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New byte of Apple faith

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05: A display of Apple iPhone products on display in the new Apple Store In Covent Garden on August 5, 2010 in London, England. The New flagship Apple Store is scheduled to open on Saturday August 7th 2010 (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

I enjoy reading the Bible on my iPhone. The ancient words seem to jump to life in a hip new technology. Moreover, the online Scriptures are easily accessible in a multitude of translations, from the King James Version to the Message.

On the same iPhone, I scan the latest headlines, follow sports scores, check my work and personal e-mail accounts, keep up with GetReligion comments, listen to Texas Rangers’ baseball games, create my own music channels, make sure my bank account balance has not dropped below zero and text my teenagers to tell them to load the dishwasher. On a rare occasion, I even talk on my iPhone.

I am not, however, a disciple of Steve Jobs. At least I don’t think I am. (Come to think of it, I am typing this post on my Mac laptop.)

It turns out, according to Texas A&M University researchers, that tech giant Apple can offer a religious-like experience. I chuckled when I first saw the story from ABC News:

Looking for a New Religion? Apple Gives Dose of the Divine

But then I started reading the story and realized: They may be serious.

Here’s the top of the story:

Next time you’re in need of a spiritual pick-me-up, maybe you should forego the traditional houses of worship and seek out the technophile’s temple instead: the Apple Store.

According to two academics at Texas A & M University, Apple products aren’t just consumer-friendly, sexy gadgets, but instruments of the divine.

“[Apple] could offer a religious-like experience. It could basically perform the same role in people’s lives that being part of a religious community could, at one time,” said Heidi Campbell, a communications professor who co-wrote an academic paper exploring the religious myths and metaphors surrounding the tech giant and its larger-than-life founder and CEO, Steve Jobs.

In “How the iPhone Became Divine,” which was published in a new media journal earlier this summer, Campbell and her colleague Antonio La Pastina look at Apple customers as religious devotees.

“It’s basically a study of religion and technology and how religious language and images got associated with the iPhone,” said Campbell.

The story goes out of its way to draw religious parallels: Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck and jeans as vestments. Apple as an icon. Microsoft as Satan.

To its credit, ABC makes a semi-serious attempt to “get religion” — the religion of Apple, that is.

A bit more of the story:

Religions are distinguished by a faith in a transcendent force or divinity, a core set of beliefs, a community of those believers and a set of ritual practices. And all kinds of fan communities, such as those inspired by “Star Trek” or sports teams, can provide a religious-like experience, she said.

But Apple’s story is particularly prone to religious imagery and language.

For example, the researchers point out that Apple’s humble beginnings in Steve Jobs’ garage parallel the lowly manger of Jesus’ birth. Jobs’ return to Apple in 1997, after leaving in 1985, mirror elements of Jesus’ resurrection. “You have the hero myth of Jobs, who kind of ran the company into a negative place, and then he came back and saved it,” she said. “It’s been written about that he supposedly came to one of the early Christmas parties dressed as Jesus. … It’s kind of urban legend.”

It was at this point of the story that I groaned. Please forgive my personal bias.

If indeed there are devotees to the Church of Apple — real-live humans who look up to Steve Jobs as a godly figure — then I think ABC erred by not interviewing some of the faithful.

The story notes:

Even the infamous pre-launch store lines support the Apple-as-a-kind-of-religion theory, she added. For some extremely zealous Apple fans, spending a night outside an Apple store waiting for the newest iPhone is as much a ritual as a pilgrimage might be for religious devotees.

To a certain extent, the researchers suggest, Apple customers buying into the divine story might be reaching for some kind of transcendence.

I’d love to know what theologians think of the researchers’ claims. Is Apple indeed a unique religious experience in American culture? Or could the same kind of research be done — and news stories written — about any number of non-church worship centers with passionate flocks, from Starbucks to the Green Bay Packers?

And, by the way, if I wanted to identify more such examples, is there an app for that?

Prayers in the outfield (updated)

Screams and frightened gasps interrupted Tuesday’s night’s Texas Rangers-Cleveland Indians game when a fan fell 30 feet from the second deck while trying to catch a foul pop.

“Whoa! A fan tumbled out, and I pray that he’s OK,” Rangers play-by-play announcer Josh Lewin said on the Fox Sports Southwest broadcast that I was watching. “Oh my.”

Lewin wasn’t the only one who prayed.

The TV screen showed Indians outfielder Trevor Crowe kneeling face down with his head in his hands.

“What’s he doing?” my 13-year-old son asked, unsure if he was seeing what he thought he was.

“He’s praying,” I confirmed. As emergency personnel at Rangers Ballpark rushed to the fan’s aid, Cleveland shortstop Jason Donald also appeared to be praying.

I have watched a few thousand — OK, a few million — major-league baseball games in my lifetime. Never before that I recall have I seen major-league ballplayers bow on the field in spontaneous prayer. I was curious to see if news reports would pick up on that image. I was pleased to see that some did.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted Donald up high in its game story:

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Indians were on the way to loss No. 50 Tuesday night when a man fell out of the stands at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in the fifth inning.

“I didn’t see it,” said shortstop Jason Donald, after the Indians’ 12-1 loss to Texas, “but I heard it. I heard the body hit and I heard the crowd reaction. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened.”

Donald immediately squatted down in the outfield grass and started praying.

“I was praying that he wouldn’t die,” Donald said.

Now, I’d love to know more. I’d love to know Donald’s faith background. I’d love to know if he prays often or if his appeal for God’s help was an unusual thing for him. But that’s probably asking too much from a deadline game story.

Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News is one of my favorite baseball writers. Devoted Rangers fan that I am, I read Grant’s stories, um, religiously.

Unfortunately, his story did not mention the players praying. Now, that could be because they were Indians, and his beat is the Rangers. But I would suspect that Rangers such as Josh Hamilton, who has made no secret of his evangelical Christian faith, might have been praying, too. I wish Grant had included that angle.

Like the Plain Dealer, the Akron Beacon Journal noticed — and noted — the reactions by Crowe and Donald:

After the incident, Trevor Crowe in left and Jason Donald at shortstop went down on one knee, obviously feeling emotions coursing through them.

”It was crazy,” Crowe said. ”I looked up and saw him coming down. He tried to catch himself [on the suite railing], but he kept coming down. It’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen.

”I just started praying for the guy. There was nothing to break his fall. I thought he might have killed himself. It affected everybody emotionally, but that’s not the reason we lost the game.”

The game was interrupted for 16 minutes, and just before it restarted, players were told the man was conscious and moving.

”I didn’t see it happen because my head was turned, but I heard it,” Donald said. ”I heard the crowd, I heard the body hit the seats. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Thank God I didn’t see it. That would have done damage to me.”

Donald retreated to the clubhouse for a couple of minutes to compose himself.

”I was down on one knee, because I was praying for the guy and the people he landed on,” he said. ”It kind of puts in perspective that we’re playing a game. You take your family to a game, and you never think something like this could happen. It’s terrifying.”

Kudos to the Beacon Journal for letting the players describe, in their own words, what they were thinking and feeling. The description of Crowe going down on one knee is not totally accurate, however, as he clearly was down on both knees. A YouTube video (since removed from the Internet by Major League Baseball) confirmed my recollection.

It sounds like the man who fell — and four people slightly injured when he landed on them — will be OK. But players and fans had no way of knowing that at the time.

That made the prayers in the outfield all the more dramatic. And worthy of news coverage.

Photo: That’s my niece and nephew at Monday night’s game. Thankfully, we were not there in person to witness the fan’s fall Tuesday night.

UPDATE: The original video I posted was removed from the Internet by MLB, so I have replaced it with an ESPN Dallas video in which the reporter describes the two Indians players praying.

Bobby Ross Jr. drops in

For a faithful GetReligion reader such as myself, joining the team of contributors is like a baseball fan invited to sit in the press box and share his opinions during the World Series.

Although it’s not quite in the same league as my beloved Texas Rangers, I’m a big fan of this weblog and its endeavor to pinpoint and expose the religion ghosts in the mainstream news media.

A bit about me: I’m a journalist with 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor for secular and religious media ranging from The Associated Press to The Christian Chronicle.

My baptism into the exciting and complicated world of religion writing — baptism by fire, you might say — came in 1999 when top editors at The Oklahoman assigned me to cover Pope John Paul II’s visit to St. Louis.

After nearly 10 years in the newspaper business, I knew how to chase fire trucks and police cars and burn the midnight oil with city councils and school boards. But my knowledge of the Roman Catholic Church was scant. Honestly, I had no idea what a diocese was. I didn’t know the difference between a bishop and a cardinal. I had heard of the pope.

Despite a mild case of fear and trembling, I researched the basics of Catholic faith and prepared to handle the assignment. I wrote three or four Page 1 stories the week of the pope’s visit. My favorite focused on a youth event where Catholic teens jammed to the ear-piercing beat of DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” before welcoming to the stage a gray-haired pontiff who walked with a cane.

A Church of Christ preacher’s son with a journalism degree from Oklahoma Christian University, I was pleased to discover that I could maintain the traditional standards of journalism, striving to treat the faith of others with respect while not compromising my own beliefs.

When The Oklahoman’s religion editor position became open, I left the state desk and wrote about Mormons, Muslims and many other faiths full time. I covered the Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings and the Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandals.

In 2002, I went to work for The Associated Press in Nashville. I later transferred to the AP bureau in Dallas. At AP, I received what I would describe as graduate-level instruction in religion reporting from Godbeat pros Richard Ostling and Rachel Zoll.

With AP, I wrote about battling Baptists and Episcopalians too; about e-tithing, frequent-flier rabbis and potbellied preachers; about Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes and the Ed Youngs; about how Jesus would vote and the Knights of Columbus too; and about a million different ways (I’m exaggerating) that religion touches our culture and lives, from Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ movie to two Holocaust survivors finding each other after 60 years.

AP photographer LM Otero and I joined a Pentecostal group from Texas for a week at an orphanage in violence-ridden Juarez, Mexico. The 2,300-word story of what compelled these charismatic Christians from hundreds of miles away to spend a week in a Mexican border town made the front page of several newspapers nationwide, including the Los Angeles Times’ early Sunday edition.

Twice in my time with AP, I was named a national finalist for the Religion Newswriters Association’s Supple Religion Writer of the Year Award.

I left AP in 2005 to become managing editor of The Christian Chronicle, an international newspaper for Churches of Christ. I cover national news and write the Inside Story column for the Chronicle, the top national newspaper in the 2009 “Best of the Christian Press” contest sponsored by the Associated Church Press. I also write freelance stories for Christianity Today, Religion News Service and other media. Given my Chronicle work, I’ll refrain from any GetReligion posts related to Churches of Christ or other streams of the Stone-Campbell Movement.

I look forward to spending time with you at GetReligion and joining in this important conversation. In case you can’t tell, I’m extremely excited about this opportunity — even if it doesn’t come with free hot dogs and peanuts.

Photo: That’s my son Keaton and me at a Texas Rangers game.

Major league demons

hamiltonbookYou might remember the unbelievable story of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. He’s the guy who had the unbelievable performance at last year’s Home Run Derby. It wasn’t just that he had a first-round record — crushing 28 home runs in the first round and at one point hitting 13 home runs in 13 swings. But what was particularly noteworthy about the whole thing is that he’s a recovering addict. And what puts this into GetReligion territory is his incessant discussion of his faith and how God saved him from a rather miserable life.

So cut to a couple of weeks ago when Deadspins’ A.J. Daulerio rather snarkily highlighted some pictures of Hamilton falling off the wagon:

Josh Hamilton claims he’s been sober since October 2005. Since then he’s rejuvenated his career, saved his marriage, devoted himself to Jesus, and become America’s flawed, homer-derby hero. Last winter, while he was alone in Tempe, Arizona, Hambone kinda slipped.

But that’s where the story gets interesting. I wanted to highlight two mainstream pieces that handled the situation well. Here’s ESPN on the day the news broke:

Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton acknowledged a January bar incident Saturday in which he became drunk and was photographed with several women, not including his wife, in lurid poses in Tempe, Ariz.

“I’m embarrassed about it. For the Rangers, I’m embarrassed about it. For my wife, my kids,” Hamilton said in Anaheim, Calif., before the Rangers played the Los Angeles Angels. “It’s one of those things that just reinforces about alcohol.

“Unfortunately, it happened. It just reinforces to me that if I’m out there getting ready for a season and taking my focus off the most important thing in my recovery, which is my relationship with Christ, it’s amazing how those things creep back in.”

I like how it’s a just-the-facts lede followed by some powerful quotes. The piece continues with important information about how the organization is handling the incident interspersed with quotes from Hamilton. One important piece of information is that the folks closest to Hamilton weren’t surprised by the news. That’s because he told his wife, his team and MLB higher-ups the next day. Here’s an interesting quote from near the end of the article:

“I don’t feel like I’m a hypocrite. I feel like I’m human,” he said Saturday. “I got away from the one thing that keeps me straightened out and going in the right direction.”

I also liked this piece from Sam Hodges at the Dallas Morning News. Hodges advances the story by asking the leaders of an evangelical ad campaign called “I Am Second” if Hamilton will still be featured in the campaign. He will. Hodges gets some good quotes from the leaders of the campaign and Hamilton:

Leaders of I Am Second were impressed by how he owned up, and made a “pretty easy” decision to stick with him, said Nathan Sheets.

“We had him in the lineup before. We’re not going to take him down,” said Sheets, vice president of Plano-based e3 Partners Ministry, the group behind the campaign. “This isn’t about a bunch of perfect people.”

Hamilton said through a team spokesman that he’s not surprised that I Am Second leaders are standing by him.

“As a Christian, other Christians realize you are still going to make mistakes,” Hamilton said. “But as a Christian, you learn from and get encouragement from other believers. They don’t give up on you.”

I’ve sort of had a revelation this week — and yes, I know it’s really obvious to most readers of this site — that the mainstream media doesn’t really get the Christian doctrines of sin and forgiveness. I knew that some people sort of caricatured Christians as people who think they’re perfect, but I didn’t realize how little is understood about what the church generally teaches about sin and forgiveness. Anyway, these were some good examples of stories that let sources discuss how these doctrines play out in real life.

A ‘lousy night’ for atheists?

josh hamiltonWhen Josh Hamilton talks about the impact of “God’s grace” on his life, reporters and commentators cannot ignore it. Back in January, there was a flurry of coverage of the Major League Baseball slugger’s amazing life turnaround, much of which focused on the role of faith. Those watching the ESPN broadcast of Hamilton’s ridiculously amazing performance in last night’s All-Star Home Run Derby would have had trouble missing the fact that God played a rather significant role in the mere fact that Hamilton is still swinging a bat today.

Many Internet boards and blogs are buzzing over a broadcaster’s statement that it was “a lousy night to be an atheist.” I do not know how this statement makes any logical or theological sense, particularly since Hamilton failed to win the contest. I am sure the atheists, who had every right to enjoy Hamilton’s athletic performance, are not too pleased with the comment either. Are all atheists presumed to be incapable of finding enjoyment in hearing about the role religion played in turning a person’s life around?

At best, the comment was a rhetorical device for an ESPN broadcaster who seemed at a loss for words to describe both Hamilton’s performance and his remarkable life turnaround.

Aside from the comment about atheists, ESPN included some of Hamilton’s own personal testimony from previously recorded interviews, and the broadcasters made a series of references to the role faith played in turning his life around. The broadcast has left an array of impressions regarding ESPN’s handling of Hamilton’s faith. From what I saw (unfortunately only Hamilton’s first round set of homers), most of the comments touched lightly, but frequently, on the role Hamilton’s faith played in his life. Others saw it differently:

[I]t is painfully obvious that ESPN does not get religion, either in print or on the air. During the Home Run Derby at the All Star Game, Josh Hamilton mentioned God, his faith in God, how God had made a difference in his life, etc. every time someone from ESPN put a microphone in his face. ESPN consistently, and deliberately, changed the subject.

At times, it was almost comical. One commentator quoted a Hamilton teammate as saying that Hamilton is an “evangelist” and then tried to explain the term without any reference to Hamilton’s faith. Another commentator said that Hamilton makes sure that he has a “buddy” when he goes out in public to avoid succumbing to temptations. I guess that “buddy” is the religion-neutral term for “accountability partner.”

ESPN needs to employ one person who gets religion. Desperately.

If you saw the derby Monday night, particularly the later rounds, feel free to leave us with your impressions of how the broadcast handled the subject of Hamilton’s faith.

The ESPN broadcast aside, the print media and the Internet have also been covering Hamilton’s story of faith in the aftermath of his impressive display of athletic prowess. Here is an article titled “Josh Hamilton: A Story of Faith” from the Bleacher Report, an open source sports news network:

When confronted about his former drug addiction, Hamilton simply says, “It’s a God thing.” Hamilton is not shy about his story, he talks to groups and fans at different functions about how Christianity has brought his life from drugs to what it is now.

The song that plays when Hamilton steps to the plate in Texas is, “Saved The Day” by the Christian group, Phillips, Craig & Dean.

One way or another, the news account by The Associated Press managed to neglect any significant mention of Hamilton’s faith other than his quote that he feels “blessed” to be playing baseball again and that his recovery story was an “incredible tale of redemption” that made national news this year. Why would a straightforward news account avoid using words that more directly describe the faith-aspect of Hamilton’s story?

The Baltimore Sun was more direct about Hamilton’s faith-based recovery story:

New York — Despite losing in last night’s Home Run Derby final, the legend of Josh Hamilton keeps growing.

The Texas Rangers’ 27-year-old outfielder is not only a budding superstar who leads the majors with 95 RBIs.

He’s not just a born-again Christian and recovering addict who publicly speaks about overcoming his demons.

And he’s more than a Home Run Derby record holder.

He’s also a soothsayer.

The Sun‘s coverage is an example of how a journalist can appropriately mention the significance of faith in a rather short story. By using direct language, the 10-paragraph news story conveys Hamilton’s story of faith rather accurately.

There is an appropriate time and place to cover an individual’s faith in an in-depth format. While the morning-after story is rarely the place for this type of coverage of any subject beyond the box score, an appropriate choice of words (“born-again Christian” and “demons”) can convey a significant amount of information and meaning in a short amount of space.

Photo of Josh Hamilton used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

Faith on the diamond

josh hamiltonYou really can’t write about major league baseball player Josh Hamilton without focusing on the faith aspect of his story. Even the reporters writing about him admit this in their articles.

Part of the reason is that Hamilton talks about it so much, and the other part is that it is hard to objectively say that faith has not played a significant part of Hamilton’s life. In other words, reporters cannot say that Hamilton is just talking about God because it sounds good. God is genuinely the reason Hamilton is doing batting practice these days and preparing for a summer on the baseball diamond.

Appropriately, a very thorough Dallas Morning News profile of Hamilton is headlined “Faith brings Texas Rangers’ Hamilton back from the brink.” The reporter Evan Grant establishes up front that you can’t ignore the importance faith has played in Hamilton’s life and his efforts to come back to the sport he loves:

Faith. It comes up often in the story of 26-year-old Joshua Holt Hamilton. It’s virtually impossible to tell his story without mentioning his Christian faith. He’d prefer you not even try.

Faith, he regularly testifies, has put him back in baseball after four years of addiction problems so ugly you can’t blame his family for not wanting to relive them. But because of faith, they do — to churches, youth groups and halfway houses.

If Hamilton could shake his habit — it included downing a bottle of Crown Royal almost daily and cocaine and crack cravings so strong he burned through a $3.96 million signing bonus — and finally get to the big leagues last season, there had to be a reason.

Hamilton highlighted the role faith plays in his life when he told his story to ESPN The Magazine‘s Tim Keown earlier last summer. Unlike the DMN profile, Hamilton explicitly states what was attacking him (“the devil”) and what saved him. It is not a generic “faith,” that saved him from his drug addictions. Jesus Christ as his personal “savior” brought Hamilton back from the brink.

Hamilton’s faith has not only saved him personally from his drug habit. From a baseball perspective, the DMN story highlights how faith played a practical role in bringing him back to baseball and now onto the Texas Rangers:

The Rangers spoke to doctors about dealing with addiction. They did some basic research on athletes and addiction. They found, at least on an anecdotal level, athletes who had strong faith-based beliefs were better positioned to stay clean.

UT-Southwestern addiction specialist Dr. Bryon Adinoff concurs.

“If you replace addiction with religion, it’s not an addiction’ it’s something meaningful, socially appropriate and rewarding,” Adinoff says. “It’s typically very healthy behavior.”

To that end, the Rangers wanted first-hand knowledge of how Hamilton expressed his faith. They sent scouts to some of his talks.

“He seemed to be presenting a very consistent message,” Daniels says. “Before he got involved with drugs, everybody who dealt with him thought he was a very high-quality guy. We saw that. I think there are two things that have played a part in why this attempt at fighting addiction has been successful: Family and faith.”

No one is going to question Hamilton’s sincerity when he says faith is what has kept him alive and playing in baseball. Baseball officials seem to believe that Hamilton’s faith is a reason to trust that he will not relapse.

I hope that Hamilton’s story can be an example to other sports reporters of the effect faith can have in an athlete’s life. When an athlete (or coach) cites faith as the reason for their success or abilities, reporters should dig deeper into those statements. As in Hamilton’s life, faith is not just something someone talks about. It is the reason that person is alive.

Final Four ghosts in long story on Kentucky’s Julius Randle

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While in Arlington, Texas, on Monday for my beloved Rangers’ season opener at the newly named Globe Life Park, I noticed a big banner outside the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium next door.

Apparently, Jerry Jones’ gigantic shrine to losing football is hosting some sort of college basketball tournament this weekend. If I understand correctly, it’s called the NCAA Men’s Final Four and involves a malady known as “March Madness.”  Hopefully, there’s a cure, but everyone involved probably would appreciate our prayers.

Speaking of the aforementioned tournament, The Dallas Morning News has a big profile — 2,000-plus words — out today on one of the teams’ players. Julius Randle, who played high school hoops in Texas, is a big star for the Kentucky Wildcats and, it seems, could win a lottery ticket from the NBA. (I’m not endorsing gambling. I’m just reporting what I read.)

In all seriousness, there’s a lot to recommend about the Morning News’ profile, headlined “How a Dallas billionaire helped Plano’s Julius Randle become Kentucky’s biggest star.” On one level, the writer does an excellent job of digging below the surface and helping readers understand the unique path that Randle has taken to tonight’s big stage:

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Visibly drained, Julius Randle ambled into Kentucky’s $30 million basketball facility. Reporters awaited. Randle knew the drill.

Towering above his inquisitors, he leaned his 6-9, 250-pound frame against a wall, the one facing eight national championship banners. It
was a surreal contrast from his very first interview, with his hometown Dallas Morning News.

Back then he was 6 foot, 145 pounds. He was 11.

“Yeah, I remember,” he said with a soft laugh.

On Saturday night, the local kid will re-emerge in North Texas as a 19-year-old man in the grandest possible basketball homecoming, with Kentucky facing Wisconsin in the Final Four semifinals before an expected crowd of 80,000 at AT&T Stadium.

A national TV audience no doubt will be reminded that Randle is the only locally produced player among a Final Four of out-of-state teams, having led Plano Prestonwood Christian to three TAPPS state titles, the most recent in March 2013.

Later that month, having already signed with Kentucky, he attended the South Regional at AT&T Stadium, watched Michigan beat Florida to make the Final Four and visualized himself playing in the vast stadium this year.

But as I read the otherwise compelling piece, I found myself frustrated by the religion ghosts (if you have no clue what a religion ghost is, check out GetReligion’s primer on “Why We’re Here”).

In keeping with the theme, I’ll rank my Final Four ghosts:

No. 4 seed:  Mention of Plano Prestonwood Christian.

Yes, it’s entirely possible that an extremely talented basketball player would be recruited to play at a Christian school and that there would be no real religion angle. But Randle’s association with a school that’s a ministry of Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch, made me wonder.

A quick Google search might even turn up this Baptist Press headline:

Randle takes ‘solid’ faith into Final Four

– No. 3 seed: Mention of billionaire Kenny Troutt’s vision going beyond basketball:

[Read more...]

Got news? Looking at key facts in the Chris Davis timeline

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It’s the last day of the regular baseball season and for fans of the Baltimore Orioles there was a very bittersweet taste to the year. What does that have to do with religion-news coverage? While many will argue that baseball is a religion (click here for a classic), trust me that I will get to the real religion hook in this post soon enough.

While our O’s narrowly missed the playoffs, the team did have another winning season and made life uncomfortable for the Boston Red Sox. Do the math, people. It’s hard to have a winning season in the American League BEast. Cleveland Indian fans should feel thankful they are where they are.

Of course, one of the other big stories here in Charm City was Chris Davis and his Babe Ruth-ian season in terms of extra-base hits and home runs.

Although Davis has been a moon-shot slamming muscle man since high school, the rate at which he hit the long ball over the past 18 months or so raised predictable questions about performance-enhancing drugs. However, insiders noted that the big man actually lost weight entering this year and increased his foot speed, trends that rarely are linked to steroids.

So, if drugs weren’t the story, then what was the X-factor that helped calm down this anger-management case, allowing him to get his act together?

Simply stated, there is the baseball side and the personal-religious side. You would think that the two stories could be blended into one, but that does not appear to be a task The Baltimore Sun team is willing to attempt, other than the occasional tiny dose of vague God talk.

Here’s my question: What if it could be argued, looking at the timeline of the Davis lift-off into superstardom, that his marriage and his return to practicing the Christian faith of his youth were actually — in terms of on-the-record facts — crucial to this sports-news story? Should a newspaper go there, asking journalistic questions about those aspects of his life and including them as PART of the story?

With that question in mind, let’s look at the new Sun story about Davis’ year. Here is the overture:

Hank Aaron never hit as many as 53 home runs in a season. Neither did Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Frank Robinson nor Mike Schmidt.

So with 53 homers going into the final game, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is not only the most prolific single-season slugger in club history. He’s part of a select group that includes just 17 power hitters in baseball history.

As the Orioles wrap up their season Sunday, short of the playoffs, it’s worth reflecting on what a rare show Davis gave Baltimore fans in 2013. He found that hard to do himself, talking about his season the day after the Orioles were eliminated from postseason contention. “It’s hard to reflect and look back on personal accomplishments right now, because I still have a sour taste in my mouth,” Davis said.

So what happened? Can Davis keep it going?

Davis knows he will enter next season facing a level of outside expectation he’s never experienced. If he returns to his 2012 level — 33 home runs would’ve placed him top 10 in the majors this year — fans will crinkle their noses. But he doesn’t seem concerned.

“I’ve expected it for myself for a long time,” he said. “I had struggles in Texas, and I think that’s where I got away from it. I tried to be a player that everybody else wanted me to be instead of the player I knew I was capable of being. Obviously, when you hit 50-plus home runs in a season, you’re going to draw some attention to yourself, but I just hope that everybody counts on me to be there every day and compete. The numbers are going to be there at the end of the season.”

So that’s one valid way to write the end-of-the-year story. It’s the baseball exclusive approach. What would the personal approach look like?

[Read more...]


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