As the Toledo Mud Hens begin a 10-game home stand tonight, fans have many opportunities to get to Fifth Third Field and have fun watching all the festivities that take place during a baseball game. Entertainment and sport are the reasons for being there, but more than a few people might have thoughts of church.
To some folks, baseball is like a religion, full of ritual and supernatural belief. Watch a batter go through a routine before each pitch, maybe tapping the bat on home plate then adjusting the batting gloves, and you'll see intricate routine in the ritual. Some true believers can look at the league standings and say, “There are 22 games left in the regular season. As long as the Hens aren't 22 games behind, we have a chance at first place.”
For baseball religion, some spectators have their “baseball communion” of a beer and a hot dog, and others can expound on the hymns of the diamond: “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and, after 9/11 and still sometimes sung, “God Bless America.”
It doesn't matter that both teams have chaplains who support the spiritual needs of the players and also say a few prayers for their side—the truly religious know which team has divine favor. May we all say “Holy Toledo.”
On Sunday at 4 p.m., before the 6 p.m. game against the Indianapolis Indians, the Mud Hens host the annual Home Plate event, where players and coaches from both teams will share their Christian testimony and former Detroit Tigers pitcher Frank Tanana will be the keynote speaker. Mud Hens chaplain Dave Regnier, who is also athletic director and a history teacher at Emmanuel Christian School, is the emcee. Part of Mr. Regnier's chaplaincy is to lead baseball chapel on Sundays, three separate services for those who wish to attend from the home team, the visitors, and the umpires.
Baseball is multifaith. A crafty religious scholar can twist the game into a particular church—not just Christian or Muslim or Jewish, but can even find evidence that it's Roman Catholic or Tibetan Buddhist or Vedanta Hindu.
It can even be oriented to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. If you're not familiar with that church, it was started in May 2005 (though, of course, it claims to have been in existence for hundreds of years) in reaction to the Kansas State Board of Education's attempt to allow the teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution in public schools. A young college physics graduate, Bobby Henderson, satirically wrote to the board about another design belief: that the universe was made by a flying spaghetti monster. He identified the religion as Pastafarianism and requested that this theory also be taught.
That didn't happen. But the church gained acclaim via the Internet, and many people took up the cause of satire and protest. Mr. Henderson offered ordinations for sale, which people could attempt to use to preside at weddings. (Disclosure: I paid $20 for a certificate of ordination, but I also have more legally acceptable ministerial credentials.)
Some spaghetti monster followers, in reaction to exceptions allowing religious headgear in government ID photos, have tried to have their pictures taken wearing spaghetti strainers on their head. Only one person so far seems to have succeeded, and that was in Austria in 2011.
Which gets us back to the Mud Hens. Their manager of special events, Michael Keedy, wasn't aware of the relation of a between-innings children's game and a spaghetti monster. For the game, two teams of two kids are recruited for a contest—on each side, one person throws water balloons at the teammate, who is wearing a hockey helmet with a colander taped to the top. The object is to break the balloons, and the water drips through the noodle strainer. The winner bursts the most balloons, and the teammate, incidentally, gets pretty wet. The Hens have the kids' game to call attention to their relationship with Culligan, a water treatment business, while "just trying to have fun on the field and doing something wacky," Mr. Keedy said.
More to the religious connection, Mr. Keedy said that the Hens annually host more than 5,000 fans in church groups. "It's a significant amount of church fans that choose to spend the night with us at the ballpark," he said.
As for the players at season's end? The focus will probably be on baseball's fundamentals. That's how Mud Hens become Tigers.