PAWTUCKET – It’s Sunday morning in the PawSox clubhouse, a time of day when players and coaches alike seek to shake the sleep out of their eyes in preparation for that day’s 1:05 first pitch.
Everyone has their own routine. For some, the crossword puzzle beckons. Others, a trip to the indoor hitting cage is imperative. Then there’s kicking back on the plush leather sofa to watch what the majority deems is acceptable on television. Sometimes it’s a movie; other times, like this past Sunday morn, the viewing is the Summer Olympics.
For a change, the deafening and bombastic musical tones are filtering in from the weight room that’s adjacent to the office of manager Arnie Beyeler. The locker room portion of the clubhouse is eerily calm, even devoid of the standard games that populate the tables that also function as an eating station.
While these typical nocturnal creatures attempt to make the transition from nighttime baseball to a game played with blue skies taking the place of light towers, a middle-aged man dressed in a button-down shirt and khakis walks around the room. He delivers a simple message – the time when chapel service will be held.
It’s now 11:30 and a group of Pawtucket players head toward the wives’ lounge. Behind this closed door represents a chance to break away from the grind for just a few short minutes before resuming the task of readiness.
The aforementioned gentleman, who seems always to sport a smile on his face, is the team chaplain. His work and ministry is commissioned by Baseball Chapel, which – according to the organization’s website – operates in conjunction with Major and Minor League Baseball “and is responsible for the appointment and oversight for all team chapel leaders.”
The origins of Baseball Chapel date back to the early 1960s when players from the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins partook in chapel services on road trips. In 1973, a proposal was presented to then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn that would grant each MLB team the right to organize a religious-themed arrangement.
By 1975, all major league teams had a chapel program with the same practice being adopted in the minors in 1978.
As the website stresses, Baseball Chapel is open to people of all faiths and religious beliefs. “The track record Baseball Chapel has demonstrated over four decades of service shows that the organization has never sought to be divisive, intrusive or to exclude anyone of another faith.”
Today, chapel programs are established for all 210 major- and minor-league teams and many independent league clubs. Under the umbrella of Baseball Chapel, the Red Sox provide chapel services for all affiliates ranging from the parent club down to extended spring training. According to numbers provided by Baseball Chapel, approximately 3,000 baseball-related types take the time to attend chapel each week.
It goes without saying that the chaplain whose home base is McCoy Stadium – Baseball Chapel has a strict rule of not allowing those entrusted to perform in a spiritual capacity to grant interviews – doesn’t have much lag time on Sunday mornings. His first service of the day is reserved for members of the PawSox front office. Next up are the players from the home and visiting teams with the sessions held independent of one other. The final constituency to receive divine counsel is the umpiring crew.
While the chaplain is prohibited from speaking about his message – think along the lines of a priest giving a homily – one PawSox player shared some insight as to what ground is covered.
“The messages are not based off how the team’s doing,” notes relief pitcher Garrett Mock. “We’ve been going through a series all season long. It’s just a little bit at a time, going through a few (Bible) passages that are connected and have importance placed in different areas. It may have to do with family or personal growth.
“The way (the PawSox’ chaplain) puts it all together is something he has a real talent for,” Mock continued. “The way he carries himself is a great example.”
Having Sunday chapel services at the ballpark is something that Daniel Bard readily anticipates. In fact, the reliever went so far as to say that he looks forward to associating with his baseball brethren in a spiritual manner.
“It’s something that allows us to focus on what’s important and put everything in perspective,” said Bard. “(Chapel) allows us to connect with other guys on the team who think and feel the same way I do. Plus it’s a good way to support each other.”