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Derek Jeter (right) is among the New York Yankees Ken Whitten has met through ministry to the team. Photo courtesy of Ken Whitten.

Ken Whitten used to dream of playing professional baseball.

But even though God closed that door following Whitten’s college pitching career nearly 40 years ago at Eastern Illinois University, He reopens another door into baseball for Whitten each spring as Major League players and coaches — especially New York Yankees — descend on the Tampa-area Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz where he has served as pastor for 26 years.

With the Yankees’ spring training facility less than half an hour away, some 8-12 players and coaches worship at the church each year. That has afforded Whitten the opportunity to forge relationships with legendary Yankees like Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Joe Girardi and Reggie Jackson. Former MLB player and manager Lou Piniella is an Idlewild member, and Angels slugger Albert Pujols is among other baseball personalities to whom Whitten has ministered.

In 2014 when Whitten celebrated 25 years at Idlewild in Lutz, Fla., the church honored him with bobble head dolls featuring their pastor dressed in a Yankees uniform with a Bible under his arm.

“God’s calling on my life into ministry was not really saying no to baseball,” Whitten told Baptist Press. “It was saying yes in a more eternal way, and that was that I get to minister to these guys in a spiritual way.”

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Pastor Ken Whitten’s Relationship With Derek Jeter and Other New York Yankees  was originally published on