ESPN features pastor who loves umpires, hates baseball

In case you hadn’t figured it out — examples here, here and here — baseball ranks as a holy subject at GetReligion.

Sadly, my beloved Texas Rangers are enduring a forgettable season, much to the amusement of tmatt, a Baltimore resident and Orioles fan. Former Ranger Nelson Cruz, who signed with the Orioles in the offseason, has been one of the major leagues’ top sluggers this season, just as Chris Davis — another former Ranger-turned-Oriole — was last season.

Speaking of baseball — and one can never do that too much — ESPN The Magazine just published an amazing, 5,000-word profile of a pastor who ministers to umpires.

Former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey, who got kicked off our blogging island for not loving baseball enough (I kid, I kid), said this was her favorite part of the story:

The thing is, Pastor Dean hates baseball. He always has. (“I can’t stand baseball! It’s crazy!”) It gets really boring, he says, but he’s committed to watching all nine innings, to reciprocate the respect his umpires pay him when he’s preaching.

It’s a really fascinating story, filled with rich detail and insight into umpires’ lives that will resonate with baseball fans and people of faith alike.

A big chunk of background that sets the stage for the rest of the narrative:

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Tampa Bay tear jerker: A ‘former’ Baptist pastor?

The following is a picky little post about a story that kind of got under my skin today. It’s a human-interest story that, on one level, is about sports.

But it’s not really a sports story. Please keep reading.

No, it’s a tear-jerker piece from The Tampa Bay Times about a dying man who is clearly a serious baseball fan and, to some degree, he is a serious Christian believer. Maybe. You can’t really tell.

This story is one or two words away from being a normal, clearly written news report. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the Times team elected — in a crucial sentence of the story — to be so vague. Maybe it was just a mistake. Maybe someone just did take the story very seriously.

Here is the top of the story. Can you spot the vague word that got to me?

Harry Cummings sat in his wheelchair by the dugout and took it all in.

“Is that home plate?” asked the 80-year-old Spring Hill man who doctors say has only weeks left to live. “It doesn’t look that far from here to hit a home run.”

Cummings is dying from kidney cancer. The former Baptist preacher says he is ready to go when God is ready to take him. But Sunday he had some living to do, thanks to grandson Jeremy Via and the Tampa Bay Rays, who arranged for a pregame tour and meet-and-greet with players.

Yes, I am the son of a Southern Baptist pastor. My dad was a Baptist preacher until the moment he died.

What, precisely, is a “former” Baptist preacher?

I have known some ex-Baptist preachers. They were former Baptist preachers. The implication is that they either left the ministry, left the faith, joined another faith or some combination of the above.

Of course, I have known many, many retired Baptist preachers. They are still Baptist preachers, even if they have left full-time work in a church.

The point is that they are not “former” Baptist preachers.

So what is Cummings? Is he an ex-Baptist preacher or a retired Baptist preacher?

The story never tell us. The copy desk used the one word that really doesn’t work. Why?

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Nolan Ryan’s son and the F-word

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In his 27-year major-league career, Nolan Ryan regularly fired 100-mph fastballs. He pitched seven no-hitters and struck out 5,714 batters — both records.

Now the CEO of my beloved Texas Rangers, the 66-year-old “Ryan Express” is a baseball legend — a Hall of Fame right-hander who needs no introduction to fans.

Nolan’s son Reid Ryan, 41, is a different story.

Except for his famous father, the younger Ryan remains relatively unknown. However, the Houston Astros hired him as team president in May, increasing his profile in the Lone Star State.

Enter The Dallas Morning News.

Over the weekend, the Dallas newspaper ran an in-depth, “what makes him tick” feature on Reid Ryan.

Unfortunately for non-subscribers, most of the 1,700-word profile is hidden behind a paywall. Fortunately for you, kind GetReligion readers who so much enjoy posts on sports stories, I am a subscriber and read the whole ghost-ridden thing.

Since I pay $9.99 a month mainly to peruse the Morning News’ behind-the-scenes Rangers coverage, I was enjoying the story as a baseball fan when the first holy ghost caused my GetReligion antenna to rise.

Early in the piece, the writer eloquently describes the major turning point in Reid Ryan’s life. It occurred when he was 7 years old and was hit by a car. Let’s enter that scene:

At the hospital, the doctors had no trouble diagnosing Reid’s shattered left leg.

After the surgeons carved him open to check for internal injuries, they removed his severed spleen. When the pain lingered into the next week, they opened him up again and removed a damaged kidney they had hoped to save.

Then came the body cast.

It was sometime during his confining next two months in the hospital that Reid, described by his mother as previously “vivacious” but turned eerily “subdued,” took a silent oath.

“God blessed me with a second chance,” Reid Ryan says 34 years later. “That time shaped how I look at the world. I decided that no matter how many more years I had on this earth, I was going to be extremely positive in everything I do.”

Let’s see: The money quote that describes the most significant event in Reid Ryan’s life involves G-O-D.

Did anyone at the Morning News catch that reference or consider delving more deeply into the role of Ryan’s faith? Apparently not, because the story immediately heads in a totally different direction using a, shall we say, ironic description given the ghost just mentioned:

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Crush Davis wrestles with anger issues, with God’s help

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I realize that GetReligion readers have repeatedly demonstrated their lack of interest in the world of sports or, at the very least, media coverage of stories that mix faith and sports. I remain a pretty intense sports fan, based in Baltimore.

So it’s rather remarkable that the newspaper that lands in my front yard not only produced a major story about the life and faith of hotter than hot Orioles slugger Chris Davis (hello Red Sox fans), but put it on the front page. I am not taking about the front page of the sports section, I’m talking about A1 in the Sunday issue.

The story isn’t perfect — more on that in a minute — but it’s clear that The Baltimore Sun team let Davis talk about the arc of his life and, in the end, accurately concluded that his return to evangelical Christian faith has actually had something to do with him getting his act together as a man, a husband and as an All-Star level player.

God is in the lede, which tends to happen a lot in sports coverage. The more important fact about this story is that the God factor is — to some degree — actually fleshed out in the reporting in the story.

To. Some. Degree. Here’s the long overture to the piece:

The power? That blunt-force ability to lay wood to a baseball and propel it 400, 420, 450 feet? He had it even when he was a boy. Came from God, as far as he’s concerned.

Harnessing it? Well, that’s the work of Chris Davis’ life. There’s a paradoxical quality to the Orioles’ first baseman, who has emerged this season as one of baseball’s most fearsome sluggers, a likely All-Star starter who leads the majors with 22 home runs.

Growing up in East Texas, Davis was like a puppy with big paws, bowling over everything. But even as he climbed the ranks of the game he loved, he could not find the deeper fulfillment he coveted.

Before he could put all that strength to use, he had to stop trying to overpower everything in his life. He had to tone down the perfectionist streak he inherited from his dad, Lyn, who gave him his work ethic but could also be an overbearing presence. Both men acknowledge their competitive drive created friction in their relationship. That stress, which friends and teammates watched unfold as the younger Davis was blossoming into a star athlete in Texas, is what Chris Davis says helped set the course for his success today.

He had to believe that his faith, his marriage and his team could prop him up during bad times.

All of the usual themes that dominate sports features are here. The key theme that relates to faith is Davis’ struggles, not only with perfectionism, but with anger. And what is the only thing that has helped him with his anger?

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USA Today: Jesus’ hometown was … Jerusalem

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I make no secret of my allegiance to God, my family and the Texas Rangers.

So yes, when Rangers superstar slugger Josh Hamilton was “called way out west over the winter by God and $125 million,” as Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports columnist Randy Galloway described it, I felt jilted. And yes, when Hamilton — now an Anaheim Angel — struck out twice in his return to Rangers Ballpark on Friday, I rejoiced at his expense (and may have scared the neighbors).

As those who have followed Hamilton (here at GetReligion and elsewhere) know, 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. So not surprisingly, he spoke in religious terms after going 0-for-4 in the Angels’ 3-2 loss to my Rangers yesterday. As one of my Facebook friends described it:

I learned something new from Josh Hamilton — apparently Jesus was booed the most in Nazareth because it wasn’t a baseball town.

Another person on Facebook pointed out that the Bible actually starts with a baseball reference. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the big inning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Humor aside, I have an actual GetReligion-related reason for this post. In reading various stories about the boos Hamilton received in Texas, I came across a USA Today story that included this interesting nugget:

Hamilton, who signed a five-year, $125 million free-agent contract with the rival Angels, says he used the power of prayer to get him through the day. He even brought up the story of Jesus being rebuked in Jerusalem, saying it was the same for him being abused in his hometown.

Really.

“Somebody came and shared that with me,” Hamilton said. “Where did people get on Jesus the most? In his hometown. It’s one of those things, where baseball-wise, this is my hometown. They got after it.”

Um, is it me or does USA Today think Jesus’ hometown was Jerusalem? (It wouldn’t be the first time, of course, that a major news organization got such a simple fact wrong.)

Luke 4:16-30 (not to mention Mark 6:1-6 and Matthew 13:53-58) tells of Jesus going to his hometown of Nazareth and making his statement about a prophet having no honor in his hometown.

The Scriptures say that Jesus did not do many miracles there because of the people’s lack of faith.

Perhaps that explains Hamilton’s abysmal performance in recent outings in Texas.

Pod people: One more Easter home run

As most of you know, Sunday was an important religious holiday.

In my “All hope is not lost” post, I already highlighted eight compelling enterprise stories that graced the nation’s Easter front pages.

But I’m not talking about that religious holiday.

I’m referring, of course, to Opening Night and the beginning of a new Major League Baseball season. (Even though my beloved Texas Rangers lost that first game, they came back and won the next two against the lowly Houston Astros, including an almost-perfect game pitched by Japanese sensation Yu Darvish).

In my original Easter post, I purposely did not mention one story with a strong religion angle that I found on the Sunday front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That’s because the story — a profile of Pittsburgh Pirates star Andrew McCutchen — was related more to the new baseball season than the Christian holiday.

The gist of the 3,700-word profile: star center fielder stays humble and remembers his faith.

The lede:

FORT MEADE, Fla. — Four men look at an 18-year-old baseball player, and they see a blessing.

The young man sitting in front of them has been picked by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first round of the 2005 draft, and his life is already changing, to the tune of a $1.9 million signing bonus. The men are here, at a Red Lobster in Lakeland, Fla., a half-hour’s drive from home in the small town of Fort Meade, to pass along some wisdom before the long journey begins.

In a matter of days, Andrew McCutchen’s professional career will set sail with the Gulf Coast League Pirates. A team scout has told him that he is special, that he could be Pittsburgh’s baseball savior, the next Barry Bonds. It’s a lot for a teenager to handle, so Lorenzo McCutchen asked three trusted men of God to help lay a foundation for his son to fall back on when the world gets crazy around him.

They are attempting to speak directly into Andrew’s heart, about staying true to himself, about keeping God first, about the pitfalls of the fame that could come his way.

“We were giving him his wings,” Lorenzo recalls.

It’s truly an exceptional story that revolves around the role that faith played — and plays — in the life of McCutchen’s parents and the baseball star’s upbringing. And the piece hints at the importance of God in the center fielder’s own life:

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