Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
Champions of Faith: Baseball

by Dennis Heaney

(From the Oct. 4, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney For years, the sports section was the first place I went in the daily newspaper, especially during baseball season. The scores and stories were grist for my conversation with friends and co-workers during the day and, in some cases, the proverbial “ice breaker” in the days I was selling newspaper ads.

Today, I find myself spending far less time on those pages. The scores and game recaps take second place to stories about athletes doing drugs, in trouble with the law or complaining that their multi-million dollar contracts aren’t enough and they want more. That’s not the kind of news I want to start my day!

Recently, though, I had a chance to view a new DVD that reminded me that while baseball, like any line of work, has its downside, it also has people who believe that as important as the game is to them, living and practicing their faith is far more important.

The DVD is called “Champions of Faith: Baseball” and it was produced by Catholic Exchange (www.ChampionsofFaith. com) and features, among other major leaguers, Mike Piazza, David Eckstein, Jeff Suppan, Mike Sweeney, Jack McKeon and Rich Donnelly, each talking about the importance of spirituality in their daily lives.

Mike Piazza, currently with the Oakland As, speaks movingly of the importance of the Eucharist in his life. His grade school dream was to be a major leaguer ball player and, as he tells it, not only has he realized that dream but he’s done it as a part of his faith journey. And he’s kept his faith first.

During spring training in1999, the Kansas City Royals told Mike Sweeney that he had no future in their organization. Jolted, Mike went to Mass, something he hadn’t done in a long time, and he had a long conversation with God during which he imagined being on the back seat of a tandem bike and “I told God that, from that day forward, I’d let Him have the front seat and do the steering.”

Mike Sweeney made the Royals and turned his career around. Since then he’s been on five All Star teams. However, it’s the story of the 2001 altercation between Sweeney and Jeff Weaver, then of the Detroit Tigers, that I found especially moving. The normally peaceful Sweeney charged the mound after he thought Weaver tried to hit him. They had a bruising fight which resulted in bitterness that wasn’t resolved for five years. The emotional story of that healing will affect you, baseball fan or not.

Jeff Suppan, of the St. Louis Cardinals, tells of seeing teammate David Eckstein at Mass one morning. “I didn’t know he was Catholic and I don’t think he knew I was either, but from that day on we’ve been going to Mass together whenever we’re on the road. It’s helped us develop a strong, supportive friendship.”

Rich Donnelly, third base coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers, talks about falling away from his faith after becoming a big league player. He was returning to the church in 1992, when, at spring training, he got a call from his 16-year-old daughter, Amy, telling him that she had a brain tumor. The story of how his family coped with this tragedy is a witness to the importance and power of faith in our lives.

In the first few weeks I had a copy of “Champions of Faith: Baseball,” I watched it three times. For me, the stories not only restore my belief in the national pastime, but, more importantly, they are great testimony to how rich our lives can be when filled with faith.

(Dennis Heaney is Director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “Living God's Joy,” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail:

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