Summer 2024

How a homeless man showed former pitcher Tyler Keele 'what it means to follow Jesus'

Tyler Keele spent years yearning to understand what it means to have a relationship with Christ. He was “around” the church as a kid and knew all the famous Bible stories. He had accepted God as his Savior, but he wanted more.

It wasn’t until he encountered a homeless man in Montana that he began to understand.

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Growing up, Keele’s father struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, which led to the family moving to different states in the Southeast. It wasn’t obvious to others, though, that there was anything wrong.

“We were still going to church,” Keele said recently on the Sports Spectrum Podcast. “We were viewed as a good Christian family. And so, from the outside, we had a white picket fence — but inside, our house was burning on fire.”

Right before Keele started high school in Clayton, North Carolina, his mother was diagnosed with a brain aneurism that resulted in years of debilitating pain, making an already challenging situation much more complex.

This all left Keele with a desire to authentically live out his faith and no idea how to do so. Baseball became an escape for him, but he realized it wasn’t providing what he was looking for either.

“I knew Jesus, but I wanted someone to show me what that looked like,” Keele said on the podcast. “The chaos of my home — just didn’t see that happening. Baseball couldn’t fix it. I didn’t know what else to seek, so I was kind of walking in this loneliness and this dark place for a long time.”

When a coach who had recruited Keele to a junior college left for Morehead State University in Kentucky, he asked Keele to come with him as a walk-on. Keele jumped at the chance to play Division I baseball. While in college, he was diagnosed with depression and started being counseled by a local pastor who helped him begin to process everything he’d experienced.

After graduating, the Arizona Diamondbacks selected Keele in the 15th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. His professional career began in Missoula, Montana, where he had a life-changing encounter.

Keele would often go to read at a river near the Missoula Osprey’s ballpark, and one day was approached by a man who was homeless. The man asked Keele about the book he was reading. Keele told him it was about Christianity. The man began firing off Bible verses, asking if they were mentioned in the book. When Keele asked him where he was from, the man told him he was from above.

The next day, Keele returned to the same spot and saw the man again. They talked for six hours. The man correctly predicted numerous things that would happen in the future, including that Keele would reach Triple-A — where he made one appearance — and work as a missionary in baseball.

It was during that conversation that Keele found what he had been chasing for so long.

“‘Tyler, Jesus has been sitting with you in the fire of your house your entire life,'” Keele recalled the man telling him, “‘and He’s ready to walk out the door with you.’ That hit me so strong … that Jesus was with me through the entire [time of] pain. … He was waiting for me to walk out to show me what it means to actually follow Him.”

Keele continued, “I went home to my apartment and just started reading the gospels with a whole new profound paradigm of what it means to follow Jesus. It was like it clicked. … Understanding God and Jesus as Father and Friend has taken me such a long time to understand. I finally got that — at least a taste of that — for the first time.”

Keele’s baseball career came to an end in 2018, after which — as the homeless man predicted — he went into ministry. In 2020 he joined Unlimited Potential, Inc. (UPI), which is an organization that mentors and disciples professional baseball players. Keele also serves as the team chaplain for the Tennessee Smokies, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

“I think the greatest gift of being able to work with UPI has been just the realization that … [athletes] are humans who are longing and need love and appreciation just like the rest of us,” Keele said on the podcast. “The ability to be in that role is such an amazing thing.”

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