Hitting the greatest home run in the history of LSU baseball 23 years ago continues to give Warren Morris opportunities to share stories of that moment — and his faith.

"If you ask me who I am, I would say first and foremost I'm a child of God," Morris said during a Connections Ministry men's prayer breakfast Tuesday at the Crowne Plaza in Baton Rouge. "Baseball is what I'm known for. You can say it's my platform. It's the reason I have a story to tell. But it's not my identity. It's not who I am."

The whole nation got to know Morris on June 8, 1996, when he hit a two-out, two-run homer — his first home run of the season — in the bottom of the ninth to give LSU and legendary coach Skip Bertman a 9-8 win over Miami for the national championship.

"Was it a coincidence or not? I think not," said Morris, who is now 45 and works in the banking industry in his native Alexandria. "God has a plan for all of us. Why I was part of that? And why it ends up 23 years later I have a story to tell and a reason for people to come hear about? But I think each of us has a story to tell."

So when he gets the opportunity to talk about that famous home run and his baseball career, Warren also tells the story of accepting Jesus.

"I made that decision in the fourth grade, and from that moment on, Jesus came and lived in my heart," he said, "and that doesn't mean I didn't screw up. I've had plenty of mess-ups. I know (at) that moment my eternity is 100 percent guaranteed, that one day I would be in heaven, one day with my Lord Jesus Christ."

The church, school and sports were the foundations of his childhood, Morris said.

In sports, basketball was the athlete's first love. He started playing baseball at 8 or 9, when a friend's father invited him to join a Little League team.

"That first year I wasn't very good. I remember bunting a lot," he said. "I did get better, but I think and I always play that what-if game, and it makes wonder what if my buddy's dad had never invited me to play. That's a great story for me. The power of invitation."

Morris saw that invitation as another "God thing" in his life.

By the time he graduated from high school, Morris had become pretty good in baseball — and did well enough in the classroom — and made his way to LSU. 

"Sports helped me in the classroom. When I went to LSU, I was never on an athletic scholarship. I was on an academic scholarship the entire four years I was there," he said.

Morris joined the LSU baseball team in 1993 and by the start of the 1996 season was expected to be among the best players on the team and the nation.

But early in that season, Morris suffered a hand injury that caused him to miss most of the rest of the regular season.

He went to specialists but couldn't get an answer or relief. Then he went to God in prayer.

"One night, I just went into my bedroom at my apartment, closed the door and I just got down on my knees," he said. "I prayed this prayer: 'God, I don't know what you want me to do going forward. I don't know if you want me to not ever play baseball anymore or just get my degree in something totally away from athletics. If that's what you want, I'm all for it. This is not me anymore. It's all yours. If you want me to continue playing baseball, I'll do that, and I'll give you all the glory. But I'm not worried about it anymore.' From the time I prayed that prayer, it's like somebody took a load of bricks off my shoulders, and I stuck to that promise."

Three days later, tests revealed a broken bone in Morris' hand. He opted for surgery and was able to return to the lineup for the postseason. LSU advanced through the regionals and on to the College World Series, where the Tigers eventually faced Miami for the national title.

LSU trailed 8-7 in the bottom of the ninth with a man on third base when Morris, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, came up. Morris followed catcher Tim Lanier, who struck out, leaving the Tigers to their last out.

Morris said a dejected Lanier offered him encouragement as he passed by.

"He just said three words: Pick me up," Morris said. "That was kind of our motto for the year. Nobody's ever going to be the hero all the time. ... Somebody's always will be there to pick you up."

Morris just wanted to keep his team alive.

"I was not trying to get a home run," he said. "I'm the ninth batter; I'm trying to get a base hit and get on base, and the top of the lineup could knock me in."

Instead, Morris knocked it out of the park.

"The Miami infielders were all on the ground like a bomb went off or something. That's when it registered: We just won the national championship," he said.

That victory showed the importance of working as a team, said Morris, who earned a bronze medal as part of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team and played five seasons in the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers. He retired in 2006.

"That's why I ever played sports as a kid," Morris said. "I never cared about statistics and all of that stuff. I played to try to help the team win. For somebody who had to sit on the sideline and couldn't play the whole year, it's just special for me for that championship. I get to become somewhat of an exclamation mark."

Recalling that national title moment seemed to captivate the ballroom full of men. Then Morris made an appeal for the men to accept Jesus.

"He's OK with us acknowledging that we need him, and whatever point we're at we don't have to clean up to come to him. He wants us to come as we are," Morris said.

He closed by mentioning a few passages of Scripture dealing with sin and salvation, including Romans 10:9-10: "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved."

Morris said it's simple.

"We just come to that point and repent of our sins and accept that free gift of salvation and commit and surrender to God," he said.

Morris reminded the men of another baseball analogy, that the goal of the game is to get safely home.

"I would say that this world that's all we know is not our home," Morris said. "One day, we're going to leave this place, and we're going to spend a whole lot longer time in the next life in eternity than we are here."

'A Charge to Keep'

Barbara W. Green delivered the "babies."

The Baton Rouge minister, author, licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist labored far too long with her stories of purpose or "babies" growing within her that she finally birthed them in her latest book titled "A Charge to Keep" (Jozef Syndicate Publishers).

Green said the purpose of the book is to encourage others that their purpose, dreams and vision can make a difference.

"'The afterbirth of doubt and negativity will disappear in the light of the reality of the birth," she writes in the introduction. "We will slap it gently and tell it to wake up. We will be the first to hold it and look at it as an extension of our individual self. We will know that it will survive with or without us because we never impregnated ourselves with this purpose in the first place. Somebody greater did. And He gets all the credit."

Green shares 11 short stories dealing with such issues as domestic violence, youth violence, gangs, marriage, divorce, love and teen drug use.

The shortest of the stories is titled "The Other Side," which takes up only two of the book's 86 pages. The story is about a young child who didn't like that her mother laid out the wrong color blouse to go with her skirt

"The little girl saw the orange blouse and decided that it in no way matched her red skirt," Green writes. "She would not be the laughing stock of the class wearing a red skirt with a an orange blouse."

The girl had her say before the mother retorted, "Melissa, the blouse does match. It's reversible. You have to turn it on the other side."

The story appeals to the heart.

"What are we missing by not looking on the other side? What's on the other side of our sister's frown? Or our brother's anger? What is on the other side our sorrow and pain? Take a few moments and show some concern for your brother or sister. … Purpose in your heart to turn the inside out for another."

Other chapters in the book include "Beneath the Tree," "Reflections" and "Shine On."  

Another day, another blessing

It's no coincidence that the greatest gospel song of all time includes the terms "amazing grace" and "wretched."

We come to a point in our lives where we realize we are wretched, broken and lost souls who would have no chance without God's amazing grace. For it is in our wretchedness, our affliction, our misery, our distress, our rejection and our dejection that we can really see the hand of God's grace.

Recall the words of the Apostle Paul, the great preacher, missionary, man of God, as he says in Romans 7:24: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?"

Paul was perplexed and desperate. He wanted to know who or what could deliver him from a life that was so beset and nominated by sin. He answered his own question in Verse 25: "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Thank God for the grace that came through Jesus Christ.

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. To reach Terry Robinson, call (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com.