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Baseball and religion have their place - separately

Last update: March 30, 2008 - 8:46 PM

Have you noticed that baseball isn't referred to as the "national pastime" much these days?

Of course, the quaint synonym came along years before steroids, human growth hormones, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Next to those scars on the body of baseball, evangelicalism might not seem like a profound ethical threat. But when you consider recent events, sports columnist Murray Chass of the New York Times is on to something when he calls for baseball's constitution to dictate separation of church and baseball.

The entrepreneur whose website says "it is reaching today's generation for Christ through sports and music" is Third Coast Sports, a Nashville-based nonprofit ministry which said it has held 76 events in connection with major and minor league games.

One at the Metrodome in Minneapolis on Sept. 15 drew an announced 35,250 attendance, although the sponsor's website photographs indicated only about 2,000 paid an extra $10 each to remain for the post-game program that featured singer Hawk Nelson, Twins players Matt LeCroy and Lew Ford, and personnel from religious radio station KTIS.

Third Coast Sports president Brent High told Chass that "we have gone to great lengths to keep these events from the normal game experience ... the event begins 30 minutes after the game is over. Nothing is distributed during the game."

Twins vice president of marketing Patrick Klinger said, "We host many different kinds of groups celebrating our diversity. We have nights for Lutherans, Cub and Girl Scouts, and many others like them."

He pointed to the "chapels that companies have for their personnel. Baseball should not be singled out."

But Third Coast Sports associates baseball with a single form of religion and confers an endorsement on it contrary to diversity.

As a business that performs in a facility supported by taxpayers, the Twins should have no relationship to religion.

We celebrate baseball in America precisely because it knows no political party, no religion, no ethnicity. It not only brings together fans of all faiths and colors, but players from disparate continents, bridging cultural and ethical barriers that are becoming higher and higher in other aspects of our lives.

"Faith Night" can only be what it purports with a message that there is not only one true religion.

Lou Gelfand • lgelfand@startribune.com