This is a special time of the year for baseball fans. The month of July always features the All-Star Game, the meeting of the best players of American and National leagues in what sometimes is called the “Midsummer Classic.” For more than 50 years now, the fans of the Great American Pastime have been given the opportunity to select the members of the teams that are considered to be the elite of the sport who will participate in this contest.
Yet, this summer, I decided to try something different. Rather than cast my usual votes for the ballot of those who will take to the diamond in T-Mobile Park in Seattle, I have chosen to create a roster of the members of the Communion of Saints which I believe would comprise the finest team who could defeat the squad fielded by the Devil in the baseball game of life. Why not join me as I make my personal selections, and, by all means, feel free to complete your own ballot of favorite pious picks.
Catcher: The catcher is one of the most unsung heroes on a baseball team. Not only is a catcher expected to assume the humble task of signaling and receiving all pitches, both good and bad, there also is an expectation that the catcher serves much like a field commander who positions the other players on the ball diamond and galvanizes a united spirit. Some of the best catchers in the history of the game, like Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Josh Gibson, often were compared to generals. In such a spirit, I cast my vote for the holy position of catcher for the 14th-century saint from Siena, Catherine. St. Catherine of Siena was not afraid to signal popes and anti-popes and command other leaders in the Church to reunite in a Holy Communion following the Great Western Schism.
First Base: Those who play the position of first base often are known for two characteristics. For one, they often wield a powerful bat and drive in many runs. Second, they often are large in size and stature because they are tasked with capturing all of the throws which seek to prevent batters from reaching base. They often serve as a noble target, like a lamp on a lampstand (Matthew 5:15-16), focusing on the importance of this position. Both Willie McCovey and Hank Greenberg stood 6 feet, 4 inches in regal splendor. In such a spirit, I cast my vote for the holy position of first base for the leader of the Church in the Dark Ages, Pope Gregory. The title of “the Great” was bestowed upon Gregory for serving as the light which brought a saving light to the Dark Ages, a light greatly needed in our own day and time.
Second Base: While contemporary players who play second base often receive as much adulation and attention as other baseball stars, there was a time when their role was much more subtle. “Second sackers” usually were seasoned and crafty players whose placement, timing, team spirit and complimentary role enabled the bigger stars to play at an even greater level. The steady, quiet and clutch play of competitors like Nellie Fox and Red Schoendienst served loyally behind the scenes to elevate their teams to a championship level. In such a spirit, I cast my vote for the holy position of second base for the 19th-century Carmelite of Lisieux, Therese of the Child Jesus. Her imperturbable, unflappable “little way of love” inspired not only the Carmel team but the whole Church to do the “little things” with great love and thus with amazing sanctity and effectiveness.
Third Base: It is for good reason that the position of third base regularly is referred to as the “Hot Corner.” The hardest hit and fastest traveling batted balls speed like rockets toward those who assume this spot on the ball diamond. That is why the players who have excelled in this role also seem to be known for their daring, courage and feisty spirit. George Brett, Mike Schmidt and Ray Dandridge are three of the finest who patrolled the “Hot Corner,” daring those in the batter’s box to try to hit the ball past them and urging their own team to imitate their strength and resolve. In such a spirit, I cast my vote for the holy position of third base for St. John Paul II, the gutsy and great pope who constantly encouraged the Church to “Be not afraid.” He dared all of us Catholic teammates to play the game of life not just in a holy way but a saintly manner.
Shortstop: The most difficult of all of the defensive positions in the infield is the shortstop. That is because the shortstop has the largest space to cover and the most challenging angles from which to throw the ball (e.g., deep in the hole behind second or third base). Some of the finest ballplayers to field this position have been Luis Aparicio, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr. and Derek Jeter. The fluidity of their movement seems to allow them to cover so much ground that they field plays in a near miraculous manner. In such a spirit, I cast my vote for the holy position of shortstop for St. Michael the Archangel. The name of Michael signifies “one who is like God,” and it is fitting that he is the one the Lord has designated throughout history to serve as a protector and defender whose saving intercession so often comes to our rescue.
Left Field: Possibly, it is merely by coincidence, or maybe it is because there are a multiple number of outfielders on a baseball team, but history shows that those who play this position tend to be the best hitters in the game. In fact, the top five players who lead all of baseball in career hits primarily were outfielders (Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker). Many outfielders are so adept at making contact with the baseball that base hits seem to fly off their bats like rain falling from the clouds, bringing forth a bountiful harvest of runs. In such a spirit, I cast my vote for the holy position of left field for Francis Xavier, the 16th-century missionary saint of the Society of Jesus. The passionate love for the Lord and the evangelical zeal of St. Francis Xavier were so great that a similar bountiful harvest of hits sprang from his missionary work in the Far East, resulting in more than 30,000 Baptisms.
Center Field: It sometimes is said that the greatest of center fielders are born and not made. Perhaps that is because there are a number of athletes who have played the game of baseball with what is called the “Five Tools” — speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and throwing. The talent of players like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Dave Winfield and Ken Griffey Jr. was so radiant that it seems like they were touched by grace in the womb and destined for the Baseball Hall of Fame at birth. In such a spirit, I cast my vote for the holy position of center field for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. After all, she truly was touched by grace in the womb, and her array of sanctity and spiritual tools are such that poets have called her the greatest boast of our human nature and, as such, the model for what discipleship is meant to be.
Right Field: Among the many players who have played the position of right field, some of the most memorable of them have been known for their powerful throwing arms. Some of the best arms possessed by right fielders belonged to Roberto Clemente, Ichiro Suzuki and Carl Furillo. Furillo was so adept at throwing out base runners that he was given the nickname the “Reading (Pennsylvania) Rifle.” A strong arm actually is critical to play in right field, especially when runners are seeking to advance to third base. Interestingly, the pages of the Holy Bible are filled with references to the strong right hand or arm of the Lord (Psalm 118:16-17) with which he works mighty deeds. In such a spirit, I cast my vote for the holy position of right field for Alphonsus Liguori, the 18th-century saintly founder of the Redemptorist religious community and an esteemed moral theologian. He was deemed the “patron saint of moral theologians” by Pope Pius XII and was known for blending Sacred Scripture and pastoral theology in his writing to help confessors to prevent sin from scoring.
Pitcher: Present-day baseball fans seem to favor pitchers who primarily throw fastballs and do so with immense velocity. However, I always have favored those who ascend the mound more so as pitchers and not just as throwers. I have been fascinated by pitchers who can change speed and location and the rotation of the ball to coax batters to make outs and ultimately secure victories. Pitchers like Whitey Ford and Greg Maddux were like scholars on the ballfield. In such a spirit, I cast my vote for the holy position of pitcher for St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century Dominican scholar whose system of theological thought was so respected that he has been called the “Angelic Doctor.” Moreover, Aquinas also was gifted with a profound spirituality, manifested in such reverential hymns as Adoro Te Devote, O Salutaris Hostia, Panis Angelicus and Pange Lingua Gloriosi (Tantum Ergo Sacramentum). How well the “Angelic Doctor” has equipped us Catholic teammates with a repertoire of pitches to secure wins for the glory of God.