Tag Archives: Inside the Mind of Gibby

When the Trip Gets Boring…

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

This is one of the most exciting ministries on the planet! Taking the Great Commission to prisons across the country is exciting, challenging, and fulfilling. But let me just level with you; sometimes the trip to exciting and fulfilling is a lot of “meh,” with the occasional “ugh” mixed in for good measure. Maybe Ed Mosely, Chris Copeland, or Vinny Maggio didn’t show up to keep everyone on their toes. Perhaps the NJ Gamemeister (Hugh Dwyer to the rest of us) chose open heart surgery that week, leaving the back of the bus to discuss boring things like the weather, the stock market, or the NHL. Perhaps the drive is the same corn field for miles and miles and miles… it can happen on any Saturday, but on a crusade this becomes magnified because tomorrow might not be any better! If at some point you find yourself in this situation, here are four ways of turning a “Humdrum Crusade” into an “Epic Crusade!”

Let anyone from the NE Region – past or present – drive the bus

After four games in a prison, your expectations are to sit in your seat and drift off to sleep as you pass by corn fields and herds of cattle. This is usually what happens… unless you are riding in a vehicle with someone who is from north of Virginia and east of Ohio! For some unknown reason, they will mistake rural Indiana for the New Jersey Turnpike! You will want to make sure that your seat belts are fastened with your seat backs and tray tables in the upright and locked position as you make your way home!

Sit in and play drums with a local band in the middle of Nowhere, AL

Sometimes you are enjoying a nice meal with teammates when suddenly you are drug on stage and asked to sit in with a local band. This is rare and requires a few years of drum lessons, and a year or two in your local high school marching band, but nothing breaks up the monotony of a long drive back to the hotel like a prison minister…dressed in full softball uniform…playing a Brooks and Dunn song during dinner!

Create your own transportation crisis

Break up the monotony of the interstate by turning and asking for directions. Joe Technology – insisting his smartphone app is the only right way to go – will have you driving across a cow pasture to get back to the state road; while Captain Knowitall – absolutely sure he’s “been here before” – will have you visiting all five boroughs of NY before arriving in NJ!

Go to church with Alice Cooper

A few years ago, on the last day of an Arizona trip, most of the team flew home while the IL guys stayed behind an extra day. Flights to Peoria were “better” the next day, but really someone (we’ll just call him Zrank Feidler to protect his identity!) was just too cheap to send us home on time… but I digress. Since we had the extra day, and we now controlled where the van went, the IL guys searched for a local church. My pastor recommended a church with solid expository preaching and oh by the way, Alice Cooper goes to church there too! Of course, being the nice guy I am, I was happy to let him get his picture taken with a pseudo-famous newsletter author.

2020 will no doubt be great but will also have its moments where it is less than exciting. So, if any missionary-athlete reading this find yourself bored outside the prison walls this upcoming season, remember, these are four surefire ways to liven up any Saints trip!

A Wife’s Thoughts

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach and his wife, Kelly

Here at “Inside the Mind of Gibby,” we enjoy opening fan mail. There are often some nice notes encouraging us to keep telling the stories of sharing the Gospel in prison, as well as some less than nice notes from prison food service workers letting me know that they do not appreciate my criticism of prison food. But, one of the biggest requests we get, is to introduce my wife Kelly and hear her thoughts on the ministry.

Hello, Saints friends! I’m Kelly, chief editor and comedy guinea pig for “Inside the Mind of Gibby.” Even though I miss commas and can’t always tame the run-on sentences in his articles, Tom has asked me to contribute my thoughts on being the spouse of a Saints missionary athlete. While I’ve certainly not been a part of The Saints ministry as long as other spouses have, I would like to share some things that I’ve learned, things that have surprised me, and things that I would be ok NOT knowing about being married to a Saint…maybe.

While I’m not the one who is sharing the Good News in the yard, stretching a single into a double, or trusting my life to a questionable source of transportation, I have acquired some unique skills on The Saints home front. Does this stack of Spanish Gospels of John have 20 or only 19? I can tell by looking from across the room. Are the holes in the knees of Tom’s baseball pants fixable? Don’t look closely at my stitching, but you bet they are! Where are the batting gloves located at the local sporting goods store? I can even find them in Hawaii during football season.

In addition to skills, Saints spouses are almost guaranteed weekly and sometimes daily surprises. If you’re one who enjoys online shopping and who glows with the sight of packages delivered to your door, you will love being the spouse of a coach! Don’t be discouraged if the large UPS and FedEx boxes on your doorstep are filled with support envelopes and baseball pants, though. You may also be surprised to learn (from a husband who slides a lot) that you have all the tools to be a pedologist. My laundry room has soil samples from Georgia clay to Indiana topsoil. If you would like tips on removing said Georgia clay from light-colored baseball pants, contact Susan Zeidler for her secret weapon!

  • If it seems I’m making being a Saint spouse too good to be true, I’ll include some insider information to balance my thoughts:
  • If you have a husband who is happy to eat anything you cook, encourage him to not attend a crusade with Hugh Dwyer. Nothing you make will ever compare to the “fantastic eats” Hugh will find for the crusade teams.
  • I’m pretty sure overnight hotel stays on Saints crusades are pretty much the equivalent to a bunch of 5th graders having a sleepover.
  • If your spouse is a Saints coach, just resign yourself to the reality that you won’t have a meaningful conversation the day before a visit as his or her phone will be blowing up with texts and emails.

Washing baseball uniforms is a pain (whoever is talking Tom into sliding so much needs to knock it off!) The bus is frightening. The stories are entertaining. There is nothing quite as fun, however, as saying “My husband is going to prison this weekend!”

Inside the Mind of Gibby: The New Mexico Crusade That Never Was

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

I was almost at the peak of my excitement level as I prepared for the New Mexico crusade this past April… when the email came telling me that the crusade had been cancelled! Thanks to the Crusade mode in the new “RBI Baseball 2019” video game, however, I was able to live out a week of prison ministry from my living room. Here’s what happened…

Day One: Travel and Atomic Springs State Prison

Six Saints show up in New Mexico. Why is that? Because the rest of the team is stuck at O’Hare, Hartsfield-Jackson, and Philly International! Ted Schnitzel (PA) was ticketed on a different flight than the rest of the team but he assures everyone he knows what he’s doing, and he will meet them in NM. The six Saints that did make it win the game that night. Unfortunately, Cogs (the only man to make it out of Atlanta) had to play left-center and right-center field and is now on the injured list for the rest of the trip! One highlight is we fed the team all day for $67 and Frank is now pushing for six-man softball teams as the new model going forward!

Day Two: El Guapo Correctional Center

Most of the team arrives and even with 10 guys, Tim Travis has to play all four outfield spots, run for three injured teammates, and ultimately racks up 84 total miles on the day. In other news, he ended up qualifying for a spot in the Boston Marathon to be held a week later! During dinner, Rodney (GA) and Gibby (IL) get into a bench-clearing brawl over sweet tea vs. unsweet tea at the local Cracker Barrel. Warnings were issued to both sides of the tea debate and Gibby and Rodney are ejected from the Cracker Barrel! They are forced to only order water the rest of the trip. As the rest of the team is sitting around a cactus and doing evening devotions, Teddy is still stranded in Philly. He tried to pass the time by serving free soup to stranded travelers…until the TGI Fridays manager found him and kicked him out of the kitchen!

Day Three: Mulder County Correctional Facility

On our way to the prison, we pick up a bearded man with a cardboard sign who is looking for work and appears to be homeless. We get him a jersey and let him drive the van. He insists on pitching overhand and we win three out of four games on the day! Later on after dinner, we find out the bearded stranger is unemployed free agent Craig Kimbrel. He tells us that he has to leave because surely the Chicago Cubs will be calling at any moment. There is no way they can start the season with the bullpen they currently have: they would get to June tied for 2nd in blown saves…which of course they did! Gibby agrees and says “adios”! Teddy is still stranded in Philly but he finally talks the ground crew into hitting him some ground balls on the runway.

Day Four: Woodrow Wilson Middle School

Unfortunately we couldn’t find a prison in which to minister but after working the phones, we did find an elementary school that had a special speaker cancel at the last minute. We take the gig without knowing much about it. It turns out the topic is a “birds-and-the-bees” talk with a bunch of 8th graders. As we discussed our options, an Uber pulls up and out steps…Teddy! He pulled off a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles journey just in time to draw the short straw and deliver “the talk” to a group of mortified teens – and immature, giggling softball players. We go 2-0 against the 8th grade kickball team.

Day Five: Airport…or…?

Checking out and catching our flights was the plan. As we began the checkout process a Mustang enters the parking lot, driven by none other than Cliff Goller. Cliff was working in El Paso, TX overseeing the building of The Wall. The Wall is off to a slow start because work is stopped every few hours as Cliff takes batting practice, hitting the ball over the wall and into the nearby village of Palomas, Mexico. At that same moment Cliff pulled up, we received a frantic call from Estevez Prison Facility. We accept the invite and hastily try to add Cliff to the roster but the prison official replied, “Say no more, we know who he is!” We arrive at the prison on time, but several guys go through security in shorts and flip flops, while others brought their boarding pass instead of their license! Despite the confusion and hustle we manage to split the doubleheader! Alas, the tale of the Crusade that never was… but we did well in my living room!

 

 

Saints Dip Into Free Agency

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

Bryce Harper just signed a 13-year deal for $330 million to play baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies!!! Part of my reading audience lives in the greater Philadelphia area, and reacted immediately:

Some of you are excited: “We are on our way to the World Series!”

Some of you are angry: “That’s too many years and ballplayers are overpaid!”

And some of you have figured out the only thing that will affect the fans: You are about to spend a lot more for Bull’s BBQ and for the opportunity to see the Philly Phanatic chase the Mets bullpen around on his ATV!

Regardless of how you feel, free agency is part of the game and it makes me think that maybe it’s time that our softball teams sign a big name free agent this summer!

Well, we here at the sabermetrics and statistical analysis office at “Inside the Mind of Gibby” have broken down the OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), WAR (wins above replacement), and WOAL (wings ordered at lunch) and determined the best candidates to add to our team:

1. Albert Pujols Pros: Albert is one of the greats of all time. He has a rock-solid testimony and would hit several softballs over the gym during our trips to Kentucky State Reformatory! Cons: When Albert got married, he spent his honeymoon in Peoria, IL. I’m from Peoria and I didn’t even spend my honeymoon here! At this point he is older and slowing down and he only plays first base. This doesn’t match the needs of the current Saints who are older and slowing down and can only play first base…

2. Ben Zobrist Pros: Zobrist has an incredible story of how God closed the door for him to go into full-time ministry and allowed him to continue playing baseball. He is a switch hitter and can play both the infield and the outfield. Cons: The Zobrist name is so respected in baseball and here in Central Illinois, that it is hard to find anything to make a con about. Well, there was that one time at Wrigley that he was playing right field and he wouldn’t even look up at me when I was trying to talk to him about donating a bus to our team. So we went out and got our own bus…and I hope Zobrist appreciates how that’s worked out!

3. Clayton Kershaw Pros: Clayton not only is a perennial CY Young and MVP candidate, but, when he isn’t busy throwing strikes in LA, you can find him sharing his faith in the community or on the mission field in Africa. Cons: After further research, we determined that he will have trouble executing his unhittable slider while throwing underhanded at 4 MPH.

4. Tim Tebow
Pros: This is the big one! If we could land Tebow, we could finally get the “you guys should get Tebow” monkey off our back. He should adapt to slow pitch softball well and we could always use him if we ever play prison football! He is a missionary’s kid and loves sharing the Gospel.

Cons: After looking at his resume, we are concerned that he hasn’t had a real job in quite some time. The toughest part of the negotiation has been his insistence that he be the quarterback in whatever sport he plays.

While we don’t have Bryce Harper – or even Valerie Harper – money laying around to make a big free agent signing, we can offer long uncomfortable bus rides, funny looks from people at gas stations, poor choices in fast food dining, and the opportunity to hit softballs out of some of the most obscure ballparks in America! Who wouldn’t want to sign here?!

 

Inside the Mind of Gibby: My Goals for 2019

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

Happy New Year from the team here at Inside the Mind of Gibby! With the ringing in of a new year, the craze will be to make resolutions for the coming year. As someone who just turned 40, I see the need to set some goals and make some course corrections in my life, and especially in how I serve with The Saints Prison Ministry. Self-help guru Earl Nightingale once said, “People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.” I’m looking forward to the 2019 Saints Prison Ministry season and here are some of my goals:

1. Get in shape before the Spring Crusade – This may or may not require a gym membership but this will definitely require getting started before St. Patrick’s Day! Relax, over the holiday weekend there is bound to be a Rocky marathon on TV, and if you watch that Rocky IV training montage a few times you are sure to set out on a run through the snow on a January morning! Georgia teams, it will most likely be 60 degrees and sunny on January 1st down in Hot-lanta so you may have to improvise and run through the frozen food section at the Piggly Wiggly several times!

2. Get stuff done around the house before the season starts – Look, while we’re away doing a ministry that is fun and rewarding, we are not at home getting stuff done around the house. Neglecting some of these tasks has nearly resulted in me getting horse-collar tackled by my wife as I get on The Saints bus in the morning! So take it from me that now is the time to fix the broken lawnmower, the leak under the sink, the light in the refrigerator, the paint in the guest room, the door handle to the garage, the chain on your son’s bike [remainder of list redacted to save space in newsletter].

3. Take a really good team picture this year – The Illinois team has taken some pretty good pictures so this isn’t really a goal of mine. Some other Saints teams have team pictures from years gone by that really needed to be updated… (I’m looking directly at you Colorado…)

4. Show up on time this year – For crying out loud we have to get up really early on prison visit days, but deep down in your heart, you know that doesn’t really matter – you would still be late whether we left at 5 a.m. or 5 p.m.! It’s time to go and buy an alarm clock or a sleeping bag so you can just sleep on the bus the night before we leave!

5. Do not wait until the night before to write an article for the newsletter that I knew about months ago – This is a goal for everyone who has a regular column in the newsletter…oh wait, that’s only me…

6. Resolve to be a better teammate and less of an awful human being – Ok, for the last 10 years you’ve let everyone else carry in the boxes of literature or the portable PA system. Maybe you’ve taken the last water out of the cooler or eaten the last chicken wing before the plate made its way around the table. Perhaps you slept in while your roommate organized literature. This is the year to finally stop being a terrible person and be a better teammate…unless it comes down to the good seats on the bus!

Whether 2019 is your year to be “New Year = New You” or if it is another “Wait ‘til Next Year” year, Mr. Nightingale’s quote about people with goals rings true or, as deep thinker and former Yankee catcher Yogi Berra used to say, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

Inside The Mind Of Gibby

Welcome to another edition of “Inside the Mind of Gibby”! Just in case you haven’t noticed, (and judging by the lack of Facebook likes and comments, you haven’t!), this is my 7th article! We have discussed topics such as hijacked crusade devotions, bus problems, Star Wars, snoring roommates, more bus problems, and Mexican food, but a topic we haven’t discussed yet is just how Illinois became involved with The Saints Prison Ministry. I have asked Kurt Hand, a charter member of the team, to help where my memory might get cloudy.

In the beginning…

I have been involved with sports ministry in different capacities for the last 15 years. While researching sports ministries online, I ran across the Saints Prison Ministry. I contacted the Saints to get more information and in 2011, I drove to Ohio to join the NJ softball team on their annual crusade. I was initially scared to go in but I was really amazed at how sports connected with the men on the prison yard and created an opportunity to share the Gospel. I was so excited that I wanted to start a team and share the Gospel with the prisons in Central Illinois!

KH: So check this out, Tom Gibson meets some dude on the internet, rents a car, and drives all the way to Ohio, BY HIMSELF to go into prison with a bunch of strangers. I mean, these dudes could have been from Craigslist or something! Then he voluntarily hops up on their bus and sits down to go to prison with these guys! I mean who does that?

Ok, I guess when you put it that way, it does sound a little creepy! I mean I thought I just went on a missions trip and came home. No big thing...to me anyway.

We need a team in IL…

Over that winter, I talked to several church softball friends and acquaintances from other ministries and we assembled a team. These guys were excited to use a game they loved like softball to reach men in prison for the Lord!

KH: I believe I spoke for everyone in saying: “I’m sorry … you want us to do what?”

Now we need somewhere to go…

Our first visit was to FCI Greenville and we had a few veteran Saints come to help us get started. We walked through the gate and were greeted by a huge crowd. It reminded me of some of the big crowds that I saw in Ohio and so I was excited for my team to experience this.

KH: They slammed the gate behind us and everyone but Gibby and the NJ guys were freaking out. I mean, we were all thinking, “man, we’re in prison…like we weren’t getting out, we were in prison!” Oh, and “big crowd”? How about walking into a big open yard and facing 500 felons while you go off to the side to chat with the NJ guys!

Yeah, I guess I forgot to prepare everyone for that…but hey, we go in and we won the first game and despite not playing that well the rest of the day, we were on our way as a Saints team.

KH: Dude, we got killed. I don’t even remember the first game but all I know is we got destroyed! I do not know where Gibby found these guys but we stunk – and he made us play four full games that first day!

No, I can’t sugar coat this one. He’s right, we stunk. Like stunk so bad that we didn’t get another win for 11 months! However, it was a team effort because no one could have played that bad all by themselves!

Many of the men that God used to launch the IL Saints softball team are ministering in other areas today and we have had more bus issues than Chicago Bears Offensive Coordinators. Despite these challenges, God has used us to see several thousand men meet Jesus at the foot of the cross because a handful of Christian brothers proved to be almost as crazy as me!

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Thank you for helping us end 2019 financially strong and looking to the future. Please be in prayer for our leadership as we head into 2020!

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Softball preseason meetings are right around the corner! Mark your calendars for these dates:

New Jersey - January 25th at Cinnaminson Baptist Church, Cinnaminson, NJ

Georgia - February 8th at Oakland Baptist Church, McDonough, GA

Illinois - February 8th at Calvary Baptist Bible Church, Peoria, IL