When he was a kid, Bruce Crane dreamed of one day playing baseball for the New York Yankees. “Baseball was my first love,” Bruce said. “Before I loved the Lord, before I loved my wife, I loved baseball.”
Today – although walking through Principal Park instead of Yankee Stadium and wielding a Bible instead of a bat – Bruce’s dreams have, in many ways, come true. For the last three years, Bruce and his wife, Becky, have served as chapel leaders for the Iowa Cubs.
Bruce is responsible for leading chapel for both the I-Cubs and the visiting team on Sundays when they play in Des Moines. He also offers chapel for the umpires and reaches out to people around the stadium, including ushers, concession stand workers, and Backstop Store staff. When it’s not game day, Bruce organizes a Bible study for players who are interested and also disciples players one-on-one.
As the women’s chapel leader, Becky leads a Bible study and builds relationships with the players’ wives and girlfriends. She also ministers to their needs, which include anything from counseling to finding a park or a babysitter in an unfamiliar city.
“It’s really sweet,” Becky said. “With our kids grown up, Bruce and I are able to do this together. We’re focused on the same group of people, and we can encourage each other.”
When the chapel leader for the Chicago Cubs first asked Bruce to be the leader for the I-Cubs, Bruce turned him down because he didn’t think he’d have time to fulfill the duties in addition to serving as a pastor at the Windsor Heights location and working for Principal Financial Group. Several weeks later, Bruce was challenged by a message at Faithwalkers and found himself asking God to show him if he should be doing more for Him.
“I felt like there was something more God wanted me to do, but I wasn’t sure what,” Bruce said. “Then the chapel leader for the Chicago Cubs called me back. I realized this may be the answer to my prayer.”
After getting counsel from his fellow pastors, Bruce decided to accept the position. “The way the pastoral team sees it, we want to impact the whole city of Des Moines, and this is part of the city of Des Moines,” Bruce said.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
The unique lifestyle of the players and their families can make building into them challenging at times – but also rewarding. The players can be traded to a different team at any moment. They might be living in apartments or staying at hotels. One family was even living in a trailer at a campground because they never knew when it would be time to pick up and move again.
“It’s very challenging when people leave,” Becky said. “Sometimes you don’t even get to say goodbye. They’re just gone. I’ve really had to remind myself it’s worth loving these women because Jesus says it’s worth loving people – even if you don’t see any fruit. Ministry isn’t about getting anything back.”
At the same time, the players and their families are often receptive to the Word of God. “Christianity is not based on performance. Everything else in the players’ lives is. That’s why Christianity can be really attractive to professional athletes,” Bruce said. “At Bible study last year, we were talking about what it means to be great. One of the players said, ‘Being great isn’t hitting 500 homeruns. Being great is what Jesus did for me.’”
“Christianity is not based on performance. Everything else in the players’ lives is."
When Bruce leads chapel on Sundays, he typically prays, shares a 15-minute message and then asks for specific prayer requests. This year, he’s basing his messages on the different places he and Becky visited when they traveled to Israel last spring. He also provides a handout of message notes, in both English and Spanish, because there are so many Latino players.
Bruce always makes extra copies of the handout and offers them to players and others who don’t come to chapel. He also passes out Gospel tracts throughout the stadium. The million-dollar bill tracts are his favorite.
For both Bruce and Becky, getting to know the men and women and spending one-on-one time with them is their favorite part. “One of the guys would call Bruce all season long, even in the off season. Bruce kept him accountable on some things and served as a spiritual mentor,” Becky said.
“The Lord loves people, and these are people,” Bruce said. “I like being around guys who like baseball. It’s the way God has wired me, and I feel like I have something I can offer them. I’m planning to keep doing it as long as my fellow pastors and my wife say to keep doing it.”