As the National League champion Colorado Rockies enjoy their record-long eight-day layoff before the World Series, where they'll meet either the Cleveland Indians or the Boston Red Sox, there's one thing they're likely to do a lot of besides working out:
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The team's chief executive is a born-again Christian. So is the general manager and the team coach. Their two star players, along with many other members of their regular line-up, are not only believers but attend team-organised Bible studies.
The team doesn't like to talk about it much – mainly because the overlords of Major League Baseball don't think it's good for business – but they have an explicit policy to recruit as many Christian ball players as they can.
In other words, the Rockies – uniquely, even in a country as religion-obsessed as America – play faith-based baseball. And, in their view, God just rewarded them – big time.
"You look at some of the moves we made and didn't make," general manager Dan O'Dowd said in the only interview he has given on the subject, long before the Rockies' remarkable ascension over the past few weeks. "You look at some of the games we're winning. Those aren't just a coincidence. God has definitely had a hand in this."
I don't have a problem with athletes -- or, for that matter, anyone -- being religious or even ascribing their success in life to their chosen deity. But, seriously, with all that's going on in the world, why would God or Buddha or Cthulhu or whoever give a rat's ass about a baseball game?
What bothers me more than anything in this context is the degree to which ballplayers will ascribe their team's success to God. What exactly makes one team more worthy of God's grace than the other team? If the Rockies are God's team, did he smite the Diamondbacks and the Padres to get His team to the World Series? Is God preparing to curse the Indians or Red Sox with locusts or plagues or jock itch? And if this is what God's priorities are, shouldn't we all be a little nervous?
But all this raises the question: why would a baseball team, in an industry notorious for such evil, unholy, horrible things as foul language, beer guzzling, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, link themselves so closely to Jeeeeeeezus?
Until O'Dowd and other club officials talked about their faith, in an article that apppeared in USA Today, the Rockies' faith-based approach was kept so secret it came as news even to other ball players and managers who face the Rockies 15 or 20 times a year. After the USA Today piece came out, the team managers clearly felt embarrassed at the revelation and have never mentioned it again.
But Christianity guides their clubhouse like nothing else. Players are not allowed pictures of naked women on their lockers. They don't listen to loud, obscenity-laden rap music like other clubs. Players are strongly encouraged to attend chapel every Sunday, and Bible studies on Tuesday nights.
For some people, the God-squad approach is too much. "They have a great group of guys over there but I've never been in a clubhouse where Christianity is the main purpose," one former Rockies player, Mark Sweeney, told USA Today. "You wonder if some people are going along with it just to keep their jobs."
The Rockies' come-to-Jesus moment came three years ago, when a pitcher called Denny Neagle was charged with soliciting a prostitute. The club decided to swallow the $16m (£8m) remaining on his contract – a huge sum, for a club with a total budget less than three times that – and let him go for the sake of moral purity.
The Neagle episode convinced them that Christian values and clean living were the best ways to build a winning team spirit. It didn't hurt that Colorado is home to several high-profile evangelical organisations. The beer-producing Coors family, whose name adorns the Rockies' home stadium, have a long history of involvement in conservative Christian groups. Colorado Springs, the town where the Rockies nurture their up-and-coming talent, is home to Focus on the Family, the powerful right-wing political lobbying group, as well as evangelical publishers and several mega-churches.
Of course! The batshit crazy fundie Coors/Dobson influence! Funny, I never thought of Colorado as much of a bastion of fundie whackjobs, even though (or maybe especially because) it borders Utah, but then again, Colorado is home to "South Park" and the "utopia" of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, so maybe it's not that far-fetched after all ...
And for the fundie Christian (read: batshit crazy conservative white people) fans of the Rockies, there's an added bonus to their team's piety:
One side-effect of the policy – one never discussed in American sports circles – is that the Rockies are one of the whitest teams in baseball. The game is dominated by players from the Caribbean and Latin America, but somehow the Rockies have a roster with one fresh-scrubbed all-American farm boy after another. Their catcher is Venezuelan, their second baseman is Japanese, but otherwise they are whiter than white.
Now I'm starting to understand why Tom Tancredo keeps getting elected to Congress ...
Well, when you settle in to watch the Fall Classic beginning next Wednesday, remember that a Rockie home run or an error by the American League champ may not be just baseball. It might just be GOD'S WILL!
Even though their success might be driven by an angel, I guess it's a good thing for the Rockies' sake that they don't have to play the Angels ...
(cross-posted at Blast Off!)