The Major League Baseball playoffs are upon us, and Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times has done a great job of reminding us that football isn't the only sport in which religion can be prevalent. Vladimir Guerrero, a native of the Dominican Republic, plays right field for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He was the American League's winner of the 2004 MVP Award, is one of the best hitters in the game today and has a rocket for an arm. Opposing pitchers think he is a "freak" for his ability to hit just about anything, including balls that hit the dirt (he also doesn't wear batting gloves). His personal story of growing up one of nine children is as compelling as any.
In other words, there is a lot to be said about Guerrero and a lot has already been said. Baxter, to his credit, took on the religion angle in writing about Guerrero before the playoffs began and came up with gold:
Two hours before taking the field for the game that would give his team the division title, the Angels' best hitter is sitting on the floor in a tiny room behind home plate at Angel Stadium, a Bible in his lap.
Vladimir Guerrero may fear no pitcher, but he's a little nervous about God.
"I comfort myself with the Bible," Guerrero says. "It's like having my family there."
I've said before that sportswriters can be some of the best religion writers out there. In addition to writing event stories (a.k.a. game stories), sportswriters follow people -- and people have stories to tell. In Guerrero's case, his religion clearly plays a huge part of his life. The story is well written and well rounded. There's plenty of baseball in there for the sports fans to chew on, but it's a story about a person, not a machine:
In that case, Guerrero is truly blessed on this morning because he has both: the good book and members of his extended family, namely the handful of Spanish-speaking teammates he gathers every Sunday for a short chapel service led by broadcaster Jose Mota.
Today's reading comes from Galatians 2:20, in which Paul talks about commitment and example. So Mota asks the players to name the person whose example they've followed in life.
Guerrero breaks into a wide smile. It's as if Mota has thrown a batting practice fastball right in his wheelhouse.
"My mother," he says.
So there you have it: The man many American League pitchers dread most is, at heart, a God-fearing, Bible-toting mama's boy.
For the non-baseball fans out there, a bit of background is appropriate. Guerrero is known to struggle around this time of the year. He is the team's superstar and he is expected to perform come autumn. A story about his spiritual and emotional life is more than appropriate and well timed.
As the Angels take on the Boston Red Sox tonight, readers of this article are going to be more informed about the man who carries a Bible with him everywhere. Isn't that what journalism is all about?