So much for love of the game.
Baseball is a religious sport, there’s no doubt about it. During the course of a game, we see players mutter prayers before stepping into the batter’s box, point up to God after hitting one out of the park, or cross themselves after sliding safely into second. But the fans, whose sole concern is the score at the end of the game, rarely notice these indications of faith. And the secular media, busy describing game-winning and -losing plays along with the most and least valuable players, could care less about such habits. But for the Christian media, religiosity on the field is a major issue, if not the only one.
Coinciding perfectly with current October baseball fervor, The Christian Broadcasting Network has profiled four God-devoted major league baseball players on their sports news webpage. In each article, bearing catchy titles like, “Three Strikes…You’re Saved,” and “Playing for an Audience of One,” the players comment on God’s role in their personal game-related achievements and failures. Much more significant, though, is the open declaration that they use baseball as a proselytizing tool.
In “Three Strikes…You’re Saved,” Houston Astros star third baseman Morgan Ensberg is unabashed in saying, “The entire reason I play baseball is so that I get a chance to speak about Christ.” Similarly, Jamey Carroll of the Washington Nationals tells CBN reporter Shawn Brown, “If I can be a light in this field that somebody in the stands can see Christ through me, that’s truly the reason I go out and I play for Him.” So much for the love of the game.
Jeremy Affeldt, a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, is a bit less harsh. In “Peace on the Mound,” Brown and co-writer Andrew Knox claim “When Jeremy takes the mound for Kansas City, he’s not just trying to pick up a Royals win…it’s also his unique privilege to worship God in front of thousands.” And Carlos Baerga, after succumbing to the sin-filled pressures of fame, now says, “I don’t just play for me. I play for my teammates too, because those are the things that God teaches. They’re the ones that need to know the words of God. Right now what I’m trying to do is to talk to the guys more about God.”
Apparently Ensberg, Carroll, Affeldt and Baerga aren’t the only bat-swinging evangelicals in the major leagues. According to Affeldt, “We’ve [the Royals] got about ten guys that are solid believers on the team and all of a sudden now you’ve got a group of guys that are going to be encouraging each other. We’re going to be lifting each other up.” And voila: what used to be a sportscasters’ punchline — that, say, the Royals, after finishing with by far the worst record in major league baseball this season, are going to be needing that support — becomes instead the point of the game.
But you wouldn’t know about the Royals’ record from logging on to CBN anyway. Nor would you know that Morgan Ensberg’s Astros are currently in the playoffs, winning the battle against the St. Louis Cardinals for the chance to play in the World Series. At CBN, sports news doesn’t consist of wins and losses, but rather of faith and stronger faith. To access scores and standings, the curious must follow the links they’ve provided to websites like ESPN and MLB. And by looking at other Christian websites like Crosswalk and Christianity Today, you would never know that professional sports even existed — there isn’t a single reference to athletics on either of the sites.
The point here is twofold. One, professional sports is of little or no concern to the Christian media. When sports, like baseball, are covered, it is through a thick and impenetrable Christian lens. For CBN, the players are believers first, and athletes second.
The other point is more surprising, despite the clear demonstrations of faith in any given game. God-driven players also consider, or at least present, themselves as believers first, and athletes second. It is significant that remarks like Ensberg’s “entire reason” for playing the game are only made to the Christian media. For the majority of baseball fandom, their devotion doesn’t lie in love for Jesus, but love of the game. Baseball player first, believer, who really cares?
Ensberg may see God’s hand in helping his Astros to the World Series, or Affeldt may think God will help the Royals have a better season in 2006, but the fans will never see it that way. This is a classic case of preaching to the choir. And despite the efforts of mound-top preachers and clubhouse evangelists, that choir won’t be expanding anytime soon. Because, in the end, the real concern is who wins and who loses, not why or how.
Nicole Greenfield is a graduate student at New York University.