I make it out to the US most summers, but when I don’t, there is one thing I miss more than absolutely anything: a baseball game. I have many fond memories of exciting baseball games in the heat of summer, cheering on my beloved Oakland A’s or San Francisco Giants (we’re equal opportunity Bay Area supporters at my house). And since April is the month of Opening Day, I thought I’d round up something about Mormons and baseball.
In their 2007 book, British Baseball and the West Ham Club, Josh Chetwynd and Brian A. Belton discuss a baseball team called the Catford Saints. The team competed in the 1930s-era London Major Baseball League and was “unconvential” (94) for one reason: as their name suggests, it was an LDS team. The book quotes a supporter named Robert Shearer in saying,
This club comprised of young Mormon missionaries spending a customary period in the field with the object of spreading their message. I got to know some of them and they took to me. I was soon introduced to the Mormon story… I was told the story of Joseph Smith … and encouraged to take part in their evening practices at Hither Green … they played good baseball (94).
If anyone’s interested, the player cited here did not convert, “My whole interest lay in baseball and not with religious conversion” (94). Unfortunately, stories like these are often overshadowed by the infamous baseball baptism programs in Britain in the 1960s. I’m sure most of you know of the ‘program’, in which missionaries were increasingly pressured to deliver better baptism numbers. One mission stumbled onto the idea of playing sports with the kids and thus gaining an entrance into family homes; an innocent and effective strategy which was soon abused, leading to kids getting baptized without parental permission or without even really knowing what was happening. It took years to clean up the records and undo the damage.
Of course, Mormons are far from being the only church to use sports as a tool in evangelism and/or proselytizing. Most of the (Protestant) churches I have attended over the years have sponsored Athletes in Action programs at one time or another along with the traditional VBS-type day camps held most summers. My own proselytizing days are kind of behind me now, but I’d love to hear any sports-related stories you might have.
And, just because I can, I’m going to leave you with this link, giving a whole new meaning to the term “baseball baptism“. (Thank you, Google.)
1 See Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism for details (2005) (p. 241-253).
2 Vacation Bible School, see here for an impression.