When you think of baseball closers you might think of a tall, lanky Mariano Rivera or a hulking Eric Gagne, Lee Smith or Goose Gossage. In the world of baseball, closers should be more Goliath than David.
Unless you're armed like OBU's Chad Rhoades, that is. Then you can be more like David among aluminum-wielding giants.
Closers are charged with coming into a baseball game with a slim lead, often with the opposing team threatening to tie or win the game. They aren't there to pick up an individual win. They certainly don't want the loss. What they're after is the save - the statistical term for finishing the game without relinquishing the lead.
It's more than baseball for Rhoades, who, at a skinny 5-10, desires to lead his team to victory and any one willing to follow to Christ. Rhoades accepted Christ as a 14-year-old when his pastor at Southside Baptist Church in Bowie, Texas, pulled him aside and asked him point blank if he knew Christ.
"I just broke down right there," Rhoades said. "We were at a pizza party and he called me aside into a room and asked me if I was saved. I told him no and he asked me if I'd like to receive Christ. I did. We prayed right there."
Four years later at Falls Creek, Rhoades surrendered to the ministry. He sees himself as a baseball chaplain when his playing days are through. He's getting on the job training right now.
"I want to be a sports chaplain," Rhoades said. "That's my ministry field. I feel like I can relate to the guys and know what they are going through."
But first he hopes to play professionally, whenever that opportunity presents itself. Make no mistake, Rhoades has the tools to perform at a high level.
After a year of junior college, Rhoades and his 95 mile-an-hour fastball seemed headed to Texas Tech, but a back injury erased the opportunity. Without a scholarship to Tech and without the desire to return to junior college, Rhoades opted to spend his summer pitching in a league in Wichita Falls. Then he got a call from OBU coach Bobby Cox.
"I had lost my scholarship to Texas Tech and junior college was a bad situation," Rhoades said. "Coach Cox called and I came up for a visit. I had a plan, but this was God's plan. I know everybody says that God led them here, but it's true. I just had to let him take control of my life."
Not necessarily an easy task for someone whose job it is to control situations.
"I really wanted to play at a Big 12 school," he said. "I wanted to be at one of those D-1 schools. None of those offered ministry as a degree. Ending up at OBU was a blessing in disguise."
Rhoades became a closer for the first time at OBU. His back wouldn't let him pitch the long innings of a starter. He picked up six saves last season for the Bison and then went to Liberal, Kan., to pitch for the Liberal Bee Jays, a member of the semi-pro Jayhawk League and was that team's closer, getting 20 appearances. He then pitched for Coppell in the Texas Collegiate League, which is chiefly comprised of Big 12 Conference players. He worked roughly 20 innings there and picked up two saves in Coppell's best-of-three championship series victory.
"I really learned how to close this summer at Liberal, and got the mindset of coming right after guys," Rhoades said. "Coach Cox had tried to get me to come right after guys like that, but I was just going through the motions last year. He told me not many people can hit a 93-95 mile an hour fastball. I think I'll be 10 times the closer I was."
"He may have the best arm we've ever had here," said OBU coach Bobby Cox, who has logged 20 years on Bison Hill. "He's a great example on the field and off the field. Chad's the kind of person you want in your program."
There were some angry pitchers in Coppell. Rhoades, coming from an NAIA school, took the closer role on a team that featured 14 other pitchers with larger reputations. Back in Shawnee, however, his teammates are glad he's on their side.
Rhoades hopes to impact them all - beyond the playing field. He will begin a Bible study with the team this Spring.
"Everywhere I've been there have only been a few Christians on the team and we've always been friends," said Rhoades. "It sort of puts you in the spotlight. You stand out when you're following Christ. By the end of the year, a few guys will see that it's not just a show and they'll start asking questions."
Some searcher will wander to the plate and Rhoades will make his pitch. And there will be a save.