It’s a recent Sunday morning in the Pawtucket Red Sox clubhouse, a time of day when players and coaches alike seek to shake the sleep out of their eyes. For these predominantly night-time operators, preparation for a 1:35 first pitch is a fascinating matter of personal preference.
Everyone has their own routine. For some, the crossword puzzle beckons. Others, a trip to the indoor hitting cage is imperative. The ping-pong area that’s known for featuring the intensity typically witnessed at Wimbledon is flush with hard serves and friendly banter. 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 remote control finds the channel featuring the World Cup.
While these typically 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 navy-blue polo shirt and khakis walks around the room. He delivers a simple message – the time when chapel service will take place.
It’s now 12 p.m. and a group of Pawtucket players head toward the wives’ lounge. What’s behind this closed door represents a chance to shift gears for just a few short minutes before getting game-ready.
The aforementioned gentleman, who always seems to sport a smile on his face, has been the PawSox team chaplain since 1996. His name is Michael Buffi and his work is commissioned by the international ministry 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 participated 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. Today, Baseball Chapel’s reach includes a network of approximately 500 volunteers and eight full-time staff members who conduct the day-to-day ministry operations.
“At Times, it can be a grind, but that’s why Baseball Chapel is good because it helps you put things into perspective.”
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.”
“It’s a very good time for guys who are strong in their faith to get away from baseball and clear one’s head. The option is there,” PawSox relief pitcher Ty Buttrey said. “Everyone has mixed views about it, but I love going (to Baseball Chapel) on Sundays.”
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. Buffi’s 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 – a few PawSox players shared some insight as to what ground is covered. For starters, they’ll receive scripture readings. The hope is that these readings will serve as a spiritual guide for the week ahead.
“Whether it’s home or on the road, the message is pretty consistent. Usually, we can find how it relates to our daily lives,” Buttrey said. “We’re at a job so obviously not everyone can make it, but we’ll still get the pamphlets for the guys who miss it.
“Usually when the chaplain is going over the scripture, it’s cool to be able to say, ‘This is what God is saying and this is how I can relate it into my life,'” Buttrey added. “Baseball is hard to compare anything to. At times, it can be a grind, but that’s why it [Baseball Chapel] is good because it helps you put things into perspective.”
Having Sunday chapel services at the ballpark is something that Jalen Beeks eagerly anticipates. In fact, the Pawtucket starting pitcher went so far as to say that he looks forward to associating with his PawSox brethren in a spiritual manner.
“Speaking for myself, when I go into Baseball Chapel, it’s something that offers a big-picture look at life. Too often as baseball players, we can get zoned in on what’s going on right now,” Beeks said. “Whether it’s the chaplain in Pawtucket or someone else around the [International League], they do a good job of conveying that God has a plan for you and be thankful for the opportunity that you have. Everyone in this locker room is really blessed with what they have, which is being very good baseball players.”
“Every Sunday is a good refresher on how to act and how you treat your teammates,” Beeks continued. “You can do your own Bible study during the week, but to have someone from the outside come in on Sundays, it’s huge and something I’m very thankful for.”
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