Retired MLB slugger and his wife are on a mission for God
FLORENCE, Ala. — Josh Willingham stayed up most of the…
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Patrick and Katie Beth McCarthy’s oldest son, Miller, once told a reporter his family lived at the ballpark.
“We just go spend the night at our house sometimes,” he quipped.
Baseball is extremely important to the McCarthys. Patrick is the head coach at Faulkner University, leading the Eagles to the 2013 NAIA World Series title and national runner-up finishes in 2016 and 2017. Katie Beth, the coach’s wife of 21 years, serves as Faulkner’s unofficial “team mother.”
“The biggest gift they have is just to make you feel like a part of their family.”
But even though Patrick has posted a 552-163 record at Faulkner (a stellar .772 winning percentage), he and Katie Beth don’t measure success in wins and losses, fellow Christians say.
Rather, the couple see the baseball diamond as a mission field — a way to introduce players, many recruited from difficult backgrounds, to Jesus.
“The biggest gift they have is just to make you feel like a part of their family,” said Jonathan Villa, 25, a former Faulkner catcher now serving in a team chaplain role. “They were a big influence on me changing to the man I’m striving to be still. I’m still working on it, but it’s been an amazing journey.”
Villa, a Mexican immigrant, has battled addiction issues. He was baptized — like dozens of Patrick’s players — at the Landmark Church of Christ, the couple’s home congregation.
Buddy Bell, the Landmark church’s lead minister, praises Patrick and Katie Beth as “very authentic and real.”
“Patrick has a pretty tough past and things he went through before he came to the Lord. He’s very honest about that,” Bell said of the coach, who serves as a deacon, small-group leader and Bible class teacher.
“Katie Beth is probably just the most loving and nurturing person you could know,” the minister added. “Just obviously, her love for children and adoption have just really been a blessing to watch.”
That’s a big part of the McCarthys’ story, too.
The couple adopted Miller, 18, now a freshman pre-med major at the University of Alabama, from South Korea when he was 15 months old.
They adopted Andre, 17, who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and special needs, from Guatemala when he was 3 years old.
They adopted Keenan, 12, who is African American, as a newborn from Texas.
In addition, they care for a 1-year-old foster daughter, who was born with amphetamines and opioids in her system.
Patrick and Katie Beth hope to adopt her, too.
“I think from the outside looking in, it seems really, really unique,” Patrick said of the family. “But we’re just very blessed.”
Last year, the Family Guidance Center of Alabama recognized the McCarthys with one of its “Families of the Year” awards.
“I think from the outside looking in, it seems really, really unique. But we’re just very blessed.”
“Every day, my parents wake up and do everything in their power to give our family the best they can,” Miller told The Christian Chronicle.
His proud parents note that as a senior at Alabama Christian Academy this past spring, Miller was honored with the Jimmy Hitchcock Award. That regional prize celebrated Miller’s Christian leadership as well as his excellence in the classroom and on the football field. (He chose a different sport than his dad.)
Miller said his father is his best friend and is really good at understanding and listening. His mother, he said, “loves better” than anyone he knows.
“I appreciate all the support and encouragement my parents have given me over the years,” Miller said. “They never left any doubt how much they love me and care about me. Even though I’m adopted, I’ve never felt anything less than a son.”
Patrick and Katie Beth grew up in different circumstances — different worlds, you might say.
Her father, Larry F. McKenzie, is a county judge in Henderson, Tenn., and has served as an elder of the Henderson Church of Christ. Her mother, Judy McKenzie, taught accounting at Freed-Hardeman University before retiring.
“I was protected and safe and never wanted for a darn thing,” Katie Beth said. “I was skipping through life with sunshine and roses, and I didn’t know there was anything bad in the world.”
On the other hand, Patrick was reared in a chaotic environment.
At one point, his family subsisted on welfare. At another, they lived in a mobile home park by a prison where his late father served as a correctional officer.
“I also grew up in a very difficult broken home with child abuse,” Patrick said. “It’s taken a lot of time, a lot of therapy, to work through all that and know God’s my father. God’s going to take care of me. It’s been all God since I turned 15 years old.”
That’s when a family friend gave him a Bible that he started reading.
Patrick and Katie Beth met in 1997 after he was recruited to play baseball at Freed-Hardeman.
He transferred to the Christian university as a junior, after two seasons at North Florida College.
“He was on campus for all of two hours, and he knew he was going to marry me,” Katie Beth said. “I definitely did not know I was going to marry him.”
“He was on campus for all of two hours, and he knew he was going to marry me. I definitely did not know I was going to marry him.”
In spring 1998, a foul ball broke Patrick’s hand.
The catcher stayed on campus as his teammates left on a road trip. While they were away, Bible professor David Powell baptized Patrick.
“And that started a lifelong journey of Matthew 6:33,” Patrick said, referring to Jesus’ instruction to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Patrick, now 45, and Katie Beth, 44, married in 2000.
He began his coaching career that same year as a graduate assistant at Mississippi College.
In 2001, he accepted an assistant coach position at Freed-Hardeman. He earned a promotion to head coach in 2005. In five seasons at Freed-Hardeman, he compiled a 158-108 record.
Even while dating, the couple talked about adopting someday.
But they figured they’d have biological children, too.
Infertility on Patrick’s part made that next to impossible. Three years of trying — and failing — to have a child took its toll.
“The depression that came with infertility lasted several years,” Patrick said. “It was a dark place in our marriage.
“Someone who believes they’re supposed to be a mother and have a child — and all her friends are having babies,” he said of Katie Beth, “it was very challenging.”
But God answered their prayers, they said, when he gave them the opportunity to adopt Miller.
And then came Andre. And Keenan. And — Lord willing — the foster daughter whose name can’t be printed just yet.
Katie Beth said adoption probably has changed her life more than anything. But baseball ranks second.
After Patrick took the top job at Freed-Hardeman, Katie Beth said, it took her only a few months to realize she needed to serve alongside him.
The team couldn’t just be Patrick’s mission field, she said.
“So I just decided, ‘I’m going to be there every day,’” Katie Beth said. “‘I’m going to go to practice every day. I’m going to take care of the guys.’”
She maintained that vital support role at Faulkner after Patrick began his coaching duties there in 2010.
At Faulkner, she also earned a law degree. Besides caring for her own children and serving as the team mom, she works as a victim services officer for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office. That job involves her in some of the county’s most severe child abuse cases.
“It’s not about winning games,” Patrick said of the couple’s dedication to the baseball program.
“That’s a byproduct of trying to take care of kids and make them understand that when you’re loved, when you’re taken care of, you’re at your best. And some of them haven’t seen that before.”
“I am very bold and vocal. I think there are times when they’ve wanted me to be quiet and sit down, but they’ve never told me to. I appreciate that greatly.”
Katie Beth said she never thought college baseball players would care about a 44-year-old woman’s spiritual journey.
“But they do,” she said. “They do. I talk to them about pornography. I talk to them about alcoholism. … I try to warn them about who they need to marry and who they need to steer clear of, and I talk to them about relationships.
“I am very bold and vocal,” she added. “I think there are times when they’ve wanted me to be quiet and sit down, but they’ve never told me to. I appreciate that greatly.”
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected]
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