Students at St. Francis of Assisi School on Cleveland’s East Side were excited about having visitors on April 12 – even if they weren’t fully versed about the guest speaker.
Principal Scott Embacher directed the nearly 200 students into the gym, where they sat quietly on the floor, grouped by grade levels. He told them the program was organized by the Knights of Columbus and that each child would receive something from the Knights: a new jacket and a T-shirt. After prayer, the students heard a few remarks from Bill Bordley, professional sports outreach manager for the Knights.
Bordley, who had a brief career as a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, told the students he was in their place at one time.
“I was 60 in January and I sat in Catholic schools for 12 years,” he said. “It set the foundation for my Christ-centered life.” He urged the students to keep Christ at the center of their lives.
“I had a chance to play in the major leagues. As a skinny, 185-pound kid, I faced Andre Thornton,” he said, explaining how he respected him. Then he introduced Thornton, who spoke to the youngsters.
Although his baseball career was over long before the St. Francis students were born, Thornton’s message resonated with them. “I’m here today because we care for you,” he said.
Thornton posed a question to the children: “Who is Christ and what does he mean to you?”
He said he asked his mother that same thing when he was a young boy. “She told me she couldn’t answer all my questions, but she steered me to someone who could: Christ.”
In 1967, Thornton joined the Pennsylvania National Guard. “I gave my life to Christ in an army barracks at Ft. Dix, New Jersey,” he said. He also had a noteworthy professional baseball career with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Montreal Expos and Cleveland Indians. Twice he was an American League All Star. He’s also in the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame.
Thornton, 68, told the students he learned about Christ by reading the Bible, specifically the first chapter in the Book of Hebrews. “It tells us what Christ can do for us, why he can do it and what makes him unique. There are four things we learn about him:
- He has the power to save.
- He has the ability to communicate to us – he lived among us.
- He can cleanse our sins.
- And he fulfills his promise.
“God loves us so much that he gave us his son. And because God loves me and I love him, I can love you. I love you and want you to know about the love of Christ. He endured the cross for you and me so one day we can be where he is,” Thornton said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m here talking to you at Eastertime. Easter shows us about the love of God through his son.”
Thornton and his wife have three adult sons. He is CEO and chairman of ASW Global, a distribution company that does business around the world.
“One day, some of you might want to work for me and I’ll ask you about those four things,” he said.
He asked the students how many home runs he hit. One replied, “a lot,” which elicited some chuckles.
“I say not enough,” Thornton quipped.
Embacher, who attended some games in which Thornton played, told the students that Thornton hit 253 home runs in his career.
“How many of you want to play professional sports?” he asked. Hands shot up around the gym and Embacher quipped, “Me too. I’m still working on it.”
After the program, students lined up to be fitted for new jackets from the Knights of Columbus Coats for Kids program. Each child also received a white T-shirt with the K of C logo.