Cardinals break spring training camp with strong core of Christian believers
By Lee Warren
April 5, 2005
ST. LOUIS – It’s that time of year again. With the aroma of a freshly cut infield, cotton candy, and hot dogs lingering in the air, it’s time to play ball.
After winning the National League pennant in 2004, the Cardinals broke spring training camp in Jupiter, Fla., recently and were poised to open the season April 5 in Houston before returning to St. Louis for the home opener April 8 against the Philadelphia Phillies.
For Jeff Purvis, pastor at Westport Community Church, St. Louis, and a member of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Board, Opening Day brings fond childhood memories to mind.
“I’d take a little transistor radio underneath the sheets at night in the spring and summer to listen to Jack Buck and Harry Caray when I was a kid,” he said.
As he got older, he grew to appreciate the rich heritage of Cardinals baseball.
“During the 1930s, during the Depression, the Cardinals had the ‘Gas House Gang.’ It was something you looked forward to going to or listening to on the radio to stop worrying about the Depression, to stop worrying about the war (World War II),” he said.
As the current roster of players prepare to do their part to continue the team’s legacy, they are set to do so for the first time in several seasons without catcher Mike Matheny and pitcher Woody Williams—two strong believers who helped maintain a solid Christian presence on the field and in the clubhouse. Matheny signed with the San Francisco Giants in the off season and Williams signed with the San Diego Padres.
“I remember 2001 when I first made the team,” said Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who attends West County Community Church, a Missouri Baptist congregation. “I was really scared because I was a young Christian and I didn’t know how things were going to go until one the best teammates I had, Mike Matheny—one of the guys who took me under his wings—told me that everything was going to be all right.”
Matheny and Pujols worked out together during this past off season and they remain extremely close. Matheny encouraged Pujols to be the new spiritual leader on the team.
“I have to take that lead and try to follow the same way that Mike was doing it—just try to take care of the position players,” Pujols said. “I know Cal Eldred is going to take the pitchers and do his thing in the bullpen. I know that’s what he does every time—just shares. That’s one of the things I need to do, try to grab that lead that Mike left and just try to follow.”
Backup catcher Cody McKay is excited about the spiritual direction that the Cardinals are headed in.
“Albert Pujols is at every chapel,” McKay said. “When there’s a conversation about Jesus going on, he’s there. He’s interested and he puts something into the conversation, too—what he’s learned, and if there’s something about his life he can share with us, he’s there for that.
“We also have Cal Eldred, who’s pretty much the captain of the bullpen. He’s as strong a Christian as a ballplayer can be and a wonderful role model for me my first year.”
McKay is impressed with outfielder So Taguchi, who was born in Japan and has been in the Cardinals organization for the last three years, because he’s trying hard to understand the English language well enough to comprehend messages during team chapel meetings.
“He’s got a wife backing him up and studying with him,” McKay said. “It’s great. He’s a great addition to have there. And the way he lives his life is very Christ-like.”
Reggie Sanders joined the Cardinals before last season and McKay said he has seen Sanders living out his faith.
“I saw him in Texas—a fan takes a bat away from a little kid who got hit by it—and he (Sanders) wants to show an example of the way a Christian ballplayer should react,” McKay said. “He goes on the field, calls the kid down with his Mom, and gives him his game-used bat.
“It’s fantastic to be around these people. It creates an environment you feel comfortable in, an environment where you don’t have any worry about being yourself.”
As the core group of believers on the team begins the new season, they are well aware of the temptations that they will face on the field and off.
“Definitely,” McKay said. “In this lifestyle, obviously you have temptations out there. Last year with Matheny, with Woody, with Cal, with Albert—not that I would do it anyway, but if you had that temptation, it’s easy to stay away from it because you have these guys pulling for you. You don’t want to upset them along with your wife and ultimately God. He’s watching you. They’re watching you. It’s a team effort on all sides.”