Growing up in a Christian home with his Dad as their pastor, Ben Melendez has called himself a Christian since the age of three. He says he remembers his parents sitting next to him, one on each side, as he gave his life to Christ. However, after what he considers a more “personal” recommitment to Christ, Melendez decided to attend Eastern. Melendez was not recruited for Eastern’s baseball team, but he tried out and successfully made the team. He remembers one conversation he had after hearing that he had made the team because another freshman responded with a rude comment about the baseball players. In effect, his friend had communicated that he was surprised because he thought that baseball players are bad people. It seems that there is a tendency for athletes in the Eastern community, namely baseball players, to be stereotyped as bad people. This stereotype, however, stands in contrast to the number of intelligent, faithful athletes on the team of which Ben Melendez is the quintessential example. A strong athlete and team player, Melendez has faithfully stood against this stereotype through his faith and his studies.
Melendez integrates his faith in all facets of his life. But, in an age where Tim Tebow attributes every touchdown to his faith in Christ and sports teams are “praying to win,” Melendez seems to hold to another perspective. When asked about prayer when it comes to game day, Melendez responded, “I try not to view Him as a totem or a lucky charm. Just because I have a personal relationship, I don’t see God as the supernatural force behind my success. I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care about the final score, [but] he cares what you do with it.” Melendez says he does “pray for peace.” He holds this prayer closely in his games, during practices, and in the midst of trouble. He says that he “prays to remember His presence” so that he can “glorify Him in doing the best that [he] can.”
Melendez, with his almost uncanny ability to articulate deep emotions and the most complex of nuance, has evidently taken his psychology studies very seriously over his past few years at Eastern. He considers himself an “introspective” thinker, and believes his study of psychology has helped him better understand himself. As a result, Melendez has spent a great deal of time reflecting on his faith and can clearly articulate his beliefs as a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) leader.Through the position of FCA leader, his faith, studies, and sport all work in tandem for an end result of evangelicalism.
Outside of the formal leadership position Melendez holds in FCA, his every day conversations and friendships in the baseball community similarly reflect his love for Christ. To Melendez, the team is a group of diverse people bound together by a love of the sport. Melendez has nothing bad to say about his teammates; he considers them “family.” He admires the individuals Coach Morris chooses to play on the team: individuals who he thinks have been chosen both for their skill at the sport and their good character. The Bible verse Melendez says has been close to his heart for the majority of his time on the Eastern Baseball Team is John 3:16-18 because of its message of love, not judgment, and condemnation. And, Melendez seems to embody the spirit of that message. He says that his teammates, although they do have somewhat of a “hard exterior and bad reputation, are really just a bunch of good guys.”
An unfortunate aspect of any community is the tendency to stereotype the individual into the narrow confines of a labeled box. Even at Eastern, this tendency is a real issue as it manifests itself into the cliché labels: dumb athlete, honors college student or nerd, religious, slutty, partier, hipster, prude, and homeschooler. The typical college student helplessly paces back and forth between the narrow confines of the prison they’ve been boxed into, blind to the true nature of their prison. Senior baseball player Ben Melendez, on the other hand, sees these boxes for what they truly are – the façade of a social construct and over the past four years he has been successful as a Christian, athlete, and student of Eastern University.