Major League Baseball playoff games provide quite the atmosphere for fans. Sights, sounds, smells and much more all help orient the fan to the game taking place on the field. Could this aspect of Major League Baseball help shed light on the faith as well?

Sometimes the exterior features direct us to the interior reality –to the heart of the matter. We see this in sports and religion.

Recently, I was eating lunch with a friend from Pittsburgh. The topic of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball came up in our conversation. He mentioned how as a young kid his parents would take his family to countless Pirates games. One of the other guys at lunch with us asked my friend from Pittsburgh what he enjoyed most about those games. His answer tells us something far more important than baseball.

He said that as a young kid (5-8 years old) that he didn’t watch the Pirates baseball game at all. He and his brothers were interested in the skyscrapers beyond the Allegheny River, the massive scoreboard with music and videos, going to get french fries, the roar of the crowd, talking to his family during the game, climbing up the statues of Pirates players, smelling the food, seeing the multitude of Pirates fans, and, most importantly, the Pirates Pierogies races.

Then, something began to change.

He got older and his family still went to baseball games. He told us that without even realizing it –he became quite interested in the actual game of baseball during his teenage years. He became fascinated with players, statistics, decision-making by the manager, who was scheduled to pitch, shifts in the infield for certain batters, etc. He became very intrigued by what could not be seen, per se, by the naked eye (how the players and coaches were thinking and what, exactly, they were thinking about). He became fascinated with the actual game of baseball.

It is this natural, organic transition from the sights and sounds to the actual game of baseball that PNC Park (and every MLB ballpark for that matter) seeks to encourage. The Catholic Mass is no different –the external features point to an internal reality. In other words, the architecture of PNC Park points to the actual game while the architecture of a Catholic Church points to the actual presence of Christ. The architecture in both locations is telling a narrative and directing us toward something...or someone.

Like my Pittsburgh friend who immediately saw the skyscrapers across the Allegheny River, the person who walks near a Catholic Church immediately sees a steeple. Then, upon entering the Church he sees stained glass windows, he hears the music from the choir, the organ, and various other instruments. He then sees the positioning of the pews in a certain direction, he notices various parishioners of all ages directed to the same center and there’s something about the altar that is front, center, and raised high. He also notices the movements of the priest and hears the words and responses which are oriented to what is taking place at the altar.

Like my friend from Pittsburgh, it may take us years of focusing on the external features before we naturally and organically transition to what only faith can see. Mind you, I am not proposing a zero-sum game, an either-or. My Pittsburgh Pirates friend never lost out in focusing more on the game than on the sights, sounds, and smells in the stadium around him. In fact, it was precisely through those means that he was brought to the center –to the actual game of baseball. So it is in the Catholic Church –the sights and sounds are oriented to the altar, to the actual presence of Christ.

Yet again, we see baseball and faith running quite similar bases.

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Ben Daghir is a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Erie from St. Marys, Pa. He pitched for the Elk Catholic Crusaders in 2010-2011 and coached SM Little League for 4 years. Ben was a pitcher for the 2009 St. Marys Senior League State Championship team. He currently studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. His favorite team is the Pittsburgh Pirates and favorite baseball players are former pitchers Tim Lincecum and Sandy Koufax.

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