A few years ago, I reviewed the book, “Sunday: A History of the First Day From Babylonia to the Super Bowl,” for the Wall Street Journal. The book devoted quite a bit of time to the history of playing and broadcasting sports on Sunday. It used to be controversial but now, of course, the National Football League practically owns Sundays for part of the year. When my review ran, the number one comment I got from readers was how infuriated they were that their children and grandchildren were expected to practice and play sports on Sunday morning.
In a country where sports are observed almost as devoutly as religion, conflicts are bound to happen. This year there were four Major League Baseball teams that had home opening games on the afternoon of Good Friday. It was big news in Detroit but many of the stories were a bit brief.
The Detroit Free Press headlined a report on the matter, “No guilt: Tigers home opener will have fish to eat.” The headline is sort of stupid on two fronts. One, the problem with a mid-day Good Friday game isn’t about what to eat. It’s about how to mark a very solemn day in the liturgical calendar. And for people who fast, avoiding meat in public during Lent isn’t just about having a fish fry on every corner. For those who follow stricter diets during Holy Week, the fact that fish fries will be available at the ball park doesn’t mean much either. The story also was under the impression that only “Catholics” adhere to Lenten guidelines. I learned about the Good Friday opener from a fellow Lutheran who couldn’t use his Detroit season tickets because of the conflict. Anyway, the story suffered from some factual problems, claiming that only the Tigers had a home opener prior to 4:05 PM on Good Friday. In fact, the Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers also had afternoon home openers that day.
The Free Press also ran a story from the same reporter about Detroit manager Jim Leyland’s brother — the Rev. Thomas J. Leyland. It was a good little hook to show how some Catholics are disappointed — but not rioting or anything — about the scheduling. One GetReligion reader complained that the reporter said that Leyland would be saying mass during the afternoon. A Catholic friend reports that no mass is celebrated but that the service is called a the Mass of the Presanctified. Perhaps some Catholic readers can weigh in.
The best story came from David Briggs of the Religion News Service. Here’s how it ran in The Kalamazoo Gazette:
In a profound conflict of sacred and secular traditions, thousands of Christians who are urged to solemnly commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday are being tempted by an alternative spring ritual: the cry of “Play ball.” . . .
Religious leaders say they don’t expect Americans to return to an age of shuttered shops and businesses on Good Friday, but they question whether baseball teams could not have been more respectful of religious sensitivities.
The story got perspective from Catholic and Protestant clergy and noted the wide variety of churches holding midday services on Good Friday. It also included the perspective of the baseball team:
Officials for the Tigers did not respond to phone calls and e-mails, but a team spokesman told Detroit newspapers the home opener is always an early day game. “The NBA plays on Christmas, and so does the NFL,” a Tigers spokesman told The Michigan Catholic.
That argument fails on two counts, Vilkauskas said. First, just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it right, and, second, Christmas is a festival of celebration, while Good Friday is a somber day calling for personal sacrifice. “We don’t celebrate a death in the family like a birthday,” Vilkauskas said.
In a tradition rooted in Scripture and dating back to the fourth century, millions of Christians will pause between noon and 3 p.m. on Good Friday to reflect, personally and communally, on the sacrificial act of Jesus’ death on the cross that is a cornerstone of Christian faith.
It’s great to see that kind of point and counterpoint in a story. And Briggs takes it further. He speaks with a Rockies spokesman about how the team considered changing to a later start time but that many churches were holding evening services. The RNS report — unlike many of the others — is calm and describes the conflict without making anyone into a bogeyman. It’s a nice and informative approach. It ends by noting that the Indians ball club began moving its start time on Good Friday to later in the afternoon to respond to concerns of those in the religious community. So if the clash of religious and secular traditions interests you at all, the RNS report is the one you want to read.
My church holds services mid-day and during the evening, which is why I’d probably just not attend a Good Friday home opener, despite my streak of opening day attendance going back to the early 1990s. But it turns out that we have a near-conflict at my church. The game starts at 3:00 and Easter Monday Divine Service begins at 7:30.
While we’re on the baseball and religion tip, I really enjoyed this story in USA Today about St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols:
Pujols’ story continues with his move to Kansas City with America and dad when Pujols was 16. It’s about having to learn English in high school and going to junior college near Kansas City to play baseball and study engineering.
It’s about meeting his future wife, Deidre, in 1998. She brought him to church, the steppingstone for a life-altering experience that framed much of what he believes: He knew baseball was hard work, but he had no idea that God’s gift of eternal life was free.
He and Deidre set up the Pujols Family Foundation in 2005.
“As he gets older, he realizes how important that is,” Deidre says. “He hungers to utilize his resources to empower others. He believes that if God is going to promise salvation as a free gift, he’s going to do what God requires. It is that simple. That’s the kind of person he is. That’s what makes him special.”
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa says Pujols is a tireless worker. “He’s a 10 in every department. Albert is competitive and smart. He has a tremendous amount of preparation and a strong religious faith. He doesn’t want to dishonor any of those qualities.”
Even though I’m a huge Cardinals fan and knew that Pujols was a role model, I learned more about what motivates him on and off the field. The story isn’t all puff and deals with allegations that Pujols has used steroids and how he’s spoken with his children about those rumors. Just a very interesting story.