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Sun at it again: Ghost in McLouth’s comeback

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GetReligion readers, near and far, please pause and ponder the bizarre circumstances that were required to put me and Bobby “I like baseball in 100-degree-plus weather” Ross, Jr., in the same location — a pub near the Religion Newswriters Association meetings near the Beltway — on the night when his beloved Texas Rangers (who just couldn’t do their duty against the Oakland A’s) face my Baltimore Orioles, who are back in the playoffs after, what, 50 years?

OMG, it’s almost enough to make someone a Calvinist.

But I am not a Calvinist (or a Protestant, for that matter), so let’s move on.

Clearly, it’s time for another God and baseball story, care of those tone-deaf folks (when religion is concerned) at the newspaper that lands in my front yard. By now, it should be well established among readers of this blog that The Baltimore Sun team has never encountered a sports story with a clear religion angle that cannot be turned into a normal sports story about a person of vague good character who somehow rises above all odds and succeeds when least expected, etc., etc., etc.

Sometimes, all you need to do is type said athlete’s name into a search engine and add another logical term — think “faith,” “church” or “Christian” in many cases — and the story comes into focus. In fact, just about any time you read a sports story and the experts and insiders keep rattling on and on about character, humility, “inner strength” and similar virtues, you are probably dealing with a religious believer of some kind, roughly nine times out of 10 or better.

This brings me to one of the most interesting stories of the year here in Birdland, which is Gold-Glove left fielder Nate McLouth’s rise from the dead, career wise, after losing his way in Atlanta and in his second, ill-fated stint in Pittsburgh. The story opens with a great anecdote, which I will share even though it has next to nothing to do with this post. It does, however, set the scene:

Triple-A Norfolk manager Ron Johnson had seen enough. All year the Orioles had sifted through the scrap heap and shipped former All-Stars and wanna-bes alike to the minors to be evaluated by Johnson, a baseball lifer with a keen eye for talent.

Johnson had been watching the newest addition, the short outfielder with wavy blond surfer hair and a sculpted physique, and he finally snapped after the guy swung defensively and hit weakly to left.

The husky Johnson lumbered over to the 30-year-old and said, “Let me ask you a question. Aren’t you Nate McLouth?”

A sly smile — one that his friends say is his mischievous trademark — crossed McLouth’s lips. He immediately understood Johnson’s point, responding with, “Let it eat?” — baseball jargon meaning, “You want me to be more aggressive and get after it?”

“Absolutely. Be who you are. You’ve won a Gold Glove. You’ve put up major numbers in the big leagues. You’re a good player. You’re not old.” Johnson said to McLouth that night.

“I mean, this guy should be in his prime,” Johnson said. “So I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but it helped. And it got crazy. He hit like nine home runs in a month. And we got that player again. He is Nate McLouth again.”

So the question this story — which is 2,250 words long — has to answer is rather simple: Who is the real McLouth and how did he get back on his baseball horse and back into the game?” For me, it’s the first half of that equation that matters the most.

The long and the short of it is that McLouth gave his heart to the city of Pittsburgh and then got traded when he least expected it. Chaos, and even depression, was the result. There are hints that he had strong ties to the city, was active in public service, etc. He felt cut off and lost.

Of course, the story keeps talking about his strong relationships with his teammates, strong character and all of that. The usual.

What kept him going? What helped him hold things together until he got another chance to make good? What turned this story of depression and failure into what the Sun team calls one of the biggest news stories in the Orioles’ stunning comeback year?

At the very, very end of this long story, there is this:

His resurgence ranks as one of the biggest surprises in this inexplicable Orioles’ season. But not for those who knew him when. …

Yet, in the past three years, he admits he occasionally thought about quitting. Something kept gnawing at him, though. Maybe it was his deep religious faith or his “overcoming” nature, but he had to give his career another shot.

“It’s part of the path that God has laid out for my life. And I don’t question it. Were the last couple years tough? Heck yeah they were. But I know I am stronger and better because of it,” he said. “Baseball is a funny, funny game. Two months ago look where I am at and then today. It’s an awesome blessing to be here.”

McLouth, who will be a free agent at season’s end, would like to return to the Orioles in 2013, and the club would like to have him back. So many things can change between late September and this winter, however, that it’s hard to predict what will happen.

For now, the club and the player are just enjoying a mutually beneficial relationship. No one is asking why; they’re just thrilled that Nate McLouth, somehow, is Nate McLouth again.

“When you look at guys that have done it, and then basically have gone down the wrong career path, you start thinking, ‘Man, if we can just get this guy to come back up, we’ve got something good,’” Norfolk’s Johnson said. “It’s still all there, it’s never gone anywhere. I mean, he is the best story of the year. He’s got to be.”

So what is the nature of this “deep religious faith”? What role did it play in Pittsburgh and his service to others? What role might it play in the life of this man in the city of Baltimore? Might readers be given one or two relevant facts here? Follow the time and the money and all that?

Let’s see. Click on Google. Insert these terms: “Nate McLouth,” “Christian” and “church.”

Click. Oh, there is a religion angle to this story. Well, what do you know?

Josh Hamilton’s ‘blessing from above’

After one of the most incredible hitting performances in baseball history Tuesday night — including four home runs and a double — Josh Hamilton immediately gave credit to God.

The Texas Rangers slugger described his monumental performance as an “absolute blessing from above.”

Hamilton’s reference to his faith came as no surprise, of course, to anyone who has been paying attention.

I was curious, however, whether sports writers would allow the God angle to permeate their reports and columns on Hamilton’s feat — or permit ghosts to haunt their copy.

A quick survey reveals a mix of whiffs and solid contact (I focused on media outlets that don’t cover Hamilton every day):

• Swing and a miss: The Baltimore Sun — that newspaper that lands in GetReligion guru tmatt’s yard — took a big whack at the easy fastball:

There are few times when a visiting player comes to Camden Yards and puts on such a spectacular show that he turns the fans in his favor.

But Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, the 1999 No. 1 overall pick who overcame the depths of drug and alcohol abuse to become one of the game’s top sluggers, orchestrated one of the most magnificent power displays in baseball history in the Rangers’ 10-3 win over the Orioles on Tuesday night.

But how did Hamilton overcome his demons? The Sun proceeded to tell a story completely devoid of any reference to Hamilton’s faith or even his quotes concerning his “blessing from above.”

• Solid single up the middle: Give The Associated Press credit for including Hamilton’s own words — his God talk — in its coverage:

“I think about what God’s done in my life, everything I did to mess it up,” he said. “To finally surrender everything and pursue that relationship with Christ on a daily basis and understanding when I don’t pursue it, I end up messing up. Understanding that what I’m doing and what God’s allowed me to do, coming back from everything I went through and allowing me to play the game at the level I play it, it’s pretty amazing to think about.”

And this:

Hamilton will become a free agent after this season, but that’s something he won’t deal with until the proper time.

“God gives me peace, man. I pray a lot. I want to be where he wants me to be,” Hamilton said. “If that’s Texas, I love it in Texas. And you know, I take it as far as day-to-day life, a one-day-at-a-time mentality not only for a recovering addict, but that should be for everybody. It’s one day at a time really because tomorrow is not promised and yesterday’s gone.”

• Long drive clears the fence in deep center: ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick nailed the story of Hamilton and the role of faith in his big night.

The top of Crasnick’s piece:

BALTIMORE — As a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton has learned to abide by a relatively simple set of rules. He takes things one day at a time and lets his faith in Jesus Christ be a perpetual compass.

“I think about what God has done in my life, and everything I’ve done to mess it up,” Hamilton said late Tuesday night at Camden Yards. “What God has allowed me to do, to come back from everything I’ve been through and still be able to play the game at the level I play it — it’s pretty amazing to think about that.”

On those special occasions when Hamilton takes over the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, or makes Baltimore fans who are so accustomed to dogging him stand up and cheer in unison, it’s time to look at the big picture. The casual fan has to marvel at a player who swings the bat with such ease and hits the ball so far, time after time. And the Rangers die-hard, who has more of a personal stake in Hamilton’s career path, can only guess what comes next and where his incredible story will end.

Hamilton treated a crowd of 11,263 to a show in Texas’ 10-3 victory Tuesday, setting an American League record with 18 total bases and becoming the 16th player in history to hit four home runs in a game.

Crasnick even allowed Rangers outfielder David Murphy to speak to his teammate’s faith:

Barely a month into the season, Hamilton is a walking endorsement for a free-agent truism: The price rarely if ever goes down over time. In this case, it’s true because he seems so oblivious to the stakes. His performance in 2012 is the polar opposite of a salary drive.

“Josh isn’t a guy who cares about money,” said outfielder David Murphy. “He’s put the Lord first, and everything else goes from there. You see a lot of guys play well in their ‘walk’ year before they go to free agency, and it’s obvious why they’re motivated. I think this is more of a coincidence than anything. You’re seeing a great player who is still getting better as a hitter. He’s putting things together and amazing us all as we speak.”

That’s a quick, around-the-horn look at the coverage I spotted. Your turn, GetReligion baseball fans: Any particularly exceptional or dismal stories that you’ve seen on Hamilton’s big night? Please be sure to include links.

Holy days and baseball

A reader sent in this story about Rick Santorum taking a mysterious four day break from his presidential campaign. There was a reference by Santorum himself to a “holiday weekend,” the story didn’t explore whether maybe the break had anything to do with the Triduum.

But give reporters interested in baseball some credit — they figured out there was some liturgical calendar action going on this weekend that was worth writing about. The Washington Nationals home opener won’t be until Thursday, April 12. I’ll be there, of course. But little did I know how blessed I am to live in a city where opening day doesn’t happen on Good Friday.

Daniel Burke at Religion News Service explains the conflict:

For millions of Americans, Major League Baseball’s opening day is more than a rite of spring, it’s a near-religious experience. But for Jews and Christians in eight American cities, their team’s home opener coincides with actual holy days.

For Jews, Passover begins at sundown on Friday (April 6) with seders that celebrate their forebears’ exodus from Egypt. It is also Good Friday, when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus.

Major League Baseball has run into occasional complaints for playing on Good Friday, but April 6 is unusual for being both a Christian and a Jewish holiday this year.

The story includes feedback from Major League Baseball about the difficulties of scheduling 2,430 games around the country each year. While some religious observers might avoid any entertainment at all on Good Friday, ball clubs are in particular concerned about accommodating those Christians who avoid anything during one particular time period in general:

Eighteen teams are playing on Friday, with eight hosting their home openers. All of the Friday games except for one – the Chicago White Sox visiting the Texas Rangers – start after 3 p.m. Christians traditionally maintain a solemn silence and refrain from entertainment from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Good Friday to mark the time when Jesus hung on the cross.

The Tampa Bay [Devil] Rays worked to accommodate Christians with a post-3 p.m. start time and Jews who want to get home before Passover seders begin. Sunset is around 7:45, the story explains. I liked that the story included the particular situation of one Baltimore fan:

Jeffrey Amdur, who has attended every Baltimore Orioles opening day since the 1970s, told the Baltimore Jewish Times that he may skip out during the seventh-inning stretch this year.

“I am torn,” Amdur told the newspaper. “I hate to leave before the end of the game, unless the O’s are losing by a lot.”

So he leaves early all the time then! Just kidding. The RNS report includes discussion of the “O’Connor Rule,” after the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York.

The New York Times City Blog also focused on the same issue:

This is the season of renewal and redemption, embodied for many New Yorkers by three events that symbolize those concepts and happen to converge this weekend: Easter, Passover and, yes, the start of the baseball season. All three embody an optimism that is the essence of spring, and rings true for nearly everyone but the most dispirited in our midst, sometimes known as Mets fans.

I thought that the RNS lede played around with the comparisons between opening day and holy days better than this Times report, which some readers found offensive or bordering on offensive. The hometown paper also gave full coverage to the O’Connor Rule.

The one thing I hoped for that neither story provided was a discussion of whether any baseball players or managers or staff themselves are put in a difficult situation by having to play or work today. Or whether their teams are accommodating them in any way. But that would be some pretty difficult information to find out, so I understand why it wasn’t included in these quick Opening Day religion news reports.

As I was about to hit publish on this, I saw that Kate Shellnutt of the Houston Chronicle also wrote on this topic. It’s another great treatment:

The scheduling conflict for baseball fans in eight cities offers a chance to examine how baseball, the great American pastime, connects to their own experience of faith.

“From a sports perspective, Good Friday is our big win,” said the Rev. T.J. Dolce, a sports-loving vicar at St. Martha Catholic Church in the Kingwood area. “It’s the day of the greatest victory we’ve ever witnessed. Through the death of Jesus on the cross, we won our salvation. It’s a sad day, but ultimately glorious.”

As the Astros take on the Colorado Rockies tonight at Minute Maid Park, Dolce – like many Houston Catholics – will be praying the Stations of the Cross.

The Good Friday conflict hasn’t come up as an issue among Christian players, according to Kevin Edelbrock, who leads chapel for the team on Sundays. The Astros’ longtime chaplain, Gene Pemberton, retired when Drayton McLane, himself an outspoken Baptist, sold the team last year.

“A lot of guys recognize (Good Friday) on their own. I’ve never heard of it being a point of contention,” said Edelbrock, a nondenominational minister who’s been involved with the team for eight years. “There’s so much energy put into opening day. Easter Sunday is more where we’re focused.”

The article deals with the Passover conflict as well and was interesting for including so many religious people who will be shut out of Opening Day because of their religious observation. Very interesting piece.

Photo of Cardinals shortstop David Freese chasing down Marlins runner Josh Kroeger during a 2011 pre-season game via Shutterstock. Yes, the St. Louis Cardinals are the reigning World Champions!

Ghost in a knuckleballer’s redemption

There’s much more to R.A. Dickey than the knuckleball.

That’s the theme of a compelling but haunted profile of the New York Mets pitcher in the April 2 issue of Sports Illustrated. The piece is tied to the release of a memoir by Dickey — “Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball” — that the magazine suggests “might be the finest piece of nonfiction baseball writing since ‘Ball Four.’

The opening of the story:

It tacks in inexplicable and unpredictable ways. It sometimes resists the desired path, no matter how much control you try to exert. When you think you’ve solved the mystery and discerned the secrets, it confounds you anew. When hope diminishes, it has a way of cooperating and breaking right.

Yes, life mirrors the knuckleball, just as the knuckleball mirrors life. R.A. Dickey is singularly well-suited to appreciate this. The Mets righthander is the lone knuckleballer in a major league rotation. He is the keeper of the flame carried by the Niekro brothers, Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield — inasmuch as there’s anything flaming about a pitch that dips and dives and dances and usually travels slower than the speed of interstate traffic. Plus, at age 37, Dickey has done his share of living, his tortuous — and sometimes torturous — path to the majors marked by gratifying highs, and lows that had him pondering suicide.

As you might imagine, Dickey ultimately finds redemption.

But what role does his “devout Christian” faith play in that journey? An extremely vague role, based on the Sports Illustrated profile.

The story skirts at the edges of Dickey’s faith, at one point referring to his “salvation” but never pressing him to explain his “hope.” The magazine treats the knuckleballer’s Christianity as an afterthought, not worthy of introspection:

That lonely night in Tacoma when Dickey first began writing his story? He was called up to the Mariners a few weeks later, and he’s barely been in the minors since. At the same time, through heavy-duty doses of therapy and faith, he’s come to grips with the abuse he suffered and the emotional damage it caused. He’s repaired his relationships with his mother (now sober) and his wife, the twin heroines of his book. Dickey confesses he’s nervous how Wherever I Wind Up will be received, inside the clubhouse and beyond. But cutting back on the honesty he displays on the page was never an option. “I couldn’t share my story and not share the most difficult parts of it,” says Dickey, who while writing sought advice from J.R. Moehringer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who co-authored Andre Agassi’s bracing 2009 memoir, Open. “As a reader, I can tell when someone is skating around the truth.”

As early as 2001, when Dickey pitched for the Oklahoma RedHawks, then the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, I wrote a short item for The Oklahoman about the pitcher sharing his Christian testimony at a church. The pondered suicide and an extramarital affair highlighted by the magazine both occurred after that. I, for one, would love to know more about the ups and downs of Dickey’s professed walk with Christ.

According to the New York Daily News, Dickey “views the book as a narrative about faith, redemption and hope.” But the 2,000-word Sports Illustrated story fails even to identify the pitcher as a “Christian.”

There’s much more to R.A. Dickey than the knuckleball. Much more, it would seem, that the magazine cared to explore.

Ghost, anyone?

Josh Hamilton’s Christian rehab

The demons are back. Not that they ever left.

Baseball star Josh Hamilton’s ongoing battle with alcohol and drug addiction made headlines again this week when the Texas Rangers slugger acknowledged drinking at a Dallas bar.

Anyone familiar with Hamilton’s riches-to-rags story knows that the former No. 1 pick in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft hit rock bottom before a return to the sport’s Promised Land. He credits his recovery to his Christian faith.

A contrite Hamilton appeared before the Dallas-Fort Worth-area sports media Friday and — speaking without notes — delivered a 12-minute statement about his relapse. He opened by mentioning his “relationship with the Lord.” In all, he referenced “the Lord” twice and “Christ” once.

That prompted this Twitter post from Randy, a minister friend of mine:

In presser, Hamilton talked plainly about “Christ being his rehab.” Are you surprised that in quotes on ESPN scroll, no mention of Christ?

I tweeted back:

@OK_Rope12 I’m not surprised. Then again, I write for @getreligion :-)

At that point, I had seen the transcript of Hamilton’s remarks but not any of the actual news coverage.

This morning, I took time to explore some of the coverage. Actually, I was pleased (and surprised) with how nicely many of the reports handled the religion angle.

For example, here’s a big chunk of the main story on ESPN’s Major League Baseball page:

“I cannot take a break from my recovery,” Hamilton said. “My recovery is Christ. My recovery is an everyday process. When I take that one day off, it leaves me open for a moment of weakness and it’s always been that way.

“For everybody that I’ve hurt, for fans, kids, people that have addictions that look up to me, I apologize to you. When you’re doing this, you don’t mean to hurt anybody, but you’re only thinking it hurts yourself, but I know it hurt a lot of people.”

After his public apology earlier in the day, Hamilton appeared as scheduled Friday night at a Christian men’s rally in Katy, Texas, near Houston. He again didn’t take any questions, and spoke only to the congregation.

“I could hide in shame and not show up tonight and be withdrawn, but I didn’t want to do that,” Hamilton told the group while reiterating his Christian faith. “I’m doing what I had to do today. I am fessing up. I am going to be a man about it, I am fessing up. People are going to call me a hypocrite, but I am a sinful man.”

Hamilton’s wife Katie posted a couple of messages on her Twitter account earlier in the day.

“Truly appreciate all the encouraging & supportive tweets we’ve been getting,” one tweet said. “God is Faithful and forgives — so thankful that you all are.”

Another tweet read: “Showing us such love and encouragement during this time.”

No religion ghost there. Please forgive me, ESPN, for ever doubting you. (And please forgive Randy, too.) The Associated Press provided similar coverage.

The Houston Chronicle noted that St. Louis Cardinals slugger Lance Berkman, Hamilton’s foe in the 2011 World Series, showed up at the men’s rally Friday night to support his fellow evangelical Christian.

Alas, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s main story managed to report on Hamilton’s statement without one use of the terms “Lord,” “Christ” or even “Christian.” There was this vague note:

His focus has returned to his plan to stay sober, which starts with his faith and is aided by reaching out to his support network during times when he isn’t as strong as he needs to be.

His faith in what?

Maybe the Star-Telegram (which featured a column Friday that alluded to Hamilton’s “religious faith”) assumes that everybody in its reading audience already knows all about the slugger’s Christianity.

Then again, how difficult would it be to add that one simple word (“Christian”) between his and faith?

Evangelical Pujols to the highest bidder?

“Are you breathing, M.Z.?”

That was my immediate question this morning to my GetReligion colleague — and St. Louis Cardinals uber-fan — Mollie Ziegler Hemingway as news broke that superstar first baseman Albert Pujols will sign a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels. MZ, alas, remains out of wifi and Internet range — although this story may reach her through some psychic or spiritual ripple in the universe.

As I have shared a time or two, I am a longtime Texas Rangers fan, so Pujols already played a major role in breaking my heart during the Cardinals’ improbable World Series win in October. Now, he’s headed to the Rangers’ AL West rival.

An athlete leaving a city where he’s beloved and signing a gigantic contract elsewhere wouldn’t normally be fodder for GetReligion. But in Pujols’ case, he’s an outspoken evangelical Christian and frequently talks about the role that faith plays in his career, as Mollie has noted. We are in the midst of the Tim Tebow media tsunami, as well.

In fact, I learned of Pujols’ decision via a faith-based tweet from Bob Nightengale, Major League Baseball writer for USA Today:

Pujols was weighing three offers and after praying on it chose #angels over #cardinals and mystery team

He “prayed” on his decision. Does anyone see the potential for a religion angle in the reporting on Pujols’ mammoth contract?

For a primer on the questions likely on the minds of many evangelicals/baseball fans, Godbeat pro Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post Dispatch covered them well earlier this year in a nice piece before the 2011 season even started. Townsend explored whether Christian athletes such as Pujols strike out on big-dollar contracts:

ST. LOUIS — As contract talks broke down between Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, St. Louis baseball fans began nervously asking themselves a host of questions.

He’s a Cardinal for life, right?

He wouldn’t go to Wrigley Field because he likes winning too much, right?

But a particular group of Cardinals fans—those who share his evangelical faith—was asking a different kind of question. What does holding out for the largest contract in the history of baseball say about Albert’s Christian testimony?

It’ll be interesting to see if — and how — the media tackle that question amid the obvious analysis on what Pujols’ decision means to the Angels’ — and the Cardinals’ — pennant hopes. Will reporters ask Pujols about greed? Will they ask whether this contract will allow him to do more good works? Will they report what he says at his news conference concerning his faith?

This story is breaking now, so most of the reports right now are just the basic facts. Please help us follow the story by providing links of mainstream media reports that do — and do not — cover the highly relevant religion angle.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting to hear back from my beloved colleague.

“Are you breathing, M.Z.?”

Albert Pujols photo via Shutterstock

The believer, minus the religion

A week after baseball’s night of miracles, my beloved Texas Rangers await the winner of tonight’s decisive American League Division Series Game 5 between the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers.

I’m not sure which team presents the best matchup for the Rangers, but I never root for the Evil Empire. The end does not justify the means, don’t you know. I am joking (mostly). As much as I prefer to hate everyone in pinstripes, a few Yankees — such as the late Bobby Murcer, whom I interviewed during his fatal bout with cancer — make that difficult to do.

Speaking of the Yankees, I was pleased to come across an in-depth feature (more than 3,000 words long) with this striking title:

Mariano Rivera: The believer

The equally compelling subhead:

Faith also makes him the greatest, least understood player of his generation

That headline made me optimistic — perhaps overly so — that this piece would not be inhabited by ghosts.

In fact, as the writer rounded first base and headed for second, I still held out great hope that the story would get religion by the time the piece touched home plate:

But the biggest reason Rivera seems to stand a layer apart is his faith. Religion, in general, makes for a squirrely conversation in the big leagues and it is central to understanding him. Faith also allows him to believe in the strength and efficacy of his signature pitch, the world famous cut fastball.

Two weeks after solidifying his reputation as the best closer in the game’s history by recording his 602nd save, and with the Yankees in Florida for a season-ending three-game series with Tampa Bay, Rivera sits in front of his locker at Tropicana Field and suddenly is laughing, broadly and spontaneously, at the suggestion that the roots of his greatness are the standard athlete’s fare: a combination of the gift of a powerful right arm, consistent work ethic, tremendous, historic control and a fighter’s will.

“It’s faith,” he said. “Faith isn’t something that you decide to have. You don’t wake up and say, ‘Today, I’m going to have faith.’ It’s a process. I would never, ever be here in the big leagues without my faith. Ability, you have to have ability and you have to have talent, but I’m telling you, my talent wasn’t enough. God brought me here.

“One year in the minor leagues I was throwing 88-89, and then I was 95. Who can explain that? What happened? I don’t know. No one knows.”

Then readers learn about Rivera’s (not-so) road-to-Damascus moment:

Rivera does not pinpoint the moment that changed his life. “I was born Catholic, but I wasn’t raised Catholic because we never went to church,” he says. Rivera says it was not one clean, singular event that brought him to his spirituality, but a feeling that is generally indescribable.

“I was unhappy with the direction of my life, of where it was going. I had to do something. I was in my 20s. I was 21, think,” he says. “I gave my life to Him.”

Keep reading, and the writer (the same one who wrote a similarly tremendous-yet-flawed religion story about Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker last year) allows Rivera an incredible amount of space to discuss his belief in God.

But the story never really goes below the surface on Rivera’s faith. Based on the above passage, it would seem that he’s a Catholic, but the story never says so. The story never describes how Rivera worships or practices his faith. Is his belief in God really as vague and ritual-free as this story would lead readers to believe?

The reader who shared this story link with GetReligion said of Rivera:

I’ve read for years about his deep, personally rooted faith.

So have I. And I was excited about what appeared to be an effort by ESPN to paint a fuller picture of that faith. Unfortunately, this story whiffs at a fastball down the middle and only adds to the vague portrait of Rivera’s religion.

Dissenting viewpoints, as always, are welcomed and appreciated.

Your turn at the plate, gentle readers.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Josh Hamilton’s faith after fan’s death

You might remember the man who fell to his death earlier this summer trying to catch a ball at a Texas Rangers game in front of his six-year-old son, Cooper.

Shannon Stone, 39, fell from the stands while trying to catch a ball that Rangers’ Josh Hamilton had thrown to him. Stone pronounced dead at the hospital an hour later. The Texas Rangers invited his son back to throw the first pitch of the playoffs last night.

The other day when I mentioned to the GetReligion group that I was more of a basketball, tennis and football fan than a baseball fan, I received a little name-calling, all in jest. I may not watch the playoffs or care that the Rangers lost 9-0 (sorry, Bobby), but I can appreciate a moving baseball story like this. Did I mention that it’s a tear-jerker? Here’s an interesting religion bit from a brief ESPN report.

Hamilton came out halfway between the mound and home plate to catch Cooper’s pitch and talked briefly with Jenny afterward.

“I asked her if they were believers in Christ,” Hamilton said. “She said they were. I said, ‘Well, we know where your husband is right now and make sure that the little one knows who is daddy was and what he stood for. Make sure he understands that.’”

The story ends with that quote, which is fairly revealing about Hamilton and his private conversation with Stone’s mother. I would love to know more about the family’s faith, but reports suggest they shun media attention. I couldn’t help wonder whether other readers lacked context for this quote, but perhaps ESPN assumes its audience knows about Hamilton’s background and faith. The Associated Press uses the same quote but gives a little more explanation towards the bottom of its story.

[Rangers president Nolan Ryan] also made sure Hamilton felt comfortable being part of this. Hamilton is a recovering substance abuser whose career nearly was derailed by his personal demons.

“I went to Josh before we decided anything and asked Josh how he felt about it, because I didn’t want to put Josh in any awkward position,” Ryan said.

Hamilton said he prayed to help steel himself for the moment, and to know what to say.

“The Lord gave me words at the right time,” he said. “I’m not good with speeches. Not good with knowing what I’m going to say before. Because I rehearse it too much and it don’t sound genuine. So I just kind of let it happen. It worked out good. … You could tell she was really emotional about coming back to the park. The little one, he’s young enough where he understands but at the same time it’s not as emotional for him as it is mom.”

It’s not terribly unusual for Christian athletes to pray, but offering this extra context of Hamilton’s background gives readers a few more religion clues. How many athletes would come out and ask someone whether their dead husband believed in Christ? That sounds fairly bold to me, but maybe that’s to be expected of Hamilton.

Following up on this story, I am curious whether any reporters asked him to elaborate on how his faith has played a role in mentally sorting out this tragedy. Has he questioned his faith at all, or does it help him through these kinds of events? Back in July when the fan fell to his death, Bobby asked whether reporters would ask Hamilton to elaborate on what he means when he suggests that “God has a plan” in a situation such as this. There are tough questions to be asked that could have interesting answers.