Champions of Faith
Produced by Tom Allen
"Paul, you gotta see this film." That's my publisher telling me that I have to leave the comfort of my easy chair and actually go to a movie theatre. Not only that, I have to go see a story about professional athletes telling me that they are Catholic. How boring can that get? How can these jokers impress me about being Catholic? These same guys who tell me that they sat out a half season because they were looking for $12,000,000 more per year and were not happy are now telling me that they are devout Catholics? They might as well try to tell me that "It's not about the money." Ha Ha!
But, my publisher says something and I know that even though it's not an order, I'll go... even though I'm holding out for more money. I really worked hard at it too. I worked on my wife to accompany me. She's more Catholic than the Pope and she doesn't know third base from a base - on - balls, and could care less. I figure that I will follow my conscience and actually wait until after she and I have seen the film before giving you my opinion about it. What a concept!
So, after the Rosary Bowl(see PPS below) and my son's graduation I now agree to see Mike Piazza tell me that he is Catholic. The film is about 75 minutes long. It is a one camera, documentary style piece of art. The makers of this film got a break because there is perhaps more stock footage of professional athletic contests than of any other historical event in the world. The film is replete with spectacullar stock shots of important baseball games including some of the more well known personal confrontations and stand-offs between baseball personalities (a la Piazza/Clemens). That's the baseball fan part of it.
The Catholic part of it is rather stunning. The makers started out with approximately the same attitude that I have. They never thought that they would find professional baseball players willing to talk about their religious practicies, and least of all, Catholics. How wrong they were. The screen becomes a tsunami of Catholic witness by 25 and 30 year old men who play a boys game for a living, talking like boys with the faith of men. They were all vying for screen time.
The impressive part of it is that the testimonies come across as true and sincere. A.J. Piercsynski says, "My mom calls me on Sunday and asks if I've been to Mass yet." One Cardinals pitcher (Jeff Suppan) says, "I saw Eck (David Ekstein)) at Mass one Sunday and we were both surprised that we are Catholic." There is a lot to see and hear in this movie that is
real. The third base coach who had drifted away from his religion and received a telephone call in the night from his 17 year old daughter. She told him that she had a brain tumor. Then there is the Kansas City Royals' star who waited five years before asking forgiveness from a pitcher whom he attacked from home plate. The pitcher was magnanimous in his forgiveness and the lives of the two have changed.
I don't think that it is possible to walk away from this film without being convinced that Catholicism is headed into the headlines from the positive direction. Catholics are awakening. Catholics are beginning to realize the power of personal public testimony. Catholics are starting to say, "I'm Catholic and I am happy in the grace of God that I am." Mike Piazza did not have a great speaking part in his corner of this film. The pictures of him at the altar were pretty much his entire story.
The startling effect that this movie had on me, the cynic who lost respect a long time ago for professional athletes, is surprising. It takes a lot of conviction for a person to give witness to God in public. It has to go beyond the Hollywood saying, "There's no such thing as bad publicity." It has to be serious trust in God and zeal for the Catholic reality.
Technically the movie is a success. Creatively, it is a success. The creators put together a good presentation. Morally the movie is a success. It drives home some truths that can move the viewer to slide over closer to God. I never thought I would say that after seeing professional athletes talk about God. If they were acting, you can't prove it by me.
P.S. I think that God was talking to me. My wife told me that she knows that because she heard Him talking to her all during the movie.
P.P.S. The "Rosary Bowl" usher who showed us to our seats is named "John Carney". This is the name of the very talented NFL place kicker who graduated from Notre Dame University. I mentioned it jokingly to this man. He responded by saying that the kicker was a member of his parish while playing in San Diego for the Chargers. He said that the NFL player was very active in the parish and was a respected spiritual example for one and all.
After all of this, aren't you convinced that you had better not cry at my funeral?