Baseball and Faith | May 1, 2013

Sports & Spiritual Living

Affeldt, Jeremy. To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice, and Major League Baseball. Beacon Hill. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9780834130517. $21.99. SPORTS/SPIRITUAL LIVING

In this autobiography, San Francisco Giants relief pitcher and two-time World Series Champion Affeldt details his transformation from an arrogant, self-centered military brat to a fully committed follower of Christ, dedicated to social justice and activism. Although the title is clearly written from a Christian perspective, and will likely be enjoyed most by people of that persuasion, Affeldt tells his story in a way that is both humble and highly personal as he chronicles his journey from childhood to the big leagues. One refreshing aspect of the book is that it focuses on what happens after his conversion rather than ending at that point. Affeldt writes sincerely about his quest to live the Gospel as a major league baseball player, sprinkling spiritual themes throughout the narrative, as well as discussions of global issues such as human trafficking, sweatshops, and poverty. VERDICT Lacking the typical emphasis on personal salvation in spiritual testimonies, this book offers a much broader view, and is thus both relevant and readable for a wider audience of baseball fans, believers, and those interested in issues of social justice.

Florea, Jesse & Mike Yorkey. Playing With Purpose: Mariano Rivera; The Closer Who Got Saved. Barbour. (Playing With Purpose). 2013. 144p. notes. photogs. ISBN 9781620298213. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781620299999. SPORTS/SPIRITUAL LIVING

The latest volume in the “Playing with Purpose” series, this is a faith-filled story of five-time World Series Champion and 1999 World Series MVP Mariano Rivera, from his childhood in Panama through the 2012 season (which he missed because of injury). Arguably the greatest closer in the history of baseball, Rivera is also a devout Christian. Yorkey (former editor, Focus on the Family magazine), author of several volumes in this series, and Florea (editor, Focus on the FamilyThe One Year Sports Devotions for Kids) write for an evangelical Christian audience and tend to emphasize the feel-good aspects and spiritual lessons that can be drawn from Rivera’s life and career. The book is easy to read; filled with color illustrations, it will appeal to fans and believers of all ages. It resembles a piece in Guideposts or Reader’s Digest, lacking depth and complexity and filled with sugary and occasionally oversimplified biblical applications. ­VERDICT Likely to be enjoyed by its target audience of evangelical Christians and fans of this style of writing. Other Rivera fans will have to wait for a more comprehensive biography.

Rains, Rob. Intentional Walk: An Inside Look at the Faith that Drives the St. Louis Cardinals. Thomas Nelson. 2013. 232p. ISBN 9780849964589. pap. $15.99. SPORTS/SPIRITUAL LIVING

In a book that’s equal parts faith and baseball, baseball writer Rains (Tony La Russa: Man on a Mission) offers an exclusive look at life inside the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse as the team attempted to defend its 2011 World Series championship led by a rookie coach and man of faith, Mike Matheny. Each chapter begins with a Bible verse and focuses on the career and spiritual life of one or two members of the Cardinals organization who are practicing Christians, including the equipment manager, a broadcaster, and players ranging from minor league prospects to stars such as Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday. Each story offers insights into remaining faithful to God through all of life’s successes and failures. Some of the recurring spiritual themes throughout are following God’s will, seeing the big picture, dealing with adversity, using one’s God-given abilities, and living out the Christian life in both words and actions. Overall it is an enjoyable read, despite the abundance of truisms and occasional post-game interview tone (and consequent lack of depth).VERDICT Recommended for Christian baseball enthusiasts; all Cardinals fans may enjoy the player profiles.

Library Journal Reviews starred review Sexton, John & others. Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game. Gotham. 2013. 352p. index. ISBN 9781592407545. $27.50. SPORTS/SPIRITUAL LIVING

After more than a decade teaching a course on this topic, Sexton (president, New York Univ.) shares some of his insights in this elegant meditation on the ways in which baseball evokes the essence of religion. Drawing on the work of religious historian Mircea Eliade, Sexton’s reflections develop out of the foundational concepts of the ineffable and hierophany. The first refers to that which is indescribable in words but known through experience. The second is the breakthrough of the sacred into the ordinary world. Building on these shared starting points, Sexton further explores parallels between baseball and religion across topics such as sacred space and time, faith and doubt, conversion, miracles, blessings and curses, saints and sinners, community, and nostalgia. Masterfully utilizing the vast riches of baseball stories, and liberally sprinkling supporting thoughts from luminaries such as Yogi Berra and Abraham Heschel, Sexton creates a convincing case that baseball, like religion, “can awaken us to a dimension of life often missing in our contemporary world.” VERDICT Contrary to what his title implies, Sexton’s message is more about finding a sense of the spiritual than of finding God. This is an essential read for baseball fans of all spiritual and religious perspectives.