Even though I'm not a big fan of either the New York Yankees or the Philadelphia Phillies, I've watched and enjoyed this year's World Series. I didn't expect there to be much of a religion angle in the coverage of either team, but really enjoyed Andy Martino's profile of Phillie pitcher Brad Lidge (who, it must be said, didn't have a great Game 4 the other night) in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Here's the compelling beginning:
Brad Lidge was searching. He thought he was supposed to be a baseball player, but it seemed like all he did was have surgery. Stranded in Kissimmee, Fla., relegated to rehabilitation, Lidge needed more.
Drafted by the Houston Astros in 1998 after his junior year of college at Notre Dame, Lidge left school before graduating to start his minor-league career. But it hardly began before various ailments stalled it. While recovering from injuries to his pitching arm, Lidge followed his curiosity. The young pitcher dived into the Bible and science and history texts, searching for meaning in his problems.
The conclusions Lidge reached during those summers have provided essential comfort ever since. Lidge and the Phillies begin the World Series tonight, but during the long regular season and a bewildering slump, he retained perspective. Through careful reading, thinking, and studying - Lidge is pursuing a degree in religious archaeology, with plans to eventually work in that field - he continues to cultivate a personalized Christianity. That process began in earnest in Kissimmee.
"I didn't know if I was meant to pitch," Lidge, 32, said on a recent morning, sitting in the stands of an empty Citizens Bank Park. "Whether it was then, or this year, or the rough year in 2006 I had in Houston, I always felt there was a higher purpose to life than just being a baseball player. And sometimes, even when things aren't going very well, it just means that when they finally go right, you'll be able to serve as a better example, as a baseball player and person."
Now, it turns out that Lidge's religious views don't fit in nice boxes. Rather than try to shoehorn him into any box, the reporter simply lets Lidge explain it himself. So Lidge says faith didn't come to him in a single moment but that his beliefs took shape gradually. He was raised Catholic; studied philosophy, history and theology at Notre Dame; and says he'd define himself now as non-denominational with a theological lean toward Catholicism. But he attends the Protestant chapel services offered by the Phillies and says his primary spiritual goal is to develop a personal connection to divinity.
What I found refreshing about this profile was how the reporter even let him discuss what, exactly, his beefs with Catholicism are. For one thing, he thinks the wealth amassed at the Vatican is obscene and should be sold to help the poor. There's also this:
Secure in his opinions but reluctant to criticize others for theirs, Lidge approaches these subjects diplomatically.
"This might be a touchy issue," he continued, before pausing. "I'm trying to think of that best word; some of the ritualistic things that are involved, some of the questions on the pope's infallibility and when that started . . . I have a lot of respect for Catholicism, but sometimes the hierarchy can get in the way of the relationship between yourself and God and Jesus."
Now, of course it would be nice for the reporter to explore some of these things a bit more, to probe or otherwise get a slightly better handle on his views. But personal religious views -- particularly when they are purposefully independent -- can be a very delicate subject and I think letting the subject of the interview speak freely pays off.
So there's a lot more in the interview. We learn what Lidge thinks about pitting faith and reason against each other, whether peripheral issues to Christianity get overblown and how his "liberal" Christianity is right for him but may not be for others.
Normally you might wonder why, exactly, you're learning this much about one relief pitcher's particular religious views, but the reporter justifies it in two ways. First off, he brings the discussion back around to how Lidge's faith has sustained him while suffering a league-leading total of 11 blown saves this season:
"There were times this year when I was absolutely flabbergasted that the results weren't coming around," he said.
Still, he revisited Scripture roughly three times each week, attended Sunday services and Wednesday Bible study with his teammates - and worked hard in pursuit of an online degree.
And, as that last line indicates, the religious angle to this story makes sense because Lidge is studying artifacts of the late Roman Empire, or the period when Christianity spread throughout Europe. He began his undergraduate studies at Regis University because he had so much wasted downtime on the road and he wanted to work toward a career post-baseball. This is how religion should be incorporated into stories. It should be reported on because it's there and so much a part of the lives of the people we cover.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.