As the best teams in Major League Baseball square off in the playoffs this week, schoolchildren are getting settled into their educational routine, whether at school or at home.
Chris Nyman is committed to a curriculum faithful to the Church’s magisterium. The Pomona, California, native is the director of operations at Seton Home Study in Front Royal, Virginia. It is his job to ensure the materials are shipped from Seton’s warehouse to parents and students around the country.
Nyman had previous travel experience across the country — and the world — long before his days at Seton. After attending collegiate baseball powerhouse Arizona State from 1973 to 1977 and playing road games mainly in the Western half of the United States, Nyman played in many a minor-league game for the Chicago White Sox, mostly in the Midwest. In 1982, he made his Major League debut, and in 1984, he ventured to Japan to play baseball there and, eventually, to Italy to finish his career.
Now on the East Coast, Nyman is a Washington Nationals fan whose interest in home schooling extends beyond his region. Nyman spoke of home schooling and Catholicism — and his Nats, who lead the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-1 in their best-of-five National League Division Series that continues today at Dodger Stadium.
Which of the teams in the MLB playoffs would you like to see win the World Series?
I’m a Nationals fan, so I’d like to see them do well. My heart and head tell me the Nats are good enough to go all the way, but right now the club is so banged up it that will be a steep climb to get to the World Series, especially with the Dodgers and Cubs in the way. That being said, I see the Nats vs. the Red Sox in the World Series, with the Nats taking it.
Dusty Baker did a superb job managing the Nats this year, and it would be great to see him take his club all the way. He’s won the World Series as a player — back in the time I was still around the game — but not yet as a manager, so I’d like to see that.
Millions of kids dream of playing Major League Baseball, but relatively few get there. What does it take to make the dream come true?
I’m often asked by parents if I think their kid has a shot at making the majors. Everyone has a shot at it, but it’s not just a matter of being able to hit a ball over the wall. The physical ability needs to be there, but hard work needs to accompany it, and you also need to maintain a positive outlook amid all the ups and downs of the game. Then it helps to be in the right place at the right time, which is not usually something you have control over.
People like to be very scientific with sports these days, but making the majors is a tough thing to predict. You hear other players, coaches, scouts, executives and “experts” talk of this guy having great potential or that guy maybe being drafted in the first round or another guy maybe making it to the major-league roster by the end of the season. There’s a lot of talk, so you have to be able to put it aside and do the best you can on any given day. Only with a series of “given days” do you get to a higher level.
What was your road to the majors like?
I was drafted out of high school in 1973, but decided to attend Arizona State University instead of going directly into pro baseball. At ASU I was on some fantastic teams, but I also incurred a few injuries. I wasn’t drafted out of college, but at the last minute the Chicago White Sox picked me up to fill in for a guy they had drafted but were having trouble signing. After five and half years of minor-league play, I made it to the major-league roster in July of 1982.
By the time your professional career ended, were you ready to move on to something else?
After playing in the majors in 1982 and 1983, I played in Japan the next two seasons. Then I came back to the States and played another minor-league season and finished my baseball career in Italy.
I bounced around to various jobs; and then, in 1994, found a home, quite fittingly, with Seton Home Study. Their mission reflected what was already going on inside me, so it was a really good match. I had a keen interest in being able to pass along authentic Catholic teaching to my children, and Seton had exactly what I was looking for.
Do most parents find home schooling valuable for the same reasons you do?
I think the main thing parents are looking for in home schooling is reliably Catholic teaching. Parents want their children to know what the Church teaches and why, and that’s what we help them do.
Home schooling also has many side benefits — the bonding of all family members, the flexibility of what you want taught and the maximizing of time for learning. Mostly, though, it lets us form our children in “the good, the true and the beautiful,” starting with our faith and reaching back and using the great art and literature that our Western culture has produced.
What would you say to parents unsure of whether they want to home school?
Well, I’m not an official spokesman for Seton, but I would say that if you want the greatness of Catholic teaching to be passed along to your children, then we are here to help. We provide the materials and assistance necessary for achieving your educational goals, so you have a faithful friend in Seton.
I should say, though, that home schooling is not easy, so parents shouldn’t expect to waltz in and have everything go smoothly. I think making that clear up front encourages parents to persevere through the tough times. Quite a bit of effort and discipline is needed to succeed. The challenges make the whole process more rewarding, though. Many parents have found it to be more than worth the effort — and that includes my wife, Maureen, and me.
Good schools are rare in these times, so I’d encourage parents to create a good one in your home. Most of our [secular] institutions are aggressively creating an anti-Christian culture. Let’s push back, starting with the education of our children.
Do you have favorite books you’d recommend to parents or Catholics in general?
We have the full pre-K through 12 curriculum, which you can enroll in, but you can also just buy many of our great books to piece together your own curriculum. Everything is available on Seton’s site. We’ve grown into the largest publisher of Catholic children’s textbooks in the country, so we have numerous titles parents find helpful.
One book we carry for older readers is by Thomas E. Woods Jr. It’s called How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, and it is quite good at showing the Church’s major role in shaping the greatness of Western culture. Things we take for granted, or we think have come from other sources, really have their origin in the Church.
Aside from our catalog, I would say G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Peter Kreeft, Fulton Sheen, John Henry Newman, Hilaire Belloc and C.S. Lewis all have several great books. Chesterton had spot-on analysis of many issues that were beginning in his time and which have continued to develop into our day.
Do you have a favorite devotion?
Praying the Rosary is something I did growing up, but it took on a new importance for me in the late 1980s. I joined the Legion of Mary and saw how important it was to ask for the Blessed Virgin Mary’s intercession. She is our spiritual mother, so she has our best interests at heart.
I also find Eucharistic adoration to be very valuable. If an important decision needs to be made, sitting silently before the Lord can give a sense of clarity and direction. The Eucharist is the greatest gift we have as Catholics, so you’d expect that being near this greatest gift would bring great benefits.
The Latin Mass is something I enjoy participating in, as well. It’s common to see home-schooling families at the Latin Mass, and our church has one every Sunday. I also attend the Novus Ordo, which our parish has, too. That is kind of emblematic of Pope Benedict XVI, who saw the Masses as two forms of one rite.
Do you think baseball has many lessons that can be applied to other areas of life?
I surely do. Even though my collegiate career was marred by injuries, I played at Arizona State for four years. We went to the College World Series three years in a row. The first two years we had teams [that] some would say were the greatest college teams of all time, but both finished in third place. The third year, with most of the future major-leaguers gone, we won the National Championship. Many of the players on that team watched more than they played in the preceding years. Talent, effort and hard work didn’t ultimately get the results in the first cases, but persevering did.
Then there was something Hall of Famer Joe Morgan said that really stuck with me. He was a back-to-back National League MVP in 1975 and 1976. Yet in 1977, when he was having trouble hitting, he wondered how he ever thought he could hit major-league pitching. That was very striking, you could say, because this guy who was the absolute best at what he did still went through troubles and doubts.
Things will not always go our way, and we may not even have a real shot on paper, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Baseball is filled with little injustices, such as hitting a beautiful line drive that the third baseman catches. The same is true with other areas of life: Our own good efforts might be shut down quickly or have seemingly little worth, but we are called to make that effort and leave the results in the hands of God.
The life of the baseball player will have many ups and downs, successes and failures, but perseverance on the field relates to the same in life. Effort for our faith, our family, our community and our country — it’s what we’re called to do on a daily basis in our own corner of the world. That’s simple, blue-collar Catholicism that I find very comforting. I’m just a normal, working-class guy whose faith means everything to him. I may not give the best explanations of that, but that’s the inside reality. I value being Catholic above everything else; and being Catholic, in my best moments, is the motivating force behind everything I do.
Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (Beacon, 2015), contains numerous Catholic sports
interviews, most of which have appeared in the Register.