Baseball and Belief

As spring brings in America’s favorite pastime once again, Family Theater Productions in Hollywood is also ready to play ball with Faith Bowl IV, which focuses on sports and Catholicism.

SPIRITUALITY AND SPORTS. From l to r: Vin Scully, Kristin Sheehan and Mike Sweeney Jr.
SPIRITUALITY AND SPORTS. From l to r: Vin Scully, Kristin Sheehan and Mike Sweeney Jr. (photo: Courtesy Family Theater Productions)

As spring brings in America’s favorite pastime once again, Family Theater Productions in Hollywood is also ready to play ball.

It is stepping up to the plate with its own major player in the television lineup — Faith Bowl IV — which will air on Catholic and cable stations across the country over the next several weeks.

A collaboration of Family Theater Productions, Catholic Athletes for Christ and the Knights of Columbus, Faith Bowl IV first aired on April 1 to coincide with the start of the baseball season and continue the series of sports celebrities sharing the importance of applying faith to sports.

This year’s theme is “Coaches, Mentors and Parents Helping Kids Get the Most Out of Sports.”

“The goal of this Faith Bowl is a little different from the three previous ones, which aired on Super Bowl weekend,” explains Holy Cross Father Willy Raymond, the executive producer of the show and the national director of Family Theater Productions. Family Theater Productions was founded in Hollywood in 1947 by Servant of God Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton and has produced more than 900 radio and television programs that feature hundreds of Hollywood stars and have had more than 10,000 broadcasts.

With Faith Bowl IV, Family Theater hopes to be hitting yet another grand-slam home run.

“Our primary goal,” says Father Raymond, “is to reach men and women who have children playing sports with the message that faith and sports can be a very healthy mix. It can help to build character.”

In the program, Vin Scully says, “Sports have the ability to not only build bodies and strength, but also to build character and even faith.” Baseball Hall of Fame announcer Scully, who is the host of this Faith Bowl, has been the voice of the (Brooklyn and now Los Angeles) Dodgers for 61 years.

Scully was a natural choice to be part of the show. Father Raymond says: “He was voted by his peers as the ‘Broadcaster of the Century’ in 2000. When broadcasters were asked to vote, he was the person who got every single vote except one — his own. That’s Vin Scully, because he’s a man of great integrity and discipline who is a very faithful Catholic. He was honored with the Cardinals Award and is usually the lector at the Mass at Dodgers Stadium. He is, by far, the most outstanding person we could get to be the host of this program about the influence of faith and sports on each other for building a healthy character and a healthy family.”

Joining Scully are Mike Sweeney Jr., five-time MLB All-Star and 16-year veteran with the Kansas City Royals, Oakland, Seattle and Philadelphia; his father Mike Sweeney Sr., a respected coach of high-school baseball; and Kristin Sheehan, director of the Play Like a Champion Today program at the University of Notre Dame, which gives coaches parents and children involved in sports the resources they need to make faith an integral part of their training as athletes.

Father Raymond has the same high praise for the rest of the team. He points out Mike Sweeney, one of the founders of Catholic Athletes for Christ and recently retired member of the Kansas City Royals, is an outstanding professional baseball player, husband and father with three young children who “would say very clearly faith in God and his family are the most important to him.”

Finding a relationship with Jesus Christ is the main message Mike Sweeney wants to get across in this Faith Bowl, just as he has in other episodes: “I want to tell others about this love I have for Christ.”

Sweeney explains: “The most joyful day of my life was the day before I was confirmed, the day I had an encounter with Christ.” He wants those watching to come to the same joy.

The simple question a man at his confirmation retreat asked and repeated to each of his replies — that he went to Mass every Sunday, didn’t drink, was a virgin, prayed daily — was: “What is your relationship with Jesus Christ?” It forced Sweeney to examine himself, and then undergo a metanoia, a transformation of soul.

“That night, as a 17-year-old boy in St. Margaret Mary Church in Chino, Calif., I began my relationship with Jesus Christ,” he says. Today he wants to use the vehicles of the media and baseball to tell others “the most joyful day of your life is waiting for you, and it starts with the same question.”

“We’re just trying to be real and share our hearts,” Sweeney explains. “There’s a big difference about knowing God in mind and knowing him in your heart. We’re hoping we’ll connect with the viewers and that transformation from their mind to their heart will take place, like it has for us. My prayer is through watching Faith Bowl viewers would have a metanoia experience.”

Adds Sheehan, “We hear sports build character, but that doesn’t always happen. So many coaches get caught up in the wins and losses. But we look to go beyond that, because, in this moment with the kids, they can truly help them to grow. Parents and coaches have to teach moral virtues and lessons — honesty, integrity, respect and justice. In a Catholic program hopefully this can happen and the young athletes be taught spiritual virtues in the way this relates to our faith and how we can find God in the sport experience.”

Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.


Faith Bowl IV will be aired on EWTN, CatholicTV, Catholic Community Television Network in Florida, Catholic Television Network (Detroit), Catholic Television (Scranton, Pa.), Catholic Life Television, and other stations and cable outlets nationwide.