Holy days and baseball

A reader sent in this story about Rick Santorum taking a mysterious four day break from his presidential campaign. There was a reference by Santorum himself to a "holiday weekend," the story didn't explore whether maybe the break had anything to do with the Triduum. But give reporters interested in baseball some credit -- they figured out there was some liturgical calendar action going on this weekend that was worth writing about. The Washington Nationals home opener won't be until Thursday, April 12. I'll be there, of course. But little did I know how blessed I am to live in a city where opening day doesn't happen on Good Friday.

Daniel Burke at Religion News Service explains the conflict:

For millions of Americans, Major League Baseball’s opening day is more than a rite of spring, it’s a near-religious experience. But for Jews and Christians in eight American cities, their team’s home opener coincides with actual holy days.

For Jews, Passover begins at sundown on Friday (April 6) with seders that celebrate their forebears' exodus from Egypt. It is also Good Friday, when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus.

Major League Baseball has run into occasional complaints for playing on Good Friday, but April 6 is unusual for being both a Christian and a Jewish holiday this year.

The story includes feedback from Major League Baseball about the difficulties of scheduling 2,430 games around the country each year. While some religious observers might avoid any entertainment at all on Good Friday, ball clubs are in particular concerned about accommodating those Christians who avoid anything during one particular time period in general:

Eighteen teams are playing on Friday, with eight hosting their home openers. All of the Friday games except for one - the Chicago White Sox visiting the Texas Rangers - start after 3 p.m. Christians traditionally maintain a solemn silence and refrain from entertainment from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Good Friday to mark the time when Jesus hung on the cross.

The Tampa Bay [Devil] Rays worked to accommodate Christians with a post-3 p.m. start time and Jews who want to get home before Passover seders begin. Sunset is around 7:45, the story explains. I liked that the story included the particular situation of one Baltimore fan:

Jeffrey Amdur, who has attended every Baltimore Orioles opening day since the 1970s, told the Baltimore Jewish Times that he may skip out during the seventh-inning stretch this year.

“I am torn,” Amdur told the newspaper. “I hate to leave before the end of the game, unless the O’s are losing by a lot.”

So he leaves early all the time then! Just kidding. The RNS report includes discussion of the "O'Connor Rule," after the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York.

The New York Times City Blog also focused on the same issue:

This is the season of renewal and redemption, embodied for many New Yorkers by three events that symbolize those concepts and happen to converge this weekend: Easter, Passover and, yes, the start of the baseball season. All three embody an optimism that is the essence of spring, and rings true for nearly everyone but the most dispirited in our midst, sometimes known as Mets fans.

I thought that the RNS lede played around with the comparisons between opening day and holy days better than this Times report, which some readers found offensive or bordering on offensive. The hometown paper also gave full coverage to the O'Connor Rule.

The one thing I hoped for that neither story provided was a discussion of whether any baseball players or managers or staff themselves are put in a difficult situation by having to play or work today. Or whether their teams are accommodating them in any way. But that would be some pretty difficult information to find out, so I understand why it wasn't included in these quick Opening Day religion news reports.

As I was about to hit publish on this, I saw that Kate Shellnutt of the Houston Chronicle also wrote on this topic. It's another great treatment:

The scheduling conflict for baseball fans in eight cities offers a chance to examine how baseball, the great American pastime, connects to their own experience of faith.

"From a sports perspective, Good Friday is our big win," said the Rev. T.J. Dolce, a sports-loving vicar at St. Martha Catholic Church in the Kingwood area. "It's the day of the greatest victory we've ever witnessed. Through the death of Jesus on the cross, we won our salvation. It's a sad day, but ultimately glorious."

As the Astros take on the Colorado Rockies tonight at Minute Maid Park, Dolce - like many Houston Catholics - will be praying the Stations of the Cross.

The Good Friday conflict hasn't come up as an issue among Christian players, according to Kevin Edelbrock, who leads chapel for the team on Sundays. The Astros' longtime chaplain, Gene Pemberton, retired when Drayton McLane, himself an outspoken Baptist, sold the team last year.

"A lot of guys recognize (Good Friday) on their own. I've never heard of it being a point of contention," said Edelbrock, a nondenominational minister who's been involved with the team for eight years. "There's so much energy put into opening day. Easter Sunday is more where we're focused."

The article deals with the Passover conflict as well and was interesting for including so many religious people who will be shut out of Opening Day because of their religious observation. Very interesting piece. Photo of Cardinals shortstop David Freese chasing down Marlins runner Josh Kroeger during a 2011 pre-season game via Shutterstock. Yes, the St. Louis Cardinals are the reigning World Champions!

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