The church of baseball

Game1WSI used to serve on the board of a Lutheran youth organization that holds youth conferences around the country. A few years ago, during the hottest weak on record there, we held our conference in St. Louis, Mo. One night we took 1,200 or so of the teenagers to a baseball game at Busch Stadium (old). When you take that many people to one game, the marketers give you a few perks such as letting you designate someone to throw out the opening pitch, letting your top-notch youth choir sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," and stuff like that. Being the world's greatest St. Louis Cardinals fan, the organization allowed me to escort a few of the youth onto the field and have one of our students throw out the first pitch. (She threw a fantastic strike.) All this not just to say I love the reigning world champion St. Louis Cardinals but that it was interesting to see how the marketing team works with special groups.

I thought of this while reading a lengthy feature St. Louis Post-Dispatch religion reporter Tim Townsend wrote for Sunday. The previous day's game, which they won 8-3, was held in conjunction with a religious event called Christian Family Day. The event organizers, including 1st Baseman Albert Pujols, were allotted 9,200 tickets which they sold to area churches or gave away to youth. After the game, around 15,000 folks stayed around in the rain to listen to a MercyMe concert and hear testimonials from Pujols, So Taguchi, Braden Looper and Adam Wainwright.

The article explains how the event came about and what it hopes to accomplish. Townsend spoke with a variety of participants and organizers and wrote an informative and fair article. The final graphs give a good taste:

Bringing Jesus into the ballpark is not always easy, and [Marty] Hendin [vice president of community relations for the club] said the Cardinals kept an eye on other clubs that have had problems with similar events.

[Jeff] Miller [a senior group sales executive with the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers] said that after holding Christian Family Day in the Kauffman [(the Kansas City Royals' stadium)] parking lot before the game for a couple of years, the Royals decided to move it inside the stadium. But they still "did the Christian stuff" before the game.

"We brought in a huge banner that said 'Jesus is King,' and that didn't go over too well," said Miller. "People were calling the marketing department from their seats and complaining. It was not good."

Hendin said that's why the Cardinals do most of the Christian Family Day activity after the game. The Cardinals allow the organizers to hand out the player testimonial cards at the game with invitations for all ticket holders to stay afterwards, listen to the music and hear the player testimonials.

"People can choose to leave after the game," he said. "We're not subjecting them to any message they don't want to be subjected to." He said the Cardinals had also catered to Jewish groups in the past, with kosher concession stands and a cantor singing the national anthem.

During the sixth inning Saturday, some of the Christian Family Day organizers gathered in a Busch party suite to go over last-minute, post-game details. How many songs would Mercy Me play? In what order should the players speak? When will the sponsors be introduced?

After the details were settled, about 50 people bowed their heads in prayer. One after the other they lifted their voices to God, asking for help, giving thanks. Tim Loreth, 44, a painter from Hazelwood, spoke up.

"Lord, through this music and the words of these players," he prayed, "we hope that those who don't yet believe can enter your kingdom this afternoon."

It would be easy for someone to write a hit piece about a Christian group like this or even something very light and fluffy. Townsend did a great job of writing respectfully and thoroughly about the group while engaging criticism of same.

I've illustrated this post with a picture of my friend Ric and me at Game 1 of the World Series this past October. In Detroit. Where the Cardinals won 7-2.

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