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You've Gotta Have Faith? Colorado Rockies at Play In the Fields of the Lord
Baseball and church don't always mix easily, though.
The Nationals suspended their chaplain in 2005 and issued an apology for outfielder Ryan Church after he told an interviewer he'd had a conversation with a chaplain from Baseball Chapel about whether Jews were "doomed" because "they don't believe in Jesus."
The question of the moment, however, is whether the Rockies' religious-centered approach is helping them play baseball at its most awe-inspiring -- "full of magic, cosmic truth and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time," in Annie's words.
Within a single strike of being eliminated from playoff contention a few weeks ago, the Rockies are now headed to the World Series for the first time in the short 14-year history of the franchise. They were in fourth place in the National League West when they began their streak a month ago. They then proceeded to win 13 out of the last 14 regular-season games and didn't lose a game in their postseason series against both the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks. No team has ever won so many games in a row this late in the season. No team has ever made fewer errors in a season than the Rockies have this year.
"When a player's playing really well, it feels really mysterious. It's like a religious experience," says historian Warren Goldstein, who has written books on both baseball and religion.
The difference between failure and success at the pro level is so minuscule that when things really click for a baseball club, people feel they're in a kind of a zone where the normal rules don't apply. "And that feels to a lot of players as though it's a religious thing, like a religious experience," says Goldstein. "In a way, I'd be astonished if they didn't think they were getting some kind of extra, supernatural help."
The Rockies had their road-to-Damascus conversion three years ago when pitcher Denny Neagle was caught soliciting a prostitute. Rockies Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Charlie Monfort released him three days later, swallowing $16 million of his contract. Monfort's own faith intensified after he was put on probation for driving while impaired, and he changed the way he ran his club.
"We started going after character six or seven years ago, but we didn't follow that like we should have," he told USA Today. "I don't want to offend anyone, but I think character-wise we're stronger than anyone in baseball. I believe God sends signs, and we're seeing those."
Rockies officials now say their true emphasis has always been character, not religion.
Asked by the Denver Post what role religion played in assembling the team's roster, Manager Clint Hurdle said: "We look for men of character, men of skills. Their [religious beliefs] are not a question that is even brought up. That those have a common fabric with Christianity is not a coincidence. But values are the issue."
"It's certainly possible that their religion and shared stuff makes them think more like a team," says Goldstein. "It's worth at least asking whether the notion of sacrifice or taking one for the team, or giving one up is something that receives a certain push" from the religious players on the team.
Near the end of "Bull Durham," veteran catcher Crash Davis explains all this to his team's new star pitcher. Crash advises Ebby Calvin LaLoosh that it's best not to sleep with Annie lest he jinx the winning streak he is on. Ebby's streak began after he started wearing women's underwear, and Crash encourages Ebby to continue that practice as well. Crash defends himself to a confused Annie by insisting that a player on a streak has to respect the streak.
"You know why?" he says. "Because they don't happen very often." If you believe you're playing well because you're having sex, Crash explains, or because you're not having sex, "or because you wear women's underwear, then you are ! And you should know that!"
If the Rockies believe they're playing well because of their faith or because of their commitment to character, then, what the hey, they probably are.