Good (opening) Friday in The Yard

As the Divine Mrs. M.Z. has already noted, this is a red-letter news day on the religion-and-baseball beat. This is especially true here in Baltimore, where our city's beleaguered Orioles fans are marking the 20th anniversary of the opening of Orioles Park at Camden Yards, the park that in many ways saved baseball from suburbia. Yes, it's opening day at The Yard, which requires an A1 story in The Baltimore Sun.

This is especially true since today is also Good Friday for Christians in the churches of the West -- in other words, for Catholics and Protestants. This is the most solemn day on the Christian calendar. It is also the first day of Passover for practicing Jews.

This brings us to that Sun story that I mentioned, which is an unusually solid and thorough feature about the complications linked to holding the festival that is baseball's opening day on Good Friday for the vast majority of this historically Catholic region's believers.

It's a fine story -- with one big hole (more on that later). Here's how it opens:

Many fans have lost hope as the Orioles have posted a dismal record over the past 14 seasons. Now the team is starting its new season by testing the faith of some of them as well.

Friday is Opening Day for the Baltimore Orioles, as well as for 17 other major league teams. It is also Good Friday, the most solemn day in Christianity, and the first day of Judaism's Passover -- a confluence of events that is giving some baseball buffs theological pause.

"I called and told them I won't be there," said the Rev. John Bauer, a fan who is also the team's chaplain. "When I was a kid, we never even played the radio on Good Friday. Three o'clock in the afternoon, we were in church."

The Orioles' 3:05 p.m. start comes just after the time when Jesus Christ died on the cross, according to some traditions. Some churches have Good Friday services that conclude or begin at 3 p.m., although others commemorate the day with evening services. The game poses less of a conflict for observant Jews. Passover starts at sundown, and by then, barring a lot of long or extra innings, the game against the Minnesota Twins should be over.

But then there's the potential culinary conflict. The Catholic ban on eating meat on Fridays during Lent and the Jewish taboo on leavened bread during Passover put the iconic foodstuff of baseball -- the hot dog on a bun -- off the table for both.

Let me stress again that this is a very solid story. I particularly appreciated that The Sun sought out the views of some Protestants who all but said, well, "Good Friday? What's that?"

Along the same line, the newspaper quotes Catholics who, essentially, said that modern people have to have their priorities straight and, well, business and sports come first. Who has time to go to church in the middle of the afternoon on a Friday afternoon in spring?

Also, I thought it was fitting that the story went back to Father John for the upbeat, but devout, closing:

Bauer, the Orioles' chaplain, holds no ill will toward the team for accepting the MLB schedule. "People blame the O's for a lot of things," he said. "This isn't their fault."

Bauer will be at the park a couple of days later, on Easter, celebrating his usual Sunday morning Mass in the B&O Warehouse for players, staff, umpires and others who can't make it to their home pews.

"We go from kind of a quiet solemnity," he said of this weekend, "to a hallelujah type of thing."

So what is missing?

Now, I am sure that regular GetReligion readers spotted my emphasis on this being Good Friday for millions and millions of believers in "the West." Truth is, this one of the years in which the dates for Easter, in the West, and Pascha, for the churches of the East, are different. For Orthodox Christians, we are still a week away from Good Friday.

Thus, the simple fact of the matter is that the Good Friday vs. opening day collision affects the majority of Christians in Baltimore -- but not all. Under ordinary circumstances, this fact could have been mentioned in a few well-placed words or, at most, one crisp sentence.

However, there is one Orioles complication that should have been noted.

One of the most unpopular people in Baltimore, especially among baseball devotees, is Orioles owner Peter Angelos -- who is both hyper-rich and tone-deaf, when it comes to understanding the views of ordinary fans.

If anyone was going to plead with the gods of baseball to move opening day off the Good Friday date, Angelos was the only person who could have done it. It would have been especially poignant to have made that request, since -- as the Sun noted -- it would have messed up the perfect alignment with the first opening day at The Yard.

So what's the news angle in that?

Well, as much as I hesitate to note this (I am not a fan of this particular owner), Angelos and others in his family are rather prominent in Greek Orthodox life in this city. As The City Paper noted long ago:

In 1939, 10-year-old George Peter Angelos was hospitalized with severe appendicitis. He was given little chance to live. Frances Angelos, a Greek immigrant and devout Orthodox Christian, prayed for her son's life, promising that if he survived she would make his first name "Peter" -- the American translation of Panayotes, Greek for "of Mary" -- thus dedicating his soul to Christ's mother.

George P. lived, and became Peter G. And an early brick was laid in the edifice of the Angelos myth.

So, am I saying that Angelos was less sensitive to the Good Friday issue because he is Orthodox and, thus, this is not Good Friday for him? No, I am not saying that. Besides, I would have no way to know that. Neither would Sun readers, since Angelos hardly ever, ever, ever gives interviews.

I am simply saying that (a) it is Good Friday for most Orioles fans, but not all, and (b) that would include the owner of the team (and the right fielder, but that's a minor detail).

The owner of the team is a rather important figure in Orioles baseball, don't you think?

PHOTO: A rare photo of Peter Angelos (on the right).

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