Ben Carlson: The Game Changer
By Tom Buehring
The 700 Club
CBN.com -“You basically felt invincible, you felt you had the world in your hands,” says baseball prospect Ben Carlson. “You can see the big leagues right ahead of you. Everybody is telling you how great a baseball player you are and you got a baseball card that just comes out with your picture on it.”
It looked like nothing could stop Ben Carlson. It was his first season playing baseball with the Cleveland Indians farm team, the Scrappers. Major League fame and fortune were in his reach, until a tragic event changed his life.
Ben’s big league dreams began on small midwestern ball fields. A Missouri State scholarship put him on the fast track.
“That kind of made me think I can do this,” says Ben.
Ben’s hitting put him in the spotlight. Thirty-three home runs and 118 RBI’s over two seasons caught the attention of scouts. His sudden success reinforced the mindset needed to become a pro player, self-sufficient determination!
“To have no fear, to believe in yourself and your talents and what you’ve worked hard for,” says Ben.
Ben gets picked in the 2009 draft. The slugging first baseman signed his first contract, groomed to be a part of the franchise’s future. His professional career began with the Indians’ farm team in Ohio.
“You feel pretty special about yourself,” says Ben. “You feel like you have really accomplished something in this life and that’s where I was, basically living the dream.”
But not for long! The dream turned into a nightmare! Less than 3 months into the short season, a curveball turned Ben’s next swing into a near fatal shot.
“I got up to the batter’s box, and of course I’m always thinking I’m going to hit a homerun every time I get up to the plate,” says Ben. “And I got down to two strikes pretty early. So I was basically fighting off some pitches. And the next thing I knew the pitcher throws a curveball and as a left-hander I was a little out in front of it so I hit a foul ball into the stands and that’s when the ball hit Luke in the head.”
Four-Year Old Luke Holko was sitting with his parents Chad and Nicole in the front row down the first-base line, when the foul ball knocked the young boy unconscious.
“Chad started reacting,” says Luke’s mom, Nicole. “And I guess I really didn’t quite know what happened. A couple seconds later it dawned on me he had gotten hit by the baseball. At that point it was just panic trying to figure out, you couldn’t see anything wrong other than he wasn’t responding.”
“I see his parents pick him up and immediately run up the stairs of the stadium and run out of the ballpark,” says Ben. “And I’ve never heard a stadium so quiet. All I knew that I did was hurt somebody and I immediately started crying in the box. I just know that I saw a limp kid over his parents shoulder. At that moment when I hit that baseball everything changed.”
Ben struggled to finish his at-bat. Luke’s condition was updated from the hospital and passed on in the dugout. After the game in the clubhouse Ben learned Luke might not live through the night.
”I just remember praying, I mean, just like probably a lot of people when bad things happen to them. That’s when they come to God. And I just said ‘Lord, save his life,’” says Ben.
Luke’s condition stabilized but he was still in a coma. Ben visited the family at the hospital. He was overcome with guilt.
“That’s the first time we met him face to face,” says Luke’s dad, Chad. “He came down the hallway. You could tell he was a baseball player just by walking down he hallway and we met him. Come up gave us a big hug. He was in tears. We were in tears.”
“They accepted me into their family right there,” says Ben. “And for them to do that was so amazing because most people might blame me. And most people might just reject me.”
Luke’s parents didn’t blame Ben. Instead, they forgave him. It was the beginning of a deep friendship. But Ben’s game and perspective slumped.
“Every single day you’re expected to produce,” says Ben. “You’re expected to show your talent. Show their investment is paying off for them. And when you’re driven by that and things aren’t going so well, um, you start looking at who you are as a person.”
Despite all of his RBI’s, base hits and home runs, it was a foul ball that changed his life.
“I just had to be honest with myself and that broke me more but that gave me freedom,” says Ben. “Because I realized everything I was doing didn’t matter. You realize that, that you need God. You realize that you need someone bigger and better than yourself to live through you and help you with things in this life.”
The Indians promoted Ben to their Single-A team. He was still in a hitting slump and knew his future in baseball was uncertain. He began to search for peace in his life and a new sense of purpose. One day, Ben showed up early for his pre-game routine.
”I remember going outside for some reason and I just sat outside the locker room,” says Ben. “And I just started balling. And I just said, ‘Jesus save my life.’ Because I didn’t know where else to turn. And, He was the only one I could call on. He was the only truth I knew to call out to. That day was life changing. I truly, truly, truly believe that was the day God got a hold of my heart.”
Ben finished the 2010 season. His contract wasn’t renewed and he walked away from the game he once loved. He married and has recently become a dad. Ben returned to school to finish his degree at Emporia State. The competitor in him took on a new sport. He’s now playing football and led the Hornets in tackles this past season. While little Luke continues his recovery, he and Ben continue their friendship. Along the way, the former first baseman found a new pursuit.
“You do get to that point where you need him more than anything,” says Ben. “When you truly experience Him for yourself in those moments of desperation where you need a Savior, through the last year and a half, that I’ve been following Him, it’s been the most amazing journey I’ve ever taken in my life. And I’d give up everything in my past life to continue to follow Him.”
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