1962. And from all the research I’ve done, the only thing that had been updated since 1962 was some painting, and some minor repairs here and there. We needed a lot of Home Depot and Lowe’s repairs, and could only afford dollar store stuff. That compounded over the years to where fences were rotting, and bleachers were rotting, and boards were rotting, and ants had taken over, and wasps were everywhere.
We knew we had a long way to go.
* * *
Shortly after we arrived in Texas we decided to try out Clear Creek Community Church, and once we started going to service, we were drawn in. Clear Creek is a big, cool church, but it’s also a church on a mission. It was really important to me that we would be part of a church that was a biblically sound church. In my walk, I want to be challenged. I want to be challenged by the message. I want to be challenged by the church I go to.
Our kids loved the Creek Kids program – I mean, absolutely loved it.
When we, as a church, opened the East 96 campus, we knew it was a fit for us, and so we made the move from Egret Bay to East 96 (we love East 96!).
Clear Creek announced Bold Love back in the spring of 2017. And I can remember hearing about how this was our mission, and that God wanted us to be bold. And we kind of started doing that, but I don’t think that Bold Love really became real for us until Harvey.
Hurricane Harvey, for me personally, was a time when God really grabbed me.
We had some wind damage at Dickinson Little League. There was some water damage in the back. There was a little bit of water damage from debris to a fence at one of our fields.
Our house had flooded, and my parents took on water as well. I was trying to help them, and we had so many volunteers and families that were flooded that, honestly, the baseball park couldn’t be our focus. But in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder, What happened? If you put blood, sweat, and tears into something, you care about it.
It wasn’t long before I got a call saying that Dick’s Sporting Goods wanted to get involved with us and give us a grant. That was kind of the first thing.
I had been talking to Renee, and we were talking about what we were going to do, because we were grateful to have gotten the grant from Dick’s, but there was still a lot that needed to be done to just get the place ready for the upcoming season. And then I got a phone call at 8:30 on a Wednesday night, and the guy calling said, “Hey Jessie, this is Ben Baldwin with the 4B Disaster Response Network.”
At that point in time, I didn’t know what that meant.
I thought, Cool, maybe there’s going to be some folks that come out and help, you know? We’d had that before. The Boy Scouts had come out, and we’ve had some work days where a lot of folks come out.
Well, that Friday, it just happened to work out to where I could meet with Ben. I got to Starbucks, where I was going to meet him, and we were going to talk about 4B Disaster Response Network. I still didn’t even know what that organization was at that point.
As I was getting ready to walk in, I got a phone call from the mayor of Dickinson. She said, “Hey Jessie, I’ve got some great news.” She says, “I’ve got a guy in my office right now, named Steve Tyber, and he’s from Eight Days of Hope. He came up here to ask if he could have permission to do a project at the city park where the Little League is. And I told him that we don’t have anything to do with it; that he would need to call you and talk to you about it.”
And I said, “Julie, let him know that I am walking in to meet with Ben Baldwin with the 4B Disaster Response Network at Starbucks right now.”
And she says, “Okay, well I’ll tell you what. I’m just going to send him there.”
So, Steve came down to Starbucks right at that very minute, and we all sat down together.
Steve started talking about what all Eight Days of Hope wanted to do, and Ben was saying that this was not just a local thing, but that this was big – this was a full renovation. Steve starts talking about how the Astros are going to get involved, and the Bigger Than Ball foundation wants to come out and do a free clinic.
And I left and went and sat in my truck, and I was completely overwhelmed.
I started to realize what God was doing.
God was providing something for the families in our community to rally around.
4B Disaster Response Network and Eight Days of Hope couldn’t rebuild every house. They were planning to work in 700 or 800 homes. And that’s great, but in this region, in a 14-day period, you can’t get to every house. It was through this community project, and through what God was doing at the ballpark, that they could touch almost every family.
For the kids that Eight Days of Hope couldn’t get to, they still had to go home and sleep on concrete. But they would get to go to a new ballpark and get to see a new place. They would get to go play baseball and forget about Harvey, or their house, or whatever else. But it was more than that.
They would get to see the gospel.
And to me, that’s what the story is all about. The story for me is that, yes, this is a nice story about baseball, or Eight Days of Hope, but more, this is the gospel made real.
And so I’ve caught myself, because for a while I was saying that all of it was a “culmination.” This was the culmination of everything we started praying over in October 2016, when the new group took over. And I know now that, that’s absolutely not the case; that there’s nothing about this that’s been a culmination.
This has been a beginning.
The message through it all was God saying, “This is where we start.”
Nobody is ever going to be able to run from the gospel when they hear about Dickinson Youth Sports Little League and what’s gone on at this park. And for the next 60 years, parents and kids are going to talk about what happened in 2018, and they’re going to talk about this project, and they’re going to talk about why it happened.
And the real story of everything that’s going on is the why; it’s Why did people come from New York, and Massachusetts, and Iowa, and Wisconsin, and Taiwan? Why did they show up here? And why did they rebuild houses? And why did they work at this park?
That’s the story.
The story is me being able to say, “Hey, this is why.” It’s our volunteers that were at rock bottom, and them getting to see the love of Jesus.
For me, that’s what all of this is about. None of it was ever about new paint, or fixing a fence, or cutting the grass.
That’s just the start of a story that’s going to be told for years, and years, and years to come.
Nobody knows what all God’s really got going on out here, but I’ll tell you what, for me, it’s really fun to watch.