In the fourth grade, I discovered Topps baseball cards. I’d buy as many I could afford, chewing the crunchy bubble gum inside each 20-cent pack and memorizing the stats of all my favorite players. I eventually sold my card collection, but I remain a passionate fan of Major League Baseball.
In my teen years, my family moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and I fell in love with the Texas Rangers. As an adult, I’ve experienced America’s favorite pastime at 19 of the 30 big-league ballparks. I eventually hope to make it to all of them, including the one at the top of my bucket list: Wrigley Field in Chicago.
My work as a journalist has taken me inside clubhouses at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Calif., Comerica Park in Detroit, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, Minute Maid Park in Houston, Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., and Progressive Field in Cleveland.
Like me, GetReligion's editor, Terry Mattingly, is an avid baseball fan, so we sometimes compete to see which one of us can write the most baseball-related posts with the fewest number of readers. I kid. I kid.
But seriously, our sports posts (with a few notable exceptions) don't typically go viral. Based on this journalism-focused website's analytics, most of our readers tend to be more interested in holy ghosts tied to politics and the culture wars. However, we believe it's important to keep pointing out God-sized holes in media coverage of college and professional athletics.
Just last week, we celebrated when the Detroit Free Press published — after two years of begging by GetReligion — a ghost-free profile of 'van man' Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris:
Meanwhile, I was privileged to do some personal ghostbusting in the case of Texas Rangers third base coach Tony Beasley:
You may recall that I first analyzed media coverage of Beasley's faith last August:
In that post, I praised — overall — a powerful story by one of my favorite baseball writers. However, I voiced frustration that the piece ignored religion while focusing on more general themes of inspiration and persistence.
A few months later, when Beasley was given a clean bill of health, I again found relevant details on his faith lacking in news stories:
So when I read that Beasley was going to sing the national anthem at the Rangers' Opening Day festivities last week, I pitched a story on his spiritual journey to RNS editor in chief Jerome Socolovsky — and he bit.
The result was a piece in which I was able to answer some of the faith-related questions that have intrigued me since I first heard about Beasley's cancer battle:
As he gently swayed his head from side to side as he sang, Beasley said, he concentrated on his gratefulness that God had healed him — with an aggressive 11 months of treatment that included radiation and surgery. He received a clean bill of health in December.
“I’m always thinking in spiritual terms because everything I have and everything I do is because of God’s goodness and his grace,” said the coach, who is married to Stacy and has a son, Tony Jr., 22, an outfielder for Hardin-Simmons University, a Baptist school in Abilene, Texas. “I don’t have to be here, but because of his mercy, I’m here. So I’m thankful.”
The roots of Beasley’s faith stretch back to his childhood: He grew up one of eight brothers and sisters born to the late James and Arlene Beasley. His working-class father earned a living as a logger. His mother stayed busy caring for the children.
The family had little in terms of material blessings, but it had everything it really needed, as Beasley recalls.
The Beasleys fed their souls each Sunday at the Jerusalem Baptist Church in rural Sparta, Va. Tony Beasley still worships at that same church in the offseason, and his brother Jared serves as the pastor.
Jerusalem Baptist is where a young Tony Beasley first developed his vocal talents. He sang in the church youth choir starting at age 11 or 12 — he can’t remember which — and became a church deacon at 19.
But Beasley said he didn’t really embrace his Christian faith until he joined the baseball team in 1988 at Liberty University, the evangelical Christian school in Lynchburg, Va. Then-Liberty coach Bobby Richardson, who played second base for the New York Yankees from 1955 to 1966, served as a mentor to Beasley.
“At Liberty was when I really understood what it meant to have a personal relationship with Christ and to really surrender,” Beasley said, “and so that’s when I really fully gave my all to him. (Since then), I’ve been trying to walk worthy of God’s glory.”
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Home page image courtesy of Louis DeLuca/Texas Rangers