Champions of Faith

“Our goal is to play in the Big League with God.”

“Ask for everything. God might say no, but that’s okay.”

“There are times when Sunday Mass is hard to get to. You make the sacrifice.”

“Challenge yourself to be there every Sunday.”

“The Eucharist is the center of our Faith.”

“I get emotional about it.”

Any one of these quotes would be a gem in a homily. But not a single one is. Each and every one of the above was said by a major league baseball player on the DVD Champions of Faith: Baseball Edition.

I was eager to watch this video, which I knew was filled with Christian athletes. I am always looking for examples of people in public life, in the public eye, who live out their faith and are unashamed of it. To me, it’s important for my children to see that being a Christian is compatible with being a famous [insert profession here]. Even moreso, I am on the watch for Catholics specifically. I want my girls to see people who go to Mass every week, even every day, in spite of a “busy life.” (Let’s face it, I can use inspiration on that, too.) So when I hear that, say, Cary Elwes is a Catholic who is determined to live his faith, I let them know that. Watching The Princess Bride becomes even better to them. (“He’s Catholic, just like us!”) The same goes for other careers, too. When we were watching football and I’d learned that Ben Roethlisberger is Catholic and wears his Rosary under his uniform on Sundays, I told them. (“That must hurt when he’s tackled!”) So although I knew the ballplayers on Champions of Faith were Christian, and it was a bonus to us that they were Catholic Christians!!

There is plenty to like about this video aside from the Catholic Christian testimony of the players, though. Interspersed throughout are images of children playing baseball, which tie in with the idea presented in the opening of the video that baseball, at its heart, is a children’s game. Each of the players interviewed told of how they dreamt and prayed that they would be able to play baseball in the majors. As I watched the children playing ball, I wondered how many of those little boys were dreaming and praying the same thing. Also scattered throughout were some of the most beautiful images of churches I’ve seen in a while. Breathtaking!

Six players were highlighted in this video in the five main segments; before and after each were transitional segments with bits of interviews conducted with other players. Some have been team-mates of the highlighted players, some have played under them when they coached in some capacity. Each segment was a mini-lesson on a particular topic important to our faith. To help youth groups have focused discussions on these topics, a handy guide was included with the video.

Mike Sweeney was the first player to be featured. He discussed how his father gave up dreams of playing in the majors to focus more on being a husband and father. He talked about his own struggles in the game and his new found love for the Faith. He also discussed his position in life: on the back of the tandem bicycle, pedaling, with God doing the steering. The focus on humbling yourself before God was quite moving, and listening to him discuss it, stating flatly that he prayed for God to humble him, is such an excellent example. So often my own children do not see situations like that – they are often private – and it was refreshing to watch a professional athlete talk about asking to be more humble. (It’s far too common to hear pro athletes talk about how great they are!)

Next up was Jack McKeon. He has been a player and a coach in baseball, and had achieved just about everything you could achieve in baseball. The one exception? A World Series win. He had a great devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and asked her to intercede and “see if He’d give me one more chance.”

I remember the year he was called by the Marlins to take over coaching midway through the season. They won more games than any other team in baseball between his taking over and the World Series. I remember how he had guided his young team and taught them to play with class. To win with class. When they won, as painful as it was for me to watch them beat my Yankees, I admitted right then that they showed impeccable sportsmanship; they talked about how amazing it was to win over the Yanks. How nice the Yanks were when they were in New York. How honored they were to even share the field with such a great team.

And then I learned something about Jack McKeon: he is a daily communicant.

How am I supposed to be mad at him now?

Oh, and he considers St. Thérèse to be his MVP. And he said so to the sports reporter who asked him after the World Series win, too.

The next segment was a highlight of Rich Donneley, and the theme was all based around the central idea of this statement he made:

“There are two kinds of people in the world. There are people who are humble, and there are people who are about to be.”

I will not say any more about his testimony, but I will tell you this: Hubby complained about the air quality in the house very suddenly after this interview, telling me that there must be a lot of dust or something – his eyes were watering an awful lot. (I, on the other hand, was practically sobbing.) But this was not a message of despair: it was one of great hope, especially when hope is placed in the Lord.

The focus of the next part of the video was Jeff Suppan and David Eckstien of the Saint Louis Cardinals. They both spoke of the importance of faith in times of difficulty, and how it was a comfort to each of them to know they could also lift each other up in the faith. Asking God to help accept His will was also a big part of their stories. They talked about their struggles on the way to their eventual World Series win over the Detroit Tigers last year.

The transitional piece between this section and the one on Mike Piazza was one of my favorites because it was all about the Eucharist. One of my favorite quotes of the entire video was here, and I want to share it with you because of the impact it had on me. Mike Sweeney was talking about the Real Presence of the Eucharist – that Jesus Christ is present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in Holy Communion – and he said this:

“Some people will say, ‘How can you believe that?’ and I say, ‘Why can’t you believe that?’ Me, as a man of God, I don’t put restrictions on the Holy Spirit.”

Mike Piazza’s interview focused on perseverance. I remember him from early in his career (what with those good looks and the shampoo commercials and all), but what I didn’t realize was that he was the 1,390th pick in the Major League Baseball draft! Not only that, but he was not a catcher in high school or college: he played first base. And so when he was finally drafted, he was moved to a new position that he’d never played before and still expected to perform. He talked about sticking with it, working hard, and just persevering in general. He also talked about the two incidents with Roger Clemens, which I was particularly interested in. (I’d only heard Clemens’ side of it and not really sought out Piazza’s side of the story.)

Piazza also told about meeting Pope John Paul II, and it was wonderful to hear a pro athlete talk about how humbled he felt to meet the pope. “It was like meeting a superhero!”

I can’t tell you how wonderful and refreshing it is to hear humility from a pro athlete in an age when most athletes in the public eye think of themselves as the real superheroes. In an age when children look up to these men, it’s truly nice to see that some of them do not seek that kind of attention – they point, instead, to those who deserve it. The saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the pope…these are who we should teach our children to look up to.

One of the best things about Champions of Faith is that the very people our children look up to are pointing off to someone else. They are pointing to Christ, the Eucharist, the Church. These althetes are telling us to not look to them for inspiration, but to look to the Church for what is really important in this life.

As one player put it, “When you have faith in God, you have everything.”

The only difficult thing about watching this video is that there are not enough New York Yankees in it. Rats! 😉

Seriously, though, I cannot say enough to recommend this video. I loved it so much that I bought a copy for my father for Father’s Day! Youth groups will appreciate the discussion guide (be sure to get special permissions to show it to your youth group, though), though parents would also be able to use it with their older children, too. (Mine are 6 and 8, so many of the questions, while excellent, need a lot of tweaking for them to relate to.) But even with younger children, just watching the DVD is an excellent way to remind them that no matter what their vocation in life – husband and father, wife and mother, religious, athlete, doctor – God plays a part in that. He is in control. And He wants the very best for each of us.

Put Him in charge, get on the back of the bike, and pedal.

[Purchase Champions of Faith: Baseball Edition here.]

{Oh, and one last thing: the “Baseball Edition” portion of the title gives me hope that more of these will be coming and showcasing other athletes in football and basketball at some point. I’ve got my fingers crossed!}

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