I can remember the first time I met Mike. It was on a basketball court in Gulu, Uganda and he was a skinny little guy who obviously didn’t have as much talent as the other basketball players. But his jump shot was precise. I mean, it was the perfect L, he landed in the same spot he jumped from, he was grabbing the cookie jar at the top, it was everything that I was taught as a young kid at Hastings Basketball Camp. I have to say I was shocked, as Mike wasn’t anything I had experienced in Gulu basketball. For weeks I had been impressed by the pure raw talent in these Acholi men. Power, speed, and aggressiveness had filled the court. And Bricks. I mean, serious bricks. We couldn’t make a jump shot for the life of me and some of the technique looked more like an overhead soccer pass than a basketball shot. Mike was the opposite, so I watched.
For the next hour and a half I was enthralled as Mike not only showed a discipline in his technique, but he showed a discipline in his spirit. He seamlessly maneuvered between being a leader and a follower, a listener and one who would speak up, one who took control but also knew when to step back and push others forward. He had coach written all over him. But the thing that impressed me the most: Mike was a giver. Recently I read a tweet from Pastor Hank Fortner of Mosaic Church in LA. Hank is someone I listen to on a weekly basis and he tweeted the qualities of a giver: Listen, Adjust, Pursue, Remember, Offer, Invest, Coach, Invite, Forgive. That is the core of who Mike is.
At the very end of 2012 the time Casey and I had spent in Uganda came to an abrupt end. Of all the different programs that TRP does I had been the one really guiding our baseball program. It was an opportunity that turned a lifelong dream into a reality, and I couldn’t bear the thought of it ending. Mike had been a part of all the different aspects at TRP but he had latched onto the idea of coaching and leading our young kids in the sports activities with ease. It’s hard to explain how difficult it was to leave Uganda, but I have to say one thing was very easy: Giving full control of the day to day activities of TRP sports to Mike. Everything from his attention to detail, his contagious energy as he guides young men on a baseball diamond, his always eager desire to learn more about whatever he is doing, it all gave our entire team great confidence that he would not only keep the program moving, but that he would push it further than we ever thought it could go. But at the end of the day, it was this quality of being a “giver” that pushed us over the top. This was what made Mike the perfect person to facilitate thousands of kids using baseball as a game to dream about being something bigger. These kids wouldn’t be hearing a message of poverty or war, but one of hope and redemption built on a foundation of love and hard work. We knew Mike would pour himself out for these kids, that he would put in the long hours of practice it took to push each one to their best, that he would be an example of the type of person these kids aimed to be, and that he would constantly believe in these athletes and subsequently invest in every step of their development.
Almost three years later Mike is still proving himself to us. Tomorrow he is taking 18 young men down to the annual Uganda Little League National Tournament. This is the third year that he has ran a league with 500+ kids involved that finishes with an all-star team from several schools around Gulu making a trip to the only baseball sports complex in the country. I know, this isn’t a big deal for American kids, as it has almost become a right of passage to have this kind of opportunity, but I can tell you it means everything to our young boys in Uganda. Even though we can roll a baseball out anywhere in the country and have 100 kids wanting to play in 5 minutes, they don’t have leaders who are able to facilitate the opportunity for them to use the sport to grow. Teachers, adults, etc. just don’t invest the time or resources to make it possible. It is almost incomprehensible to see this after living the childhood I did, and it can be downright discouraging. But not for Mike, he refuses to let Uganda’s situation define him or his boys. He believes with all his heart that we will eventually be watching one of the kids in Northern Uganda playing for the Cubs. But more than that, Mike is doing the hard work every day to make it happen.