ESPN's Dusty Baker faith no-no

July 28, 2010 - Milwaukee, WI, USA - 28 July 2010: Reds manager Dusty Baker relaxing in the dugout during the MLB game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park in Milwaukee, WI. The Reds defeated the Brewers 10-2. The ghosts are touching him.

In keeping with the baseball theme I started Wednesday, I wanted to take a look at a compelling, 2,700-word profile of Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker.

As the reader who shared the story with GetReligion noted, the piece -- obviously written before the Phillies' Roy Halladay no-hit the Reds in the opening game of the National League Division Series -- opens with a powerful scene inside a cathedral:

CINCINNATI -- "Light a candle," Dusty Baker says, his lone voice softly skimming the looming silence of the empty church. "I'm sure there's someone out there you want to pray for."

He lights a candle, points the flickering matchstick downward in his large hands, the athlete's hands, dousing it into the cool sand. It is here in the solitude of St. Peter in Chains Cathedral -- funded by Ohio Catholics who donated 12 cents per month toward its construction in 1841 -- where Johnnie B. Baker, born Baptist in California, raised in the traditions of the southern black church, kneels alone among the long pews and nourishes his spirituality.

After several moments of prayer, he rises and walks gingerly toward the altar, marveling at the Greek architecture, the Corinthian columns and stained glass mosaics, comforted, despite its bruises, by the sanctuary and the ritual of the church.

"I come in here before homestands, sometimes a couple of times a week during the season," said Baker. "I pray for my family, for my team, and for Barack Obama, because I've never seen people try to take a president down like this, never seen such anger. I mean, what did he do to anybody?"

History surrounds Baker this morning, as it does every morning. He is humbled by its density, energized by its lineage and his place in it. The ghosts are touching him.

The ghosts are touching him.

Certainly not religion ghosts, right? With that kind of utterly impressive start, surely this piece -- filled with so many nuanced layers of emotion, history and vivid images -- won't require GetReligion repudiation, right?

Wrong, unfortunately.

No, readers never find out how a black Baptist ends up praying in a Catholic cathedral. No, readers never discover the role of faith in Baker dealing with cancer and the death of his father. No, readers never learn how Baker balances his religious faith -- whatever form that takes outside of lighting a candle and praying -- with the bars and women referenced later in the story.

Near the end, the highly talented writer alludes to a new outlook in Baker's life post-cancer and again sprinkles religious imagery into the text:

The prodigy is long gone and the adult is left. One of his larger paintings is of a healing center in Kauai, Hawaii, from his cancer recovery. The photograph resembles a Mayan temple with beams of rainbows darting through the windows of the shelter.

"That one," he says, "told me everything was going to be all right."

"It changes your outlook. And I want to win the World Series. I hate the question of 'how much longer do I want to do this?' Why would I sell myself short? Joe Torre managed much longer than I. So has Bobby Cox. This is a heck of a life. I've never stopped aspiring, never stopped learning to do this job better. I take pride in being prepared. I take pride in having faith, in myself and in my players. I'm happy.

"Since cancer and my dad, all that other stuff, I try to leave it. This is a life much more fulfilling," Dusty Baker says. "The stars are brighter. And the birds sing louder. I hear them more now than ever."

But once again, the piece -- regrettably -- stops short of actual details and facts about Baker's faith and religion. It's a long fly to the outfield wall that just misses going out of the park.

The ghosts are touching him.

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