"Billy Sunday: The Baseball Evangelist" at the German American Heritage Center -- July 28.

Saturday, July 28, 2 p.m.

German American Heritage Center, 712 West Second Street, Davenport IA

The life and times of one of Iowa's most celebrated sports heroes and evangelists will be explored in a July 28 presentation at the German American Heritage Center, the Davenport venue's Billy Sunday: The Baseball Evangelist acquainting guests with the two-time National League Pennant recipient who went on to preach roughly 20,000 sermons throughout his 40-year evangelical career.

Born outside Ames, Iowa, in 1862, Sunday's professional baseball career began in 1883, when he signed with the National League team the Chicago White Stockings. Initially, he started off as a part-time player, but was soon recognized for his speed, and by 1887, Sunday became a regular right fielder. An unfortunate injury limited his games to about 50, but for the 1888 season, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, where he played the entire season and Pittsburgh supporters took to his prowess on the field, creating for Sunday a large fan base. In 1890, he was named the Alleghenys' team captain before being traded yet again to the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom he played a total of 31 games. After converting to Christianity in 1891 and deciding to become an evangelist, he was released from his contract with the Philadelphia Ball Club in 1891. But Sunday still made his mark as one of greatest baseball players in the United States, ranked 17th in the league during his best season.

Sunday consequently became an assistant to J. Wilbur Chapman, one of the country's most influential evangelists, in 1893, received a course in homiletics, and turned to the pastorate three years later. He was ordained by the Presbyterian Church in 1903, and the next decade witnessed Sunday’s popularity rise by leaps and bounds. By 1917, he had become extremely popular among the rich and affluent, getting invited to private events by politicians including Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and screen stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Through his long and fruitful career, Sunday preached to over a million people head-on, and long after his 1935 passing, he is still considered one of the most influential of all American evangelists. In Billy Sunday: The Baseball Evangelist, historian Craig Bishop will employ rare photographs and videos to bring the story of this noted German immigrant to life, telling the tale of an American athlete who helped shape the United States' sporting, religious, and even political landscapes.

Bishop's 2 p.m. Billy Sunday: The Baseball Evangelist presentation on July 28 is free with $3-5 admission to the German American Heritage Center, and more information on the venue's exhibits and events is available by calling (563)322-8844 or visiting GAHC.org.

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