Major League Baseball

'I'm not an overly religious person, but there's something going on,' major-league manager says

'I'm not an overly religious person, but there's something going on,' major-league manager says

I was out of the country when this story was published, so I’m a bit behind in mentioning it.

It’s a Father’s Day feature by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Chris Woodward, manager of my beloved Texas Rangers.

The headline certainly grabbed me:

How fatherhood and adoption helped deepen Rangers manager Chris Woodward’s faith

And the lede offers definite potential:

Chris Woodward didn’t need a wake-up call or come to Jesus moment.

He was already living a life of purpose and passion.

The Texas Rangers manager was an infield prospect in the Blue Jays’ organization in the late 1990s despite the long odds of being selected in the 54th round of the 1994 draft.

Just as his baseball career was taking root, however, he was dealt a deeply personal blow that shook his world.

At just 21-years-old, Woodward had to deal with the death of his father. His faith was tested.

“He tried to reason his faith and faith doesn’t work like that,” said Erin Woodward, Chris’ wife.

But here’s the frustrating part: The Star-Telegram never really moves beyond vague references to faith and God.

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Friday Five: McCarrick news, Alex Trebek, comedian's faith, ECFA scrutiny, scary baseball

Friday Five: McCarrick news, Alex Trebek, comedian's faith, ECFA scrutiny, scary baseball

According to the New York Times, the nation’s long run of recent bad weather might wind down by the weekend.

Speaking on behalf of Oklahomans and residents of other states hit hard by tornadoes and flooding, I pray it’s so.

Now, let’s dive into the (hopefully sunny and calm) Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Perhaps you (like the New York Times so far) missed this big scoop concerning restrictions placed by the Vatican on former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick way back in 2008.

Not to worry: Our own Julia Duin can fill you in on a former aide to McCarrick spilling the beans to Crux and CBS.

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'Born-again' baseball star's arrest on child sexual assault charge raises a journalistic question

'Born-again' baseball star's arrest on child sexual assault charge raises a journalistic question

"This is truly, truly an awful story to report,” tweeted a Dallas Morning News sportswriter involved in the coverage of a child sexual abuse charge against former baseball star John Wetteland.

Actually, it’s beyond awful.

It’s sickening, especially for a diehard Texas Rangers fan like myself who remembers cheering for Wetteland and appreciating his focus on his Christian faith.

According to the Dallas newspaper, the former closer is accused of sexually abusing a young child:

Wetteland, 52, is accused of continuous sexual abuse of a child under the age of 14, according to Denton County jail records. The Trophy Club resident posted $25,000 bond and was released from custody the same day as his arrest.

He had forced a young relative to perform a sex act on him, according to the arrest warrant affidavit, beginning in 2004 when the child was just four years old.

The abuse occurred at Wetteland's home in Bartonville, the affidavit stated. It happened twice more over a two-year period, the victim said.

And sadly, there is a strong and absolutely relevant religion angle as Wetteland — who was the 1996 World Series MVP while pitching for the New York Yankees — is well-known for touting his Christian beliefs.

“Wetteland Is Just a Closer Who Walks With the Lord,” declared a 1995 New York Times sports column.

That column opened this way:

John Wetteland is drinking coffee from a large mug with the words "Jesus Lives" emblazoned across it in big, black letters. He grins and nods when someone comments on the mug. His Bible is resting on a shelf in his locker and he has a personal computer at his disposal so he can retrieve morning devotionals from an on-line program and pray before the Yankees begin another day of baseball.

"I honestly try and walk with Jesus Christ every day," he said, describing his most important relationship, more important than his relationship with his wife.

Obviously, the facts of the criminal case are the most important element of the news reports on Wetteland’s arrest.

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Love for people drives major-league catcher to help, but what role does his faith play?

Love for people drives major-league catcher to help, but what role does his faith play?

Was it a good movie?

Did you enjoy it?

Those tend to be my main two questions in assessing the latest flick at the theater.

I don't pay a lot of attention to film critics because they tend — from my perspective — to nitpick various details that don't matter much to me. They're paid to find fault.

What does that have to do with GetReligion? Well, as a media critic for this journalism-focused website, my job calls upon me to spot holy ghosts in mainstream press stories and point them out for readers. But occasionally, I fear that I'm demanding a level of religious specificity that is no concern to ordinary readers.

Thus, when I read a story like a recent Dallas Morning News feature on good works by Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos, I'm unsure whether to (1) just be thankful for a nice piece that goes behind the scenes of a charitable player or (2) complain that the paper fails to offer any concrete details on the subject's obvious faith.

I mean, given the circumstances, it's not difficult for most readers to assume that Chirinos must be a Christian (something that the "Servant of Christ" mention on his Twitter profile quicks confirms):

ARLINGTON -- He had just signed his first professional contract. The scouts who signed him had just left his home. He was 16. His father, Roberto, told Robinson Chirinos to pull up a chair at the family's kitchen table.

"Never forget about people," Roberto Chirinos told him.

He never has.

Robinson Chirinos was telling the story again Saturday afternoon after spending the morning, along with more than half of the Rangers' roster, handing out backpacks as part of a Back To School Block party at the Refuge Church in Fort Worth.

The event taking place at a church is a pretty obvious clue, as is the additional context offered in the next few paragraphs:

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Holy ghosts haunt Houston Chronicle's front-page profile of former Astros pitching great J.R. Richard

Holy ghosts haunt Houston Chronicle's front-page profile of former Astros pitching great J.R. Richard

Far too many journalists are "tone deaf to the music of religion," as commentator Bill Moyers once told GetReligion's own Terry Mattingly.

I get that sense about an in-depth Houston Chronicle profile of former Astros pitching great J.R. Richard that appeared on Sunday's front page.

At repeated junctures in this otherwise excellent and nuanced piece, facts and details appear that seem to scream, "There's a religion angle here! Please ask Richard about his faith journey and what he believes about God!"

Instead, it's as if the Chronicle can't hear that voice and instead moves forward with unrelated material, leaving obvious questions unanswered.

The first clue of a religion angle comes right up top.

See where Richard is speaking:

The most terrifying pitcher ever to have called the Astrodome home slowly pushes himself up from a couch and lumbers, at 68 years old, into a small room overcrowded with 100 of Houston’s homeless and neediest people.

They have come off the searing hot pavement to Lord of the Streets, an Episcopal Church and clinic on Fannin Street, for the free lunch, but first they must fill rows of foldout chairs and listen to uplifting testimonials from others like them.

Many in the audience do not know there is a guest speaker until the 6-foot-8 J.R. Richard wades through the aisle toward the pulpit.

“I don’t have no psychology degree,” he says during a private aside, “but sometimes it don’t take that.”

A church? A pulpit? Might there be a specific reason for Richard speaking at this location?

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Despite a few holy ghosts, sweet Father's Day story involving a major-league catcher warms the heart

Despite a few holy ghosts, sweet Father's Day story involving a major-league catcher warms the heart

Heartwarming. Powerful. Definitely worth a read.

All of those descriptions fit a Father's Day sports column published by The Detroit News.

The piece by John Niyo concerns the personal journey of Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann and his wife, Jessica, as they brought premature twin sons into the world six months ago. My friend Ron Hadfield, a longtime Tigers fan, tipped me to the story. 

I mostly loved it. But — if you'll indulge just a little constructive criticism — I thought it was haunted by a few holy ghosts. As in, I wish the writer had been a bit more specific in places about the couple's faith. More on that in a moment.

First, let's check out the compelling opening:

DETROIT  It’s not just the double vision he gets every day. Sometimes, it feels like James McCann is looking in the mirror, too.

The Tigers’ stalwart catcher sees it before he heads to work most afternoons, and often when he gets home at night as well, depending on how late the Rally Goose keeps him at the ballpark. He’ll take one look at his sons, Christian and Kane  6-month-old twins with a remarkable story to share on Father’s Day  and Christian will give him one right back.

“He’ll give me those eyebrows like, ‘What are you lookin’ at?’” McCann said, laughing as he dressed in the Tigers’ clubhouse before a game this week against the Twins, of course. “And my parents both say, ‘Yep, that was you.’

“Christian is a little bit more laid-back. Kane, he’ll let you know how he feels. And he’s a little bit quicker to smile, quicker to laugh, where Christian is more stoic, stone-faced, sort of like, ‘You’re gonna have to work for this smile.’”

At that, McCann, who celebrated his 28th birthday Wednesday, cracks a smile of his own  a grin, really  and the square-jawed stoicism is nowhere to be found. Funny what fatherhood can do to a man, or as his wife Jessica notes, what six blessed months can do for a young couple raising premature babies.

Keep reading, and the writer explains the nature of the high-risk pregnancy and how the boys were born 10 weeks early and weighed only 3 pounds each. 

And then there's the first mention of faith:

The McCanns would spend the next seven weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, and for a time, James and his wife were only allowed to hold the twins once a day. The doctors and nurses made no promises early on, but the parents parried any doubts with prayer. The devout couple named the firstborn Christian, and they settled on Kane for the second boy after looking up the name and learning it meant “little warrior.”

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Grab a tissue before reading this: A young Astros fan got a home run ball, and this is why it's so special

Grab a tissue before reading this: A young Astros fan got a home run ball, and this is why it's so special

I love baseball, even though my beloved Texas Rangers didn't make the playoffs this season.

As a Texas fan, I'm finding it especially difficult to root for either team in the American League Championship Series. That best-of-seven series, tied 2-2 heading into today's Game 5, pits the Evil Empire (the New York Yankees) vs. the Rangers' in-state rival (the Houston Astros). I don't suppose there's any way that both teams could lose, is there?

But seriously, folks ...

My friend David, a minister in Houston, alerted me to a tear-jerking feature story about a young Astros fan who ended up with a home run ball. This story almost makes me want to root for Houston. Almost.

The piece ran at the top of the Houston Chronicle's front page today. And yes, there's a religion angle. More on that in a moment.

"I don't know if you saw this, but it brought me to tears in public when I read it," David said. "Great writing."

Although I subscribe to the Chronicle, I hadn't read it yet today, so I appreciated my friend calling my attention to this story.

The lede:

When Amanda Riley arrived at Minute Maid Park for Game 1 of the Astros-Yankees American League Championship Series, she couldn't contain her tears.
"We walk in, and all I'm seeing are families and dads holding their sons up," Riley said. "The whole time all I could think about was that we're there as a family, too, but we're missing one."
Four weeks earlier, 15-year-old Cade Riley — Amanda and Mike Riley's oldest son — died in an all-terrain vehicle accident on a trail near the family's home in Liberty Hill.
Since then, Amanda, Mike and their son Carson had trouble finding the motivation to leave the house as a family.
Mike knew it was time, and he made a decision that put his family directly in the path of a crucial Carlos Correa home run and made their youngest son the center of media attention and the object of Astros players' affection. 

Keep reading, and the Chronicle offers relevant details on how the family ended up at two ALCS games in Houston last week — and on the providential circumstances that seemed to surround their time at Minute Maid Park. No, the newspaper never uses the phrase "providential circumstances," but the family's quotes make no doubt that they see them as such.

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Culture War Night at Kauffman Stadium: Kansas City Royals draw criticism for anti-abortion ads

Culture War Night at Kauffman Stadium: Kansas City Royals draw criticism for anti-abortion ads

"Thank you, God, for the Kansas City Royals," my friend Cheryl said on Facebook recently.

Like me, Cheryl is a devoted and long-suffering Texas Rangers fan. Sadly, our team is off to a rotten start this season. But at least the Rangers are doing better -- but just barely -- than the Royals, who have the worst record in the American League. (Except, as my friend Murray will be quick to point out, Kansas City won the World Series in 2015, something Texas never has done.)

But forget that baseball religion angle for a minute. This week, the Royals are receiving a bit of national media attention unrelated to their 25-32 record.

A welcome diversion perhaps? Probably not. Yes, there is a non-baseball religion hook here, too.

It seems that Tuesday turned into a sort of unofficial Culture War Night, as USA Today reports:

A national women's advocacy organization says it will fly a banner over the Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, protesting the team’s advertising agreement with an anti-abortion group. The banner will appear before the Royals’ game against the Houston Astros.
The advocacy group, UltraViolet, is calling for the Royals to cut ties with the Vitae Foundation, an anti-abortion group based in Jefferson City, Mo., that has branded ads on video boards at Royals games and is advertising on the team’s radio broadcasts.
The banner, which will read, “ROYALS FANS DESERVE TRUTH — DROP VITAE,” comes as a result of the Royals’ continued affiliation with Vitae.

Since we focus on journalism here at GetReligion, I have three questions about this story. I'll try not to swing and miss, but I can't promise that.

1. Is this really national news?

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Baseball ghostbusters: Digging deeper into the faith of Texas Rangers third base coach who beat cancer

Baseball ghostbusters: Digging deeper into the faith of Texas Rangers third base coach who beat cancer

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.

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