Jack McKeon’s baseball days begin in a pew. At 8 on Tuesday morning, the Florida Marlins’ manager attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, less than 12 hours after his team beat the Mets on a 10th-inning grand slam. Such games are testament to his faith in the saint he prays to every game during the national anthem.
“A good night for St. Thérèse,” he said, sitting in the lounge of a Midtown Manhattan hotel.
In each major league city, McKeon has a favorite, or at least a convenient, Roman Catholic church. If he does not know their names, he can describe them or tell you how to get there. In Cincinnati, it’s SS. Peter and Paul. In Chicago, Mass is at Holy Name Cathedral. In Philadelphia, he goes to what he calls “the oldest church in the U.S.” When the Marlins stayed at a hotel on the East Side of Manhattan, he followed these directions: “Walk out the door, take a left, walk 30 yards, and take a right, where the homeless hang out.”For each of the regular churches in his personal directory, he learns the Mass schedule.
“At St. Patrick’s it’s 7, 7:30, 8, noon and 12:30,” he said. “They’re very flexible.”
Mornings at church “give me energy,” he said. “You’re free. You feel good.” His daily ritual is part of a baseball routine that is now in its 62nd year, stretching back to D League ball in Greenville, Ala.
“When I go to the ballpark, I have no worries,” he said. “God’s looking after me.”
McKeon is renowned for taking over the Marlins earlier this season at 80, which made him a hero to ambitious octogenarians. Through Monday, his Marlins were 22-15. Returning to his previous managerial routine has been no more difficult than riding a bicycle again, he said. “I’m not 80,” he said. “I’m 58.”
His faith, while no secret, is not as famous as that of the legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who was also a daily worshiper. Nor is his devotion as recognized as his 2003 World Series championship with the Marlins, his cigars, his wit or his Trader Jack nickname, which stems from his days as the general manager of the San Diego Padres.
McKeon, who grew up in South Amboy, N.J., recalled his father’s initial refusal to let him sign a professional contract out of high school. Scouts were interested in him. But his father wanted him to go to college.
“So off I went to Holy Cross, and every night, I’d pass the shrine of the Virgin Mary on my way to the dining hall,” McKeon said. “I asked her to intercede with the Good Lord to convince my father to let me sign. I got home for Christmas and the scouts were back, and one day, my father said, ‘You really want to play? If you promise to get a college education, I’ll let you sign.’ I attribute that to the power of prayer.”