It’s what drove a 3-3 Purdue squad to take down the second-best football team in the nation with Tyler Trent, a young Boilermaker fan battling cancer, watching in awe in the suites.
It’s what propelled an 11-seeded Loyola Chicago Men’s Basketball team to the Final Four, praying with Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt before every game.
It’s what willed a Florida team to become national champions after winning its last 10 games of the season behind “The Promise” made by Tim Tebow.
It’s something Ball State’s Will Baker has plenty of to go around, and those around him have taken notice.
“He can’t help it because it’s such a big part of his life,” Ball State baseball head coach Rich Maloney said. “Whatever he does, he tries to add value to people, and he’s outstanding at that.”
A senior outfielder for the Cardinals, Baker is a member of the Student Leadership Team of Athletes in Action (AIA), the sports ministry of Cru on Ball State’s campus. AIA, present in more than 90 countries, exists to help student-athletes develop a personal relationship with God and incorporate their faith into their athletic performance.
Eric Knodel, local leader of Athletes in Action at Ball State, said student-athletes, especially at the collegiate level, are constantly under pressure, whether it be from parents, coaches or school. He said AIA alleviates some of the stress.
“For many people, competition is almost a matter of life and death,” Knodel said. “God wants us to give it our very best and glorify Him. But if we fail, He is still there loving and accepting us as much as He always did. It is important for people who are God's children to know that.”
Baker took it a step farther, mentioning that there should be no tension from outside forces or fear of failure when performing.
“A big thing we emphasize in AIA is audience of one,” Baker said. “It’s like you’re just playing for Jesus and Christ. He’s the only audience that matters.”
Baker said he wants to become a pastor after he graduates, but it wasn’t until he began his transition into college that he discovered this life goal. AIA has helped him work toward making his ambition a reality, as he emcees weekly meetings and leads Bible study.
“It’s helped me tremendously, especially working on speaking in front of people,” Baker said. “Public speaking is definitely something I struggled with from an early age. Now it’s a common thing I love and get excited about opposed to nervousness.”
Baker started his college career at Fort Scott Community College in Fort Scott, Kansas. After two years, he transferred to Ball State where he met Knodel. Baker had recently come off an AIA baseball tour, and after meeting, Knodel said he was quickly convinced Baker would make a great addition to the team.
“He really has great leadership abilities, and he has a real heart to follow the Lord and help others to know the Lord,” Knodel said. “Will is a fun guy and has really helped our organization here at BSU.”
Stepping into a leadership role is nothing new for Baker. As a sophomore, he earned all-conference honors and in his first season with the Cardinals, he started 50 of 58 games. Maloney said Baker gives off nothing but positive vibes and naturally improves the lives of others.
“When you have a person who has high integrity like Will does, who leads by example in everything he does, you gain the respect of your teammates,” Maloney said. “When you have a leader like that, and he’s all about the team, you make everybody better. He’s all about ‘we before me’ – that’s our motto. That’s who he is as a person. He puts others in front of himself, and I think that example attracts people to him.”
While Baker is a leader on the baseball team, a broken foot has forced him off the field for the majority of the fall.
Maloney said he knows it can be frustrating when a player can’t participate, but Baker has approached his situation in exemplary fashion with his head held high.
“He’s stayed positive, and I think that’s uplifting to the rest of the guys,” Maloney said. “It adds value to the guys when they see someone who hasn’t been able to play and still be a great teammate and be at everything we have going. It’s really pretty special.”
This most recent injury marked broken bone number nine for Baker. A broken back was one of the most serious injuries he’s ever had.
During his sophomore year of high school, Baker fractured the L4 vertebra in his spine, causing him to miss the baseball season. The winter of his junior year, he reinjured his L4 and missed that year as well. To make matters worse, after playing in his first 14 games as a college freshman, Baker hurt his L5 vertebra and lost yet another season to injury.
Baker has treated his injuries as opportunities rather than setbacks. He said he views his absence from the field as a chance talk with teammates he wouldn’t normally get to at practice and above all, dial into his faith.
“It gives me more opportunity to really focus on where God wants me to be going, especially after this year being my senior year,” Baker said. “I don’t have to worry about playing a game right now. I’m just really focused on Him and what He wants me to do here.”
Baker said he should be able to resume hitting in the next couple weeks and will undoubtedly be ready to go come spring. In the meantime, he’s making the most of what he’s been faced with.
“People will be like, ‘Well, he’s hurt, but he’s not down. He’s still up. Why is that?’” Baker said.
His response? Simple:
“It’s just a game,” Baker said. “There’s more to life than a silly game. There’s something more fulfilling beyond just a simple baseball game.”