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CBN.com The year was 1979. The Pittsburgh Pirates, uniformed in black and gold donned a blue collar attitude en route to the team’s 5th World Series title. It was electric! It was the year of Sister Sledge and "We Are Family."
Dale Shiffman’s dreams of playing big league ball didn’t quite pan out. But his career as a freelance photographer for the Pirates got him close to the action - and to the players.
"I used to literally run out on the field during batting practice, and play right field and shag fly balls. It was a dream come true -- just going down to the big league park and hanging out," says Dale.
Dale was living his dream. He wasn’t just working at the ball park. He was hanging with the guys. Life seemed great, but Dale wanted to be one of the guys. He never thought of dealing drugs until he was approached by some of the players. He was eager to oblige.
"It was one of those deals where they'd say, ‘Hey man can you get us some coke?’ So I just started checking around and before I knew it, things went from zero to 60 real quick."
Will Dawson: Did you do cocaine yourself?
Dale Shiffman: Oh yeah, I started slow just like the players. Cocaine is a drug that you want more and more -- and it came to … my whole life was about cocaine.
Soon, Dale wasn’t just supplying Pirates players, but several teams throughout the league.
Dawson: Was there anytime during that, that you were worried about going to jail?
Shiffman: From time to time it would pop into my head, but no. I was just having too much fun. I didn’t really think about the consequences.
But by 1985, word of alleged drug abuse around baseball had spread.The FBI began questioning players who pointed the finger at Dale.
He recalls a phone conversation with one of the guys: "He said, ‘I don’t know what you know or don’t know, but me and several of the other baseball players went in front of the grand jury,and I’m telling you flat out we gave you up. You might want to leave town.' 'I said, it’s the FBI -- It’s federal!' Where are we going to go?"
Dale was indicted on 111 counts. He pled guilty to 20 and was sentenced to 12 years in the federal penitentiary.
"When the FBI came to get me that was the worst day of my life, the darkest day of my life. The fact that, ‘Oh my goodness what am I going to do to my parents, the people that know me,’" remembers Dale. "I just felt so horrible. You know, 12 years is a long time."
Two days after Dale went to prison, he got a visit from the chaplain who invited him to a chapel service. It was a night that changed his life.
"This is going to sound weird, but I was sitting in the room with about 40 other inmates. And God spoke to me audibly."
"I was like, ‘Did you guys hear that?’ It was something along the lines of, ‘We’re all sinners, that we all need a Savior.’ I remember whispering under my own breath. I said, 'Lord, I plead guilty.' "
"When he [chaplain] gave the altar call, I remember pushing inmates out of the way. I made a b-line for the altar, and I said something along the lines of, ‘Old man, I’ve never heard anything like this before, but I’m not leaving this room until I got what you‘ve just been talking about. I want to ask Jesus Christ to save my soul.'"
Dawson: You were incarcerated?
Dawson: Did you feel like you had been set free?
Shiffman: Absolutely! It was a 40 pound weight lifted off my back. I knew once that sin was gone, I was a new man!
Dale was set free from his drug addiction and filled with a new hope. He only served two years of his 12 year sentence. Today he’s married and has three boys of his own. Dale is happy to pass along his love of baseball to his sons, but more importantly he shares his love for Christ with them. And he wants to extend that message of hope to others.
"It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done. Jesus Christ can wipe the slate clean. That’s the Gospel message. Some people I’ve witnessed to over the years will say, ‘You don’t know what I’ve done,’ and I say it really doesn’t matter. Jesus Christ when He died, He paid for it all. That would be the message I would say ... that Jesus saves, and He saves completely. Nothing surprises God."
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