By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
SAVANNAH — “Coach” or “Bro. Derek.”
It really doesn’t matter to Derek Westmoreland. He is used to both and will answer to either one.
Westmoreland, pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church here, also coaches Dixie Boys Baseball and from Aug. 7-13 will be leading the Savannah 9-10-year-old baseball team during the Dixie World Series in Lexington, S.C.
The Savannah team won the Tennessee state championship which was held in July in Savannah.
For someone who grew up playing baseball from age 6 through high school, the opportunity to coach his two sons (Andrew and Matthew) has been “neat,” said the Hopewell pastor.
Though not a “church” team the all-star squad includes seven players who call Hopewell Baptist “home,” with four of them members. In addition, both assistant coaches are members of Hopewell, Westmoreland said.
He noted that it is no secret as to what he does. “We pray before every practice and before every game,” he said. “They know me as pastor.”
Westmoreland also coached his sons when both played on the 8 and under team two years ago and was an assistant last year.
Baseball has proven to be an effective means of outreach for Westmoreland. “It has given me an avenue in the community to meet people outside the church walls,” he said.
In addition to coaching and mentoring his players, Westmoreland also has been able to minister to parents as well.
He shared that this year a dad came to his office at Hopewell and said, “I see Jesus in you and I want what you have.”
The pastor shared that the dad and his wife had been divorced but were seeing each other again. He counseled the couple and the dad accepted Christ. He later performed the ceremony for the couple who reunited in marriage. The family has since joined the church and is being discipled. “They have not missed a Sunday,” Westmoreland said.
During each of the past three years, at least one family has joined Hopewell and several people have accepted Christ as a result of his involvement in baseball, Westmoreland said.
“God has really blessed me,” he observed. “If I had not coached I would not have crossed paths with them.”
While his community involvement has been positive for him personally and for Hopewell Baptist, he is well aware that people are watching closely when things are not going well on the field.
“Losing my cool only once or twice can hinder people listening to me on Sunday,” he acknowledged.
On the very few occasions in which he has “lost his cool,” Westmoreland noted “the Lord has spoken to me and convicted me.”
Win or lose in Lexington, Westmoreland is happy that he has been able to use a sport that he played and still enjoys as an outreach to others.
He has been able to connect with both parents and players to help them understand that there is more to life than baseball.
“I try to set an example,” Westmoreland shared.
He noted that not everyone has the talent or gifts to play baseball at a high level.
“I challenge the boys to use the gifts and talents that God has given them for Him,” the pastor said.