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Former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Bobby Bonner gives youth baseball players a pep talk in Flint on Thursday.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Bobby Bonner gives youth baseball players a pep talk in Flint on Thursday.

Former MLB shortstop busy saving souls

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

Like many people, former Baltimore Orioles shortstop and new Decatur resident Bobby Bonner can't understand how his old roommate Cal Ripken Jr. played in 2,632 games.

Ripken liked to take a page out of the World Wrestling Federation book and body slam Bonner every now and then when he wasn't paying attention. The two were roommates during the 1982 season, Bonner said.

It is Ripken's playful yet hard-nosed style off the field as well as on the field that confounds Bonner.

"He played hurt, I guarantee you he played hurt," Bonner said during an appearance, talking to the Decatur Dixie Youth 11-12 all-stars. "Some guys are gamers, some guys aren't."

Decatur is the most recent stop for Bonner, who played 61 games for the Orioles from 1980-1983.

Along the way, Bonner played with future hall of famers Ripken and Eddie Murray. He hit against 1991 World Series most valuable player Jack Morris, and tried to steal hits from former Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly.

But Bonner ended his baseball career in 1984 at the age of 28.

Bonner had suffered several injuries, ranging from a badly injured back to a broken hand.

A proclaimed born-again Christian, Bonner says he made a pact with God that he would serve the Lord if he could play one more season. Bonner did and decided to go to Africa in 1988 as a missionary.

The 51-year-old said he started more than 200 churches.

Eventually, the lifestyle in Africa caught up to Bonner. He says he has been diagnosed with malaria 19 times and black water fever. He also has nine stents in his heart.

Bonner was told that he could not live in Africa year round, so he decided to move to Decatur. Here, he serves as president and founder of IAM Ministries.

Decatur Baptist Church was one of the sponsors of Bonner's missionary work and when the time came to come back to the States, Decatur was a logical choice for Bonner and his wife, Becky.

"It is my kind of place," Bonner said. "The people are friendly. It's warm, I like to sweat, I don't like to be cold."

While talking to the Decatur all-stars, Bonner tells them that he is the answer to a trivia question — that he is one of the people who played shortstop at Baltimore directly before Ripken.

But when asked whether he regrets his somewhat dubious position in history, Bonner shakes his head. With all the work he has done in Africa, he knows what his mission in life is.

"I've never regretted it," he says.

Bobby Bonner profile

Born: Aug. 12, 1956

Birthplace: Uvalde, Texas

Career: Drafted in the third round of the 1978 baseball draft out of Texas A&M

Games played in majors: 61

Lifetime batting average: .194

Career highlight: Hit a career high .296 in 10 games in 1981 as shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles.

- Josh Cooper

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