Evangelism in Major League Baseball

ByABC News
August 22, 2006, 3:34 PM

Aug. 22, 2006 — -- With baseball players pointing a finger to the heavens after slugging a home run and athletes thanking God for their accomplishments, religion has become common in sports, but the Atlanta Braves has brought it to a whole new level. Atlanta is the first major league sports team to openly celebrate religion at its games, calling these celebrations Faith Days.

"[As athletes] we're put a little bit too high on a stage sometimes, and one thing that gets confusing for the young kids is that, when you see a celebrity or you see an athlete, they take advantage of the stage in the wrong way. What I hope to do is take advantage of it in the right way today and share with you my personal faith on Faith Day," said Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz at the Braves' first Faith Day event at Turner Field on July 27.

"I want to share with the young generation as well as your parent ... the fact that we have bought into some really, really bad principles throughout the world. I've heard, Oh, John, it's easy for you to share your faith, you got wealth, power, fame ... you got a family, you got a nice house. ... I'd be telling you that would be a lie. It is the hardest thing in the world to do, 'cause those are major distractions that we gravitate toward, having more money, more fame, more power. It doesn't satisfy," Smoltz said.

Braves pitcher Chris Reitsma and alum Sid Bream have also volunteered to share their most intimate, spiritual experiences with fans. Gospel Music Association Award winning Christian bands perform at these events.

The recent debut of Faith Days at the Major League baseball level has, however, raised the hackles of some critics.

Dave Zirin, sportswriter and author of "What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States," said that Faith Days "mark a tremendous step backward for the sport because baseball has always been the great secular Americanizer for people of all nationalities. Religion belongs in Major League baseball about as much as fish belong on bicycles."

Brent High, president of Third Coast Sports and the mastermind behind these events, said that his challenge was "to get people to understand that this is not a Billy Graham crusade."