by Larry Hanson

Brion Collins doesn’t seem much different than any other youth baseball coach in the final half hour before a weeknight game, frantically organizing his players so they get the proper warmups.

“You take some swings here.” “Can you throw some batting practice?” “Get your arm loose.” “Keep your eyes open when you’re hitting.”

And for the most part, if you don’t know the backstory of the two teams playing at North Lake Elementary School on a summer Tuesday evening, you wouldn’t suspect there was much different about the two third- and fourth-grade teams on the field.

However, the two teams are part of Virtue Baseball Club, an apostolic endeavor of Men of Christ that has 14 teams total from T-Ball to the high school level.

Of the approximately 140 players in the club, Collins (who coaches at the third- and fourth-grade level) estimates that about 80 or 90 percent of them are from Catholic families.

“We’re all good talking about God,” Collins said. “We want our boys to go to heaven. Part of the concept that attracts parents is we pray before the game. We pray after the game.”

On Saturdays, each team has a talk about certain Christian virtues. Usually a father will lead the discussion and his son will talk about what it means to him.

Margherita Schroettner has five boys playing in the program and on this night is helping keep a family picnic organized behind the backstop.

“It’s the environment,” Schroettner said of the appeal of the program. “They’re all to instill the kids being positive and being good sports. They teach them to accept what the ump says. The families get to know each other. It’s really a wonderful experience for the boys. My boys have been on regular teams before, and I’ve never seen one of these kids have to get reprimanded.”

The program is built on four main principles to provide an attractive alternative to other baseball programs by creating optimal cost, community and convenience. Those four pillars are: Glorify God, Strive for Excellence, Build Friendships and Have Fun.

“If we do those four things at this level, that’s fantastic,” Collins said.

Collins is quick to disavow their program is just “church ball” and they don’t strive to win. He is quick to remind that strive for excellence is one of the pillars.

“We do strive for excellence; we want to win,” Collins said. “A lot of us (coaches) have played the game. We know the game. We understand the fundamentals. We’re really good at instilling at this young age what the basics look like. We want each of the boys to be the best they can be.”