Major League Faith
St. Louis Cardinal Jeff Suppan puts his Catholic faith first.
Right-handed pitcher Jeff Suppan was drafted by the Boston Red Sox out of Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, Calif., in 1993. After a relatively short stint in the minor leagues, he made his major league debut July 17, 1995, at the age of 20.
Suppan has played for six major league teams over the past 15 years. A top highlight of his career was the 2006 postseason, in which he was named the National League Championship Series MVP and won the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Suppan has been active in the Alexandria, Va.-based organization Catholic Athletes for Christ, and he had the opportunity to meet Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 during the Vatican’s first conference on sports. He is also one of the featured athletes on the “Champions of Faith” DVD.
What are your expectations for the rest of this season?
As an athlete, my expectations are simply to be prepared. To give my best every time I get the opportunity to be on the mound, I need to be prepared both mentally and physically. These are the things I can control, so I try to maximize that sense of preparation.
As a team we have to take the long view — playing hard until the last game. If we keep it simple and focus on one game at a time, we should be in good shape come the end of the season.
Are your favorite career moments the ones most people would think of, such as winning the World Series, or are there others that are more outstanding to you?
Obviously, winning a world championship is an incredible moment — one that I will cherish my whole life.
However, many of my favorite moments are the smaller things, like making a pitch with runners on to get out of an inning or giving a teammate advice that helps him out in his career.
But there are other incredible moments that are even less obvious and more personal — like being in the stadium in the early morning when no one is in the ballpark. It is such a peaceful time.
You had the opportunity to meet with Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 for the Vatican’s first conference on sports. What was that experience like?
I had planned on giving the Pope a St. Louis Cardinals jersey because he had been a cardinal, too, you know. However, the airline lost my luggage, so I couldn’t do that, and, in fact, I ended up wearing the same clothes for two days.
Meeting Pope Benedict was overwhelming for me, as I’d never been able to do that before. Being in his presence was a way of experiencing God’s love for the Church. By providing us with a visible leader, as explained in Matthew 16, God’s fatherly concern for us is expressed in giving us a father/leader in the person of the Pope.
It was also good to see that more people are realizing that sports can be a venue for living out the faith. Sports don’t have to be a separate compartment in someone’s life, a compartment which isn’t touched by the faith.
What advice would you give a young man who aspires to play in the major leagues?
To play in the major leagues takes talent and dedication. You have to accept some personal sacrifices to make it there and in order to stay once you get there.
The best advice I can give is to be well-rounded and take your education seriously, because there is a lot of life after you’re done playing. Even if you do make it and have a long career, you can’t play forever!
It’s also helpful to know your true motivation on why you play the game. You’ll have a tough time making it if you’re playing because of someone else’s passion for the game, not your own.
Is it difficult to attend Mass on Sundays during the season?
There are many challenges for a ballplayer trying to get to Mass on Sunday. One big challenge is that we play on Sundays. Another is that we are in different cities every week. You have to be proactive [and] look on the schedule to see where you’re playing each Sunday. I like to go to ParishesOnline.com and find the closest Catholic church; then I pick the Mass time that works best for my playing schedule.
Do you have a favorite saint and/or devotion?
I don’t have a favorite saint, but I am interested in St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I say the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, but my discipline in saying them needs some improvement — but I’m working on it!
How has your Catholic faith influenced who you are today?
I found out that when you go out into the world your faith has to be your own. You have to understand why you believe what you believe in. Reading the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is helpful, along with utilizing other resources like Catholic Answers. ... My Catholic faith is an integral part of my life. It has made me into who I am today. I think I owe my faith in large part to my parents. They brought me up in the Church, and my faith has grown ever since.
Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
- August 1-14, 2010