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God in the Game - How Baseball Chapel Helps Keep Players Spiritually in Tune

BCN Exclusive Interview by Aimee Herd : Sep 29, 2006  Baseball

"The service we provide is important because of the very nature of baseball . . . team chaplains are available to meet with any member of the team to provide spiritual encouragement in times of need."

As regular play winds down, Major League Baseball (MLB) is gearing-up for the race to the "Fall Classic" . . . the World Series. The baseball season is a long one, with constant road-trips and little time at home with family, so where do weary players derive inspiration and support to push on? How does a Christian player in Major League Baseball stay on track, not just athletically, but spiritually?

Vince Nauss is the President of Baseball Chapel, an organization which has functioned for more than 30 years, as a service to those involved in professional baseball, who cannot attend their regular church, or who wish to go deeper in their faith, during the season.  The ministry of Baseball Chapel is international, and recognized by both the Major and Minor Leagues.  Each week, around 3,000 players, coaches, team staff members, families and others participate.

A long time baseball fan myself, I was curious about the spiritual well-being of Christian players in the MLB, so I turned to the Baseball Chapel president and posed a few questions . . .

How do you see the role of baseball chaplains affecting Major League Baseball players; why is it important today?

The Baseball Chapel appoints team chaplains in every major and minor league city, and they are there to serve the team. They not only provide a Sunday Chapel service and a weekly Bible study, but they are available to meet with any member of the team to provide spiritual encouragement in times of need. The service we provide is important because of the very nature of baseball - the long season with very few days off, the intensity and pressure to succeed, the temptations that come with being professional athletes, and the inability for those who value faith to be plugged into a regular church for a majority of the calendar year.

What are some of the challenges team chaplains face, and what are some of the greatest rewards?

The biggest challenge we face is the lack of time. The average time for chapel services is only about 20 minutes and mid-week Bible studies are often only 45 minutes. Considering that we are meeting with the players while they are at their workplace, that is pretty amazing, but that is not much time to really make an impact. Players have so many demands on their schedule at home that limits the amount of time they have to meet one-on-one with the team chapel leaders. They have much more time available while on road trips, but chaplains rarely travel with the team since their role is voluntary, and they have other responsibilities that do not allow them to just pick up and go to be with the team.

How do chaplains approach being inclusive or available to all the players, regardless of their faith?

We realize that not everyone will attend chapel services or Bible studies, but we make it a point to be visible and available to every player, coach, and team personnel, so that should they face a situation in which they need to talk to someone, they will at least be familiar with the chaplain. Also, our people will refer players of other faiths to someone else when asked.

How often is a typical baseball chaplain connected with their team during playing season - once or twice a week? Daily?

Generally twice or three times a week when the team is home - Sunday Chapel, mid-week Bible study and perhaps one other day just to be available prior to the game.

What about during the off season?

In cases where players live in the same city they play or in another major league city, there is generally interaction either one-on-one with the chaplain or he may lead a weekly bible study. But we encourage players to attend a local church of their choice in the off-season.

Do you ever get help in the "ministry dept" by players who take an active role in ministering to fellow players on their team?

There are many instances of players taking an active role in ministering to teammates. Some lead a Bible study when they are away on road trips. Some gather teammates together for a brief few minutes of prayer before almost every game. Lance Berkman (Houston), Mike Matheny (San Francisco), Mike Sweeney (Kansas City) are a few such players.

Is there a need for more ministers to take an interest in being a chaplain for Major League Baseball?

Baseball Chapel has a network of approximately 500 volunteers, and every year there is some turnover. So we are always looking for people interested in serving. Those who desire to be part of Baseball Chapel can sign up on our website to be considered when an opening occurs with a team in their area.

Can you talk about some of the players whom you have really connected with, and what kind of difference you feel this has made in their lives?

We do not talk [with the media] about ministry with specific players [in order to respect their privacy], but have always preferred to have players speak for themselves about what the Lord has done in their lives.

One of those such players is Mariano Rivera of the NY Yankees, MLB's top closing pitcher. In an interview by Bob Bellone for Sports Spectrum, Rivera, speaking of sharing his faith with others, said, ". . . I'm not shy about the Gospel, God never was shy about me, so why should I be shy about Him?"

In the lifestyle of baseball, with its many distractions, it's good to know there are people helping to keep Christian athletes on track in their walks with the Lord. To find out more about the work of Baseball Chapel, visit the website at the link below.

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