Two outs and a runner on third, where’s Caleb Stayton hitting the ball?
“Over the fence, there’s no other way,” Stayton replied to the unconventional question asked to him while preaching to a group of high school students at Union Chapel Sunday night. “I’m a big baseball guy in case you guys didn’t know.”
While a big baseball guy, Stayton’s an even bigger Jesus guy. The former Ball State Baseball standout is living out his dream as a youth pastor in the town that pinned him a “big baseball guy.”
A voice of authenticity
When Stayton arrived to Ball State to play baseball he wasn’t vocal about his faith. Not that he wanted to stay quiet, but the redheaded Andy Dalton look-a-like was overwhelmed. The Goshen, Indiana native had just graduated from Elkhart Christian High School with a class of 36 people — a number just above the 35 members on the baseball roster.
“I wasn’t always trying to be vocal,” Stayton said. “I always believe you tell people about your faith not with your words, but with your actions.”
His actions gained him the respect of his teammates, and in turn, gained him a voice.
“I tried to come in and just work hard and prove myself just athletically before I prove myself as a person,” Stayton said. “I think if an athlete wants to have a voice, they have to get the voice with their athletic talent before they can get their voice with anything.”
Stayton used his voice to share his faith with those he was closest with — his teammates. By his junior season, the team bible study that he initiated and led was attracting nearly 20 of his teammates.
One regular bible study attendee was Jeff Riedel. The redshirt senior outfielder said Stayton has a way of bringing people together by the way he carries himself.
“You always knew what he stood for,” Riedel said. “What he was and he never changed from that. He’s always who he is and everyone knew it. You weren’t going to change him.”
Stayton has a word for the way he lives: authentic.
“I’m always trying to be authentic with my faith and my walk with Jesus,” Stayton said. “I think that’s just the reality; people love authenticity no matter what it is. If people know you’re authentic about it, they’ll respect you more.”
The business of people
After graduating with a telecommunications degree in May, the 22-year-old got an internship at Union Chapel United Methodist church. In October, they offered him a full-time position as a youth pastor working with middle and high school students.
To Stayton, the job is a dream come true.
“My job is to just help lead people to a meaningful relationship with Christ,” Stayton said. “That’s all I ever want to do.”
Stayton never had any huge ambition to work with kids, but found it came easy to him.
“I was a youth just not too long ago,” Stayton said. “I can relate to them pretty well having just been there.”
Stayton said he believes in that generation and enjoys helping them walk through a faithful life.
“[They] have real life issues; you half to walk through the good and the bad with them and that’s what I like about it,” Stayton said.
Stayton was doing that long before he came to Union Chapel.
Since coming to college, Riedel hadn’t always been as religious as he’d wanted to be, so he reached out to Stayton and his wife Rachel. The married couple of nearly a year and a half met Reidel for lunch. No baseball talk, just Jesus.
“He really took me in and showed me the way,” Riedel said.
Stayton gave him bible verses to read and answered any questions he had. That’s what Stayton does; he aids people in their journey in getting closer to Jesus.
“We’re in the business of people and that’s the only reason we do what we do,” Stayton said.
Stayton always said he would never be a pastor like his father, Fred. But, he just wanted to try something new.
During a service at a church camp his sophomore year of high school, God spoke to him.
“You could just feel it in the air, God spoke to me,” Stayton said. “Not audible, you just feel it in your heart. From then on, it’s just kind of been conformed.”
Stayton would pursue his faithful calling to the ministry.
However, he had another calling. This one came from head Ball State baseball coach Rich Maloney. Stayton came to Ball State on a half athletic scholarship and a half academic scholarship. As a senior in high school, he was awarded the John R. and Aline B. Emens Scholarship.
He couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play Division-I college baseball. Lucky for Maloney and the Cardinals, he didn’t.
“You got a guy that’s near a 4.0; you have a guy that’s a great player, exactly what coaches dream on and off the field,” Maloney said. “He carries himself that way and
certainly he brought to the team a tremendous personal faith that he has. He’s just one of those people that you always want to be around.”
The first baseman made his presence known for the Cardinals. His junior season he was ranked 10th nationally in RBIs (71), the second most ever by a Cardinal in a single season. He was named to the All-Mid-American Conference first team in 2016 and the second team in 2017. Stayton was also named Academic All-MAC in 2016 and 2017. Last May, he was named a finalist for the 2017 Senior CLASS Award, which is a national award given to a player who excels on and off the field.
Coincidently, Maloney has been a member of Union Chapel during both his stints as head coach. He’s thrilled that Stayton is still in Muncie for the time being.
“What I’ve found in Caleb is he just wants to help people — on all fronts,” Maloney said. “When you got that kind of a heart, you don’t want to lose those types of people because they’re special, and he’s got a special gift of making people valuable.”
The greatest church
While Stayton is elated to be living out his calling, he has greater dreams than being a youth pastor. His ultimate goal is to serve as a senior pastor in his own church.
“I want to impact people,” Stayton said. “I really enjoy leading leaders. I believe that the church is going to be better and better every year, and I want to be right there in the thick of it.”
He wants to change how people look at church — more as a community than a building.
“I say one of the best churches I’ve ever been a part of was the Ball State baseball team because there was a community there,” Stayton said. “I want to create that community among believers in everything that I do.”
But for as much as he talks about it, does Stayton miss baseball? No.
“Walking off that field for the last time, it was fun and I felt like I accomplished it,” Stayton said. “Obviously, the dream is to go to the next level and it didn’t work out, but my hope wasn’t in baseball; my hope was always in Jesus and I knew whatever was next was better.”
Contact Elizabeth Wyman with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.