>> by Jeff Robinson  SBC Life

HOUSTON—Talk to Craig Reynolds and you will only find out that he is a former Major League Baseball player if you know that biographical detail coming into the conversation. For Reynolds, who played in the big leagues for 15 seasons and now serves as pastor of preaching and teaching for the North Campus of Houston, Second, walking with Christ and serving as a minister of the Gospel is the self-defining reality.

When it comes to Reynolds’ baseball career, there is much to talk about. A first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Houston’s Regan High School in 1971, Reynolds played in 1,491 big-league games, and was a two-time all-star who played in some of baseball’s most memorable games in the 1980s as a member of the Houston Astros.

Still, Christ, his family and the ministry loom far larger on the overall landscape of his life. Reynolds has served on staff at Houston, Second for the past 19 years. The past three years he has been the main preaching and teaching pastor at the congregation’s North Campus.

“Looking back on baseball, I don’t think about the games very much—that this happened or that happened. But very often I think about people,” Reynolds told SBC LIFE. “I think about my teammates and their children and their families and their lives and how they are doing. But God’s Word tells us all along that it’s about relationships—love God and love your neighbor.

“The most important thing to me as a baseball player and after baseball is knowing that Jesus Christ is the answer and that men will be drawn to Him—what a privilege we have to serve in that capacity and preach Christ. Whether it’s baseball or whatever, our message should be the same—lifting up Christ.”

Throughout his playing career, Reynolds was known across baseball as a humble, devoted follower of Christ. From his rookie season in 1975 with the Pirates to his 11 years as starting shortstop for his hometown Astros, Reynolds says God put solid local churches and devout Christian families into his sphere of daily life to shepherd him and hold him accountable to God’s Word.

Soon after coming to the big leagues, Reynolds married his wife Josie and the couple built their lives into local churches wherever he played. Reynolds attributes being deeply involved in the life of a local church to his early growth as a follower of Christ. Today, the Reynolds, who have been married 37 years, have three grown children and two grandchildren, including a son who is studying for ministry.

“Everywhere I went from the time I signed as a kid out of high school, God placed Christian families in my life who reached out to me and took me in as part of their family,” he said. “I had people in Bradenton, Fla., and people in North Carolina and people in Virginia and West Virginia, all the places I played in the minor leagues and the major leagues, who loved me and took care of me.

“When I was playing with Seattle and had just married, two couples poured their lives into us and we were in a good church there. When I was traded to Houston, it was a dream come true. We got involved in Houston, Second and later came on staff and Ed Young exerted a tremendous influence on us. The key for us was always those families and involvement in a faithful, local church.”

Reynolds was selected to the American League (AL) all-star team in 1978. After he was traded to Houston in the ensuing offseason, Reynolds made the National League (NL) squad in 1979. He is the only shortstop in MLB history to appear in consecutive all-star games for different leagues. Over his career, he collected 1,142 hits and played on teams that included such superstars as hall of fame pitcher and fellow Texan Nolan Ryan.

Reynolds participated in two of the greatest series of games in the history of Major League Baseball. The first came in 1980 when Houston won the NL West pennant and met the Philadelphia Phillies in a best-of-five series to determine who would move ahead to the World Series.

Philadelphia, the eventual World Series winner loaded with stars such as Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt, defeated Houston three games to two, but the series throughout was hotly contested with four games settled in extra innings. The final game was a heartbreaker when the Astros held a three-run lead in the eighth inning, yet lost 8-7 in 10 innings.

Reynolds said only recently did he watch a replay of that game. The second noteworthy series came six years later in the 1986 NLCS, when the Astros lost to the New York Mets in six games. The series was similarly dramatic to that of 1980 and is remembered by baseball fans as perhaps the greatest playoff series ever.

What is Reynolds’ greatest memory from his solid baseball career? His first career grand slam, hit as a young player at Yankee Stadium.

“That was special,” he said. “I grew up watching all those great Yankees teams of the 50s and 60s with Mantle and Maris, and they played at the ultimate ballpark, Yankee Stadium. So to hit it there as a young player against the Yankees was special.”

Still, baseball does not compare, Reynolds says, to the relationships and the ministry God has built down through the years outside the game and the opportunity he now has every Lord’s Day to preach and teach God’s Word.

“You look back and see God’s hand all the way along,” he said. “It makes me grateful. We quote Prov. 3:5-6 all the time, but really, you stop and look back and you can see all along the way where God has directed the path when I was so clueless. God was opening doors and making a way, and I pray that . . . we have been faithful along the way to what God has called us to. Certainly we have not gotten it all right but He’s been faithful along the way, and we are really grateful for that.”