Sunday, September 18, 2005

praying for a hit

Today we learn about how an FBI agent is preaching to the Washington Nationals. This holier-than-thou G-man Jon Moeller, when not doing whatever the hell he is supposed to do to earn his federal paycheck, serves as chapel leader for the local Major League Baseball team, part of an organization called Baseball Chapel that specializes in preaching to steroid-popping, horsehide-hitting, groupie-boffing millionaires. Nowadays, roughly a third of MLB players participate in their Christian church services. If you have a strong stomach, you can check out their web site here. (Just joking, here is their real site. Really.)

Not that long ago, as Nationals interim (I hope) general manager and golden-haired pitcher-trading God-boy Jim Bowden* pointed out, players and coaches saw religion as a crutch. Well, after years of increasingly intensive proselytizing, the God Squad is getting better attendance. But to what end? What is so special about a bunch of baseball players that they need dedicated ministering from some smug prig like Jon Moeller? Shouldn't this effort be spent on helping people who really need help? I mean, it's not like churches exclude baseball players or other pro athletes. I am sure it is nerve-wracking to stand at the plate with 40,000 people watching and the game on the line. But really, how much of this Baseball Chapel bullshit is just giving somebody the chance to hang out with celebrities and get free tickets to baseball games? Surely, there are people with greater needs than the appropriately-monikered Ryan Church?

Although the hero-worship (hey, isn't that un-Christian?) angle I suspect is a significant motive for a lot of the individuals who get involved (would Moeller rather offer special prayer sessions to professional baseballers or to a bunch of HVAC maintenance guys? Surely, they're equal in the Eyes of the Lord?), I think the real goal of Baseball Chapel and its football and basketball counterparts is to improve their religion's visibility among sports fans by getting a few prominent athletes in their camp, like Kansas City Royals star Mike Sweeney (whom God is CLEARLY ignoring nowadays judging from KC's 48-98 record). You know, the way Tom Cruise helps the Scientologists with his public expressions of his "church's" views.

To me it seems the religious aspect is more deeply ingrained in football. Frank Robinson to his credit wants nothing to do with the organized worship. But I can't keep track of how many times I've heard coaches, especially in college, talk about how God is on their side, or how often I've heard football players thank God for answering their prayers and ensuring their team's victory. I just find it hard to believe that God really would give a damn who wins a football game between Football Factory State University and the University of the Rich Spoiled Alumni's Brats, when He could be busy sending hurricanes to smite the American Gulf Coast and facilitate the redevelopment of Gulfport, Mississippi. In any case, as Preston Wilson noted, "If the guy on the other team is a better Christian, is the other team going to win?" Jim Bowden, move quickly -- sign Ned Flanders! Hell, he's even a lefty.

Meanwhile, in case you were wondering, this doesn't much sound like the ecumenical, goodwill-to-other-faiths variety of Christianity. Poor rookie outfielder Ryan Church is all shook up after Moeller "confirmed" that his ex-girlfriend was "doomed" because she's Jewish. Church went on, "I was like, man, if they only knew. Other religions don't know any better. It's up to us to spread the word." Gotcha Church-boy, that's what Baseball Chapel wants to hear.

* I assume Bowden prayed for guidance before signing the washed-up Coors-Field-dependent "slugger" Vinnie Castilla and the over-rated, average-at-best-fielding out-machine Christian Guzman during the off-season. I wonder if this has shaken Bowden's faith in God? These signings, and trading away over the course of two months what could be the core of a very decent starting rotation for bit players like Junior Spivey, certainly has ME praying to the Gods of Baseball that Bowden loses his job as soon as Bud Selig gets around to blessing the Washington franchise with permanent ownership.