Think it's hard getting through to your teenager about the importance of faith? Think it's difficult to find good role models for your kids nowadays?
Think again. Help has arrived.
Not the least problem with modern culture is its lack of real heroes. This is particularly true of sports, where we're more likely to see our athletic luminaries lined up in a police station than for Communion. Compare the Lou Gehrigs and Joe DiMaggios of yesterday to Barry Bonds and his ilk today: Almost across the board, stars of today seem to pale in comparison to their predecessors, lacking their elders' character, charisma, and class.
Well, Catholic Exchange and America Family Media are trying to change our thinking about that. They've just released Champions of Faith — Baseball Edition, a magnificent hour-long documentary on Catholic baseball players that is equal parts sports highlights, human-interest stories, and powerful evangelical tool. Featuring interviews with such well-known baseball personalities as Mike Piazza, Jeff Suppan, David Eckstein, Mike Sweeney, Jack McKeon, Rich Donnelly, and others, Champions of Faith is tailor-made for reaching out to young people and proving you don't have to be a thug in cleats to make it in the big leagues.
I'm the first to admit my interest in baseball has waned considerably. Strikes, scandals, skyrocketing salaries, and spoiled sportsmen have nearly ruined the game for me. Boycotting is about the only pleasure I still derive from the national pastime.
It wasn't always that way. Growing up, I loved the sport with red-hot passion. Back in the 1960s, baseball was a game with a soul. While always a steadfast New York Yankee fan, I admired stars from other teams, names now bringing lumps to the throat just mentioning them. Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson, Yaz, Musial, Rose, Clemente, Mays, Aaron, Oliva, Kaline, McCovey, the Robinsons and others were revered members of my personal Hall of Fame.
Nowadays, though, more major leaguers deserve to be wearing prison stripes than pin stripes. Obviously, the Vatican also is concerned with returning morality to sport. The late Pope John Paul II commented, "Sport plays an important role in the life of our society" because millions watch and participate in them. Therefore, said the Pope, it is essential to make sports "one of the frontiers of the new evangelism" and introduce Christian values through it.
This is precisely what Champions of Faith aims to do. The film focuses on the important role the Catholic faith plays in the life of an astonishing number of ballplayers.
We hear how prayer helps 2006 National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player Jeff Suppan of the St. Louis Cardinals keep his poise and composure and how teammate David Eckstein's faith helped him cope with a serious injury before coming back to be the 2006 World Series MVP. Mike Sweeney, the Kansas City Royals' first superstar since the great George Brett, explains how he fought the twin sins of despair and pride by humbling himself before God. This gave him the fortitude to apologize and seek forgiveness from a hated rival for starting a fight.
Manager Jack McKeon, with 50 years in professional baseball, tells how St. Therese, the Little Flower, helped his Florida Marlins pulled off a Big Miracle with a series of improbable comebacks in winning the 2003 World Championship. Rich Donnelly, now the Los Angeles Dodgers' third-base coach, gives irrefutable evidence that Amy, his daughter who died of a brain tumor at age 18, was up in Heaven pulling for her dad's team when the Florida Marlins won the 2003 World Series.
But perhaps my favorite episode is Mike Piazza's, the greatest hitting catcher in baseball history with 420 home runs and counting. Turns out the friendly, talkative Piazza, who has faced down 100-mph fastballs and even took a bean ball on the noggin from Rocket Roger Clemens, was totally unnerved and speechless when meeting his hero: Pope John Paul II. Piazza's spiritual life — when his team is on the road, he arranges for Mass to be said in the clubhouse — is even stronger than his bat speed.
Filmed in gorgeous, high-definition video, Champions of Faith is destined to become a classic in the revitalization of Catholic media, as rich and profound in its own way as Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, or The Passion of the Christ are in theirs. Not only will this film give your sports-loving children some men to look up to, it just might rekindle your respect for the game you loved so much as a kid.
My only question is: When do we get Champions of Faith — Football Edition?