“Welcome to the Big Leagues” inspires author Dan Hettinger and former Major Leaguer Darrel Chaney to create and embrace the “Your Life Matters’ movement
By Jeff Louderback
Atlanta – “Your life matters.”
That is the message that veteran pastor Dan Hettinger and former Major League player and broadcaster turned motivational speaker Darrel Chaney passionately embrace in their movement to encourage and inspire others in a time and amid an economy that has created substantial challenges and painstaking setbacks for many men.
Hettinger, who is a hospice chaplain in Colorado and has served as a minister at churches nationwide, met Chaney when the two resided in the Atlanta area. The friendship inspired Hettinger to write “Welcome to the Big Leagues: Every Man’s Journey to Significance, The Darrel Chaney Story.”
The engaging book illustrates the respective stories of Chaney and Hettinger. It details Chaney’s struggle for significance as a utility infielder striving to remain in baseball at a time when players were not rewarded with salaries that provided financial comfort for the rest of their lives. “Welcome to the Big Leagues” also follows Chaney when his playing days ended and he encountered a myriad of peaks and valleys while striving to provide for his family and feel a sense of purpose. In the book, Hettinger also describes his arduous path as a pastor overcoming unexpected hurdles while planting and growing churches across the country.
Hettinger and Chaney met after Hettinger relocated to the Atlanta area from Princeton, N.J. to open a church. They launched a men’s Bible study group and learned they had common interests – their Christian faith and a love for baseball.
“I noticed that Darrel had a self-deprecating way about him, despite all of his achievements,” Hettinger said. “He played in three World Series and got to experience winning a World Series. He hit his first home run off Juan Marichal. He gave Bobby Cox his first career managerial win with a walk-off home run.
“Darrel was successful as a player, even though he felt otherwise. He felt that he was just a utility infielder,” Hettinger added. “What Darrel was doing is what I have done and many men in today’s society do.
“There is a tendency for a man to measure his worth with the wrong system – to compare his life with others and not feel content with his place on the team,” Hettinger said. “When a man knows who he is in the eyes of God, he experiences his significance. Every day has unlimited potential.”
Chaney, who is now 65, played 11 Major League seasons for the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves. He was part of three National League pennant winners, and the 1975 World Series champions, while playing for the Reds. Yet, since he was a utility infielder on one of the greatest clubs in Major League history (the 1975 Reds), Chaney endured self-doubt about his value on the team. He experienced these same feelings after his baseball career when he was dismissed from a broadcasting position for the Atlanta Braves at TBS after just two years, and in subsequent positions in corporate America that saw him downsized.
Chaney and Hettinger agree that one of the most poignant stories that illustrate the “Your Life Matters” matters message in “Welcome to the Big Leagues” takes readers to 1973. Chaney was used sparingly – a pinch-hit appearance here, a pinch-running spot there, a late-inning defensive replacement, an at-bat in the midst of a lopsided game to give starters a rest. The previous season, he was platooned with Davey Concepcion, but Concepcion had emerged as one of the top shortstops in the game, leaving Chaney in a utility role on a Reds team that had reached the World Series in 1970 and 1972.
A second round pick of the Reds in 1966 out of Morton High School in Hammond, Ind., Chaney had played parts of four seasons in the majors yet had never carved out a starting role. In 1973, his playing time significantly declined, and prior to the last game before the All-Star break in July, Chaney decided to approach manager Sparky Anderson.
“Can we talk a minute?” Chaney said, as he peaked his head into the manager’s office. He was comfortable talking to his skipper since Anderson managed Chaney in the minors.
“I’m glad you came in. I’ve noticed your attitude has been off a little lately, and it is affecting the guys on the bench,” Anderson said.
Chaney expressed his frustration about the lack of playing time.
“I’m glad you want in the game, so let’s go position by position and see where I can put you in.”
Anderson mentioned how, though Chaney was an infielder, he had the versatility to play the outfield if needed. Then the manager pointed out how Ken Griffey was a Rookie of the Year contender in right field, Cesar Geronimo was a Gold Glove center fielder and George Foster was the team’s best power-hitter.
The infield featured Tony Perez at first, Joe Morgan at second, Concepcion at shortstop and Pete Rose at third.
“I get your point, Sparky. Thanks for your time,” Chaney said as he slid from his chair, stood up with a heavy heart and prepared to walk out, feeling embarrassed about bringing up the subject.
Anderson asked Chaney to sit back down.
“Here is your purpose. If Pete gets sick, I will need you to play third. If Davey gets injured, you will play shortstop. If Joe needs a breather, you will play second. Do you understand?” Anderson explained. “I need you. If I need a bunt, you are one of the best bunters on the team. If I need a pinch-runner, you are one of the fastest and smartest baserunners we have. If we are going to be competitive, we need you to be the best utility player in the majors.
“Darrel I want you to be ready when the game comes to you.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll be ready!” Chaney responded
Chaney left the office renewed, feeling that his presence on the team was valuable.
“Purpose has an amazing affect on a man’s motivation,” Chaney said. “When people read this book, I want them to feel inspired that there is hope for today and tomorrow based on my experiences and Dan’s experiences.
“During my baseball career, and also since I retired, I have been like many men who wonder, “Do I matter? Does my life matter? Am I important to people?” Chaney added. “Your life matter not because of whether or not a person says it does, but because God says it does,” Chaney said.
Hettinger and Chaney are traveling around the country delivering speeches to groups and organizations that “Your Life Matters.”
“This is not just an inspirational message in a book,” Hettinger said “This is a movement we are striving to create. Everyone matters, regardless of the mistakes they have made and the hardships they are enduring.”
In 1976, the Reds traded Chaney to the Atlanta Braves, where he was the starting shortstop of one season followed by three more years as a utility infielder before he retired after the 1979 campaign. His post-Major League days have included the stint as a baseball broadcaster and a series of corporate jobs while building a life with his wife, Cindy, and their children. For Chaney, “Welcome to the Big Leagues” and his role in the “Your Life Matters” movement has given him what he calls his greatest sense of purpose.
“Everyone wants success. Everyone wants to be significant. I’m no different,” Chaney said. “I have experienced a lot of self-doubt and many setbacks over the course of my life, but now I wake up knowing that I am spreading a message that is meaningful and instrumental to children and adults alike.
“I have experienced a lot of times and days when I have not made an impact or I haven’t felt like I was making an impact,” he added. “I no longer feel that way because I am significant in God’s eyes, and it is our hope that everyone recognizes they are significant and they matter, too.”