Tuesday, October 3, 2023

My Favorite Double-Play: Jesus and Baseball

Last month I attended Mass at a very interesting location. The Archdiocese of Hartford had a “Faith and Family” event at Dunkin Park, the home of the Hartford Yard Goats professional baseball team. “The Dunk,” as the facility is affectionately known, is one of the most beautiful minor league ballparks in America.

The Yard Goats’ Saturday evening game was scheduled to begin shortly after 6 p.m., but before then, at 4 o’clock, a Catholic Mass was held, celebrated by Archbishop Leonard Blair. The Archbishop was going to be either on the field or on top of one of the dugout roofs (I heard different stories, so I’m not sure which location was correct). But that day, the weather was ominous, so it was decided to set up the altar in a room inside the building and use a video camera to display the Mass on the jumbo screen in left field.

Fortunately, the rain held off until the Mass was over. Unfortunately, when the rain began around 5:30, it never stopped. After a couple of hours the scheduled ballgame was postponed. However, in the “count your blessings” department, all the hot dog stands were open for business!

As someone who immensely enjoys being inside a baseball stadium — even if no game is taking place — I had a delightful time. We had an inspiring Mass, then hot dogs and popcorn, and then some wonderful conversation with friends as we sat in the stands (under an overhang, out of the rain), while looking out at one of the prettiest sights in all the world: an emerald green baseball field. I know many people were disappointed the game never took place, but all in all, I had a terrific evening.
The Mass itself was very interesting. Since it began two hours before the game was supposed to begin, most of the people present at that time were there for the Mass. Because the Archbishop was on the jumbo screen rather than on the field (or on a dugout roof), there was no need for everyone to congregate in one section of the park. So, we were scattered all over, and it was fascinating to see over a thousand people standing and sitting and offering the Mass responses in unison — but from every corner of the ballpark. (By the way, there is no room to kneel with a standard stadium seat, so we all were exempt from that for this Mass, something my creaky knees really appreciated.)

There were other people present during Mass — food vendors, ushers, grounds crew personnel, and members of the media. I noticed some puzzled looks when more than one thousand people stood and began reciting the Lord’s Prayer together. I suspect the word had not circulated to everyone that a Catholic Mass was going to take place inside the ballpark. It was quite an impressive opportunity to witness to folks who either had not been to Mass in years or were unfamiliar with the Catholic Liturgy.

The best part of the event was the homily by Fr. Anthony Federico, who is also the vocation director for the Archdiocese. He gave a very nice message about the Gospel reading, but before that, he talked about his journey to the priesthood. Before answering God’s call to become a priest, Fr. Anthony was a sports writer for ESPN in Bristol. He attended all kinds of major sporting events and wrote about them, but his favorite sport by far is baseball. Father waxed eloquently about the beauty and grace of the game, plus the unique symphony of sounds heard inside a ballpark. As he passionately spoke, I thought to myself, “I’ve always considered myself a baseball nut, but this guy puts me to shame. He is REALLY into this game!”
So, obviously, a Catholic priest who is also a big, big fan of baseball is without a doubt a man after my own heart. 

It was a great evening despite the rainy weather, because it involved two of my most favorite things: worshiping God and baseball. (And sometimes during a heated pennant race, I might not list those things in that order.) I can’t wait until next year’s Faith and Family night at The Dunk.

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