By STEVE KRAH
Tom Roy did not get to play baseball for as long as he wanted.
But he’s OK with that because by using faith as a fastener, the former pitcher has attached himself to the game all over the globe and his base of operations has been northern Indiana.
“It’s a God thing,” says Roy. “It’s not about me.”
Roy, who founded Unlimited Potential, Inc. — an organization that ministers to baseball programs around the world serving Christ through baseball — in Winona Lake in 1980.
An autobiography — “Released” — tells about how he eventually started UPI after a career-ending injury. He was signed by the San Francisco Giants as a pitcher at 17.
Fast forward decades and Roy can say he has taught and coached baseball in 67 countries.
“I’m the father of baseball in Uganda,” says Roy, who introduced the sport to a nation who had been playing the bat-and-ball sport of cricket. As part of the lessons, there was prayer, Bible study and baseball instruction. That’s still the way some there still do it.
“That is baseball to them,” says Roy. “It’s part of the baseball culture.”
Roy returns to the baseball coaching staff at Grace College (also in Kosciusko town next to Warsaw) as both assistant coach and team chaplain for head coach Cam Screeton’s team in 2017-18. Roy worked as Lancers pitching coach 1970-73 (earning a bachelor’s degree at Grace in 1974), head coach 1980-83 and was an assistant in 2015.
Roy remembers that spring that at almost every stop around the Crossroads League, he was greeted by hugs from opposing coaches.
“Our players wondered why we were hugging the other team,” says Roy. “I was back, coaching against friends.”
He served as head baseball coach and assistant football coach to Charlie Smith when Tippecanoe Valley High School opened it doors in 1974-75 and has the distinction of leading sectional winners — the first in any sport in school history — that first spring in baseball (1975).
The ace of the Vikings pitching staff was left-hander Keith Hardesty. The team also featured Chris Smalley and Doug Miller.
Roy was an associate scout for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1976-79, pitching coach at Huntington College (now Huntington University) 1987-89 and was an associate international scout for the Atlanta Braves from 1993-99 and for the San Diego Padres from 2000-05.
In his connection with the Seattle Mariners, Roy gained a large audience and began working with Harold Reynolds, Dave Valle, Alvin Davis and others. He took Reynolds on a missionary trip to Thailand and the others on similar trips.
Through the game and sharing of faith, trust relationships were developed and he was introduced to many current players.
“One of the biggest issues for these guys is trust,” says Roy of major league players who have people constantly approaching them. “They would ask me, ‘why do you want to be a my friend?’
“The answer: Jesus.”
Through Sam Bender, Roy began to speak to home and visiting teams around the Midwest.
“I got to know hundreds of players because of Baseball Chapel,” says Roy, who worked with current BC president Vince Nauss and former president Dave Swanson. He also received encouragement from Jack King of Athletes In Action.
Roy became chaplain for the Chicago White Sox organization when Jerry Manuel was manager. He stayed in touch with chaplains for all the White Sox affiliates and filed reports.
“I’ve had all these pivotal moments in my life,” says Roy. “It’s fun when you finally let go.”
By building relationships, Roy has been able to build a library of instructional videos for coaches and players at http://www.upi.org featuring MLB pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy and Luke Hochevar.
While coach at Huntington, Roy helped then-head coach Jim Wilson build Forest Glen Park, helped send hurlers Tim Dell, Jim Lawson, Doug Neuenschwander and Mark Parker into professional baseball and recruited Mike Frame, who is heading into his 34th season as HU’s head coach in 2018.
It was also while at Huntington that Roy got a chance to meet his baseball hero — Hank Aaron. Hammerin’ Hank accepted an invitation to speak at a preseason event and the two got a chance to talk about the game and faith during their drive from the airport.
Roy served 27 years in that role at the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series. Since 1990, the UPI-sponsored Hank Burbridge Award honors the NCCAA’s Outstanding Christian Baseball Player of the Year with potential to Christian service through baseball. The award is named for the long-time baseball coach at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University.
Roy hails from Grafton, Wis. When his playing career to an abrupt halt and he found himself looking for another career, he decided to go into radio. He sent his resumes to other Graftons in the U.S. and wound up at a station in West Virginia — WVVW.
It was also in Wisconsin that he met the woman he would married. Tom and Carin were wed in 1970 and soon found themselves moving to the Hoosier State, where they would welcome two daughters — Amy in 1975 and Lindsay in 1979.
At 6-foot-5, Roy was a strong basketball player and it was through the hardwood that he met a Grace Brethren pastor that suggested he go to Indiana to study and play basketball at Grace.
“It was the spiritual that brought me here,” says Roy. The couple became engaged when Carin visited Tom in West Virginia. They were wed in 1970 and soon found themselves moving to Winona Lake. He became a full-time student with several part-time jobs and she worked full-time.
In his basketball tryout at Grace, he went against Jim Kessler (who is now in his 36th season as Lancers head men’s basketball coach).
Roy was going to be offered a place on the squad when it was learned that he had played some minor league baseball. At the time, NAIA rules did not allow for someone to be a pro in one sport and an amateur in another so he became as assistant coach in basketball and baseball.
Before UPI got off the ground, Tom and Carin welcomed two daughters — Amy in 1975 and Lindsay in 1979.
The only UPI staff member for the first few years, Tom went full-time with the organization in 1983. At first, he made connections in the U.S., and then went international. As a part of the admissions office at Grace, he was in charge of international students and had a stipend for international recruiting.
Besides founder Roy, the UPI team now features former pro players in executive director Mickey Weston (current White Sox chaplain) as well as Brian Hommel (Arizona Diamondbacks chaplain), Tony Graffanino (White Sox spring training and Arizona League affiliate chaplain), Terry Evans (Braves chaplain) and Simon Goehring (missions coordinator based in Germany).
Bryan Hickerson made his MLB debut in 1991 and pitched for Giants, Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies. He began attending UPI Bible studies in 1997 and in 1999 moved to Warsaw and joined the UPI lineup. He was able to forge relationships with both baseball players and military around the world. He moved from there to a minor league pitching coach in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
Tom Roy and Jerry Price have co-authored “Beyond Betrayal” as well as three volumes in the Chadwick Bay Series — “Sandusky Bay,” “Ellison Bay” and “Lake of Bays.” The last three are novels on manhood.
“Our model of manhood is Jesus,” says Roy.
Tom Roy, a former minor league pitcher and founder of Unlimited Potential, Inc., has returned to the baseball staff at Grace College in Winona Lake as team chaplain and assistant coach.