- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Former University of Wyoming baseball great Bill Ewing knew exactly what he wanted to be when he was growing up in Rapid City, S.D., during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Like most youngsters of that era who spent many hours in the backyard under the lights taking wicked cuts at a Wiffle ball, Ewing had dreams of someday becoming a Major League Baseball player.

His dreams remained on track through high school as a star for regional American Legion powerhouse Rapid City Post 22, and then as an All-American at the University of Wyoming, where he set the national home run record in 1976.

The progression toward the majors seemed to be going nicely when he was drafted by the California Angels in the fourth round of the 1976 MLB June Amateur Draft.

He spent his first two years (1976-77) playing Class A ball at Quad Cities in the Midwest League and at Salinas in the California League before being promoted to El Paso in the Class AA Texas League in 1978.

Although he didn’t know it at the time, his blossoming baseball career took what later proved to be a career-ending turn during his very first season at Quad Cities.

In a game in which he couldn’t remember who the opponent was, Ewing had doubled. The next batter hit a ground ball to the left side that he thought was going to get through the infield and into left field. But the ball was cut off by the shortstop, who threw the ball to third base. Ewing elected to go into the bag with a head-first slide.

“I tried to avoid the tag, and my shoulder came completely out,” Ewing recalled. “It actually dropped several inches inside my skin.”

No surgery was done at the time, just rehabilitation.

Although there was some numbness, Ewing played through the next season at Salinas virtually pain free. He was then promoted to AA ball in El Paso, where he continued to nurse along the shoulder and the numbness that went with it.

Ewing had surgery on the shoulder after his lone season in El Paso and before being promoted to Class AAA Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League in 1979.

He spent the ‘79 season in Salt Lake rehabilitating the shoulder and was primed to make the jump to the major leagues the following year.

During an Angels spring training game in 1980 with the San Diego Padres, on the first ball hit to him, his big-league dreams came to an abrupt end.

“I picked the ball up and meant to throw it, and everything that had been done surgically on my shoulder ripped out,” Ewing (http://bit.ly/1me7aP6 ) told the Laramie Boomerang. “As it turned out, the operation wouldn’t let the shoulder rotate back. If I had known what was to come, I would have just lived with the numbness and played through it.”

What was to come was Ewing undergoing a procedure known as the Bristow, a surgery that is rarely done anymore.

“At the time, the Bristow was an invention that was thought to be very good,” Ewing said. “The doctors who did it were very good surgeons. They were the ones that invented the artificial hip and the artificial knee. So they thought this would solve the problem, but it actually ended the problem.

“It took me out of baseball because I could not rotate my shoulder cuff.”

Ewing’s post-college career encompassed 300 minor-league games in which he batted .299 with 55 home runs and 237 RBIs.

Such an unfortunate end to his boyhood dream would leave some disillusioned and bitter. But that wasn’t the case with Ewing, a devout Christian.

“I can honestly say I have no regrets. I love the direction my life took after baseball, and I love the things that I do,” Ewing said. “The only thing I miss is standing in that little white box and hitting the ball. I don’t miss the lifestyle or anything like that.”

Ewing returned to his hometown and eventually founded Christian Life Ministries, a nonprofit, nondenominational Bible-based counseling and training center. His new career eventually turned him into a public speaker.

“I thought I was living the Christian life when I was in college,” Ewing said. “I ended up realizing I was living a religious life instead of a Christian life. I realized how paralyzing that was to living.”

In addition to his Christian counseling and training center, Ewing has also written a book titled “Rest Assured.”

“The book kind of parallels my baseball, the Christian life and how to live underneath what was grace and how God’s grace was a lot more about a relationship than about a religion,” Ewing explained. “Once I saw how freeing it was in my life, it made me realize that this is what I want to do - to help people understand this, people who have a misunderstanding of Christianity.”

Ewing and his wife, Nancy, a Rapid City native he knew in grade school but with whom he did not develop a relationship until they later reunited at Wyoming, went on to have three children, all boys: Jesse, 36, Nic, 33, and Kyle, 30. All are married and living in South Dakota.

Jesse is currently in Kona, Hawaii, working on a film production of a Christian book by Cliff Graham, “Day of War,” which is about the David’s Mighty Warriors. Nic works alongside his father at Christian Life Ministries and will assume more of a leadership role in the near future. And Kyle is opening the Black Forest Inn, a restaurant in the Black Hills.

“I enjoyed my days at Wyoming, and it is where I met my wife,” Ewing said. “I didn’t enjoy the cold and snow, but I always loved the five or six weeks we got to spend down south to open the season.

“I haven’t had many opportunities to get back to Laramie, but I’m planning on doing more of that in the future.”

___

Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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