FERT: The Amazing Baseball Chaplain
If you’re going to get in the game and be a bridge God can use to bring a little heaven to earth for someone today, like we discuss in our upcoming book Bold and Broken, it’s going to require us to intentionally invest in the lives of others.
Our summer league team chaplain in 1997 was a man named Frank Cantadore. He had a really hot daughter who eventually became my (Jason’s) wife! He was the associate pastor at a church up the road and quickly became a favorite among the guys on the team. We nicknamed him “Fert,” which was short for “Frankfurter.” You always know how much we like you by the nickname we give you. No nickname means….well, let’s just not go there.
We quickly found out it wasn’t just the guys on our team who loved Fert, it was just about every person we met that summer. “You know Pastor Frank?” we asked our newfound friend at a church picnic Fert had invited us to. “Aw, Frank,” he replied in his gruff northeastern accent. “He changed my life that guy.”
Person after person had similar responses when we asked them if they knew Frank. And for the next several hours at that picnic these guys told us how Frank had changed the trajectory of their lives forever. Every one of them had served time in prison or jail and were headed the wrong direction, but because of the faithful witness of one man, everything changed.
He became the same for several of us players that summer, as he was the chaplain for our baseball team. When we played professional baseball it was tough getting guys to come to chapel, but not when we were in Torrington with Frank as the chaplain. All the guys loved him.
Fert’s life reminds us of what Paul spoke about in his letter to the church of Corinth, a city that desperately needed spiritual fathers who were willing to stand in the gap. “You have many teachers,” Paul said, “but few fathers.” (1 Cor. 4:15)
Frank’s earthly father was a quintessential Italian whose parents had come directly off the boat in New York City harbor from Italy. Jake was his name. My (Jason’s) second son is named after him.
Now, when we say Italian, we mean Italian, like a person you’d see in the movie Godfather. Jake (or Poppie as everyone called him) didn’t take anything from anyone, ever. He could out argue anyone at anytime, and in typical Italian fashion he was always open for the challenge.
We remember Frank telling us the one thing he wanted more than anything was that his entire family would meet Jesus, especially his dad. His entire mission in life revolved around this single goal. And for twenty-six years he tried, and prayed.
Then one day he got a phone call—his dad had terminal lung cancer.
For the next nine months all of us watched the most amazing display of what a man on a mission looks like. Frank hardly left his dad’s side, picking him up for appointments, taking him to the store, sitting with him at Bess Eatin’ so he could enjoy coffee with his buddies—whatever it was, Frank was there to help his dad. And all along the way he had one central goal—to love his dad to Jesus.
Poppie eventually ended up in the hospital where his condition seemed to go from bad to worse. Then one day Fert got a call, “You gotta get to the hospital, and fast.”
Fert quickly gathered his stuff and took off to the hospital, hoping and praying he’d get there before his dad passed away. When he got to the hospital the nurse asked him if he was Frankie. She said that his dad kept asking for him and said, “I need to see Frankie.”
When he walked into the room he could not believe what he heard his father say…
But you’ll have to wait for the book to release before finding out what happened 🙂