FIRST-PERSON: 'We're Christians ... well, sort of'

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--“Rockies seek revival on and off field,” declared the headline on the front page of USA Today on May 31. The accompanying story sought to tie the recent turnaround of Colorado’s major league baseball team to character, paying special attention to the Christian faith of some players and members of the team’s management.

Colorado tied for the second worst record in the major leagues last year. But this year the club is enjoying its best season since 1995 and is only four games out of first place in the National League’s West Division.

The article described the Rockies’ clubhouse as being virtually free of pornography, obscene music and profanity. It also stated that the organization, while “open to other religious beliefs,” embraces “a Christian based code of conduct.”

Yet some Colorado players took issue with the story the same day it appeared, describing it as “over the top” in its portrayal of the team as “Christian.”

“We’re dirt bags, like 99 percent of the world,” Todd Helton, a team member and a professing Christian, told the Rocky Mountain News. “Maybe worse, because we are baseball players.”

“I get Maxim" -- a magazine that features pictures of scantily clad women -- "sent to me in the clubhouse,” Helton said, reacting to the report that no “men’s magazines” graced the clubhouse.

In reference to the claim that Bibles are readily available in the clubhouse, team member Aaron Cook -- another professing Christian, told the Denver Post, “I have never seen a Bible [out in the open] in our clubhouse.” He added, “Most of the guys on this team are Christians, but not all of them.”

I read the USA Today article and it made it clear that while the Rockies management is overwhelmingly made up of Christians, the element emphasized on the team is character, and not Christianity.

“You don’t hear about [Christianity] so much with their players,” San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers said. “But you hear about it with their front office.”

"We don't just go after Christian players," Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd said. "That would be unfair to others. We go after players of character."

“They do preach character and good living here,” Rockies’ pitcher Jason Jennings said. “... Nobody is going to push their beliefs on each other or make judgments.”

Upon learning that many of the Rockies are Christians, fan Tim Boettcher told USA Today, “I had no idea they were a Christian team ... I would love for them to talk about their Christianity publicly.”

I don’t think Boettcher is going to get his wish, though, given the fact that some of the Rockies are upset that USA Today "outed" them as Christians.

The report, as well as the Rockies’ subsequent reaction, raises a couple of questions.

First, if you are a Christian, why would you be upset with a story that featured positive elements about your faith and lifestyle?

What is wrong with the fact that the clubhouse is free of porn magazines, filthy language and suggestive music? If nothing else, it seems like an environment that would be safe for a players’ family to enter -- no matter what the motivation is.

What is wrong with the public knowing there are Scripture quotations posted in the weight room, or that chapel services are packed on Sundays and prayer groups are well-attended?

The reactions of some of the Christian members on the team strike me as a bit odd. Are they afraid that players on other teams will tease them or call them names? Do they think they will be viewed as soft?

The second question I have is this: Why is the Rockies’ emphasis on character and the faith of many of its members warranted a front page story in USA Today?

It is obvious from quotes in the paper’s story that the Rockies owners and management do not force Christianity on anyone.

Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said, “It’s interesting [the report that the Rockies owners are Christians], but I had no idea. I don’t think any of us do.”

Given all that is going on in the world, how does the fact that a Major League Baseball team has owners, and a significant number of players, that are Christians rate as front-page news?

If USA Today was trying to portray the Rockies as a bunch of narrow-minded Bible bigots, it failed miserably. My only disappointment is that some Christians on the team chose to distance themselves from positive aspects of their faith.

Boggs is editor of the Baptist Message newspaper in Louisiana.

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