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Baseball's Religious Followers
by Jennifer Gish for The Times Union, Albany, NY, April 21, 2011
They haven't lost faith in the game. in 1974.
It's what you'd expect from three nuns at the Albany province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who also happen to be longtime Yankees fans. Their Yanks are in first place, and all is well, even though baseball has faced some huge moral questions since Sister Mary Rose Fox watched Whitey and Mickey go into the Baseball Hall of Fame
I talked to Sister Mary Rose last year, just after Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game to a blown call and showed a Christ-like forgiveness when he hugged umpire Jim Joyce. We were floored by the act of morality in a baseball era sullied by greed, steroids and lies to Congress.
Sister Mary Rose invited me to talk baseball over lunch. A year later at the start of Holy Week and fueled by turkey sandwiches and soft serve, I learned some fans -- at least Sisters Mary Rose, Liz Cruger and Charla Whimple -- are pretty forgiving of the sport's stains.
"As a sister, what can you say?" says Sister Liz. "You've got to forgive."
But give three nuns -- whose passion for the game is eclipsed only by their devotion to God -- a few Hall of Fame votes, and they're going to judge those sullied ballplayers case by case. If you want to get in their good graces, you've got to own up to your wrongs. Mistakes are human. Confession and repentance is what counts.A-Rod? He admitted what he did, they say, and what he does with the rest of his career, the part that presumably goes on without performance-enhancing drugs, should determine whether he makes it to Cooperstown.
Roger Clemens? Heaven help you, Rocket. Clemens, who will be headed into a federal trial this summer on charges of perjury, false statement and obstruction of Congress, hasn't earned many points with the sisters. (Better luck at the pearly gates, Roger. A little humility might get you further with Sister Liz. And Sister Mary Rose never really accepted you as a Yankee.)
Manny Ramirez? You didn't have much of a shot with these three from the start, and selflessness is kind of key to women who've devoted their lives to serving others.
"Oh please, don't even get me started on Manny. I've had it with the Manny being Manny," says Sister Mary Rose, who was fortunate to have fallen asleep before Mariano Rivera gave up a two-run lead Tuesday night. "Why even sign with Tampa?"
"I heard one commentator saying, 'Are you looking at the Hall of Fame as a museum or a place of honor?' and he said, 'If you're looking at it as a place of honor, then some of the people of the earlier time had issues, some of them were alcoholics,' " says Sister Liz, whose father became a Yankees fan when the Dodgers moved out of Brooklyn.
And Sister Charla, who has photographs of herself wearing the 2009 World Series ring one of guys who works for W.B. Mason, a Yankee sponsor, brought by one day ("I happened to be walking down the hall. Talk about divine intervention.") wonders if it's really fair to compare those who got a boost from steroids against those who reached greatness with their own flesh and might.
These three servants of God were born with pinstriped diapers, so to speak, brought up by baseball-loving fathers with the sounds of the game ever present in the background from the greening of the grass to the shedding of the leaves.
Once in a lifetime, the sisters get to make a trip to St. Louis, where they can see where members of St. Joseph of Carondelet arrived from France 175 years ago. They tour the historical buildings and the institute for the deaf where those early sisters taught. They get to learn about the foundations of their work. And they get to catch a Cardinals game. Sister Liz checked the schedule, and she thinks she and Sister Charla can see either the Mets or the Cubbies during their trip this September.
They were at Yankee Stadium in 1993 when Jim Abbott, a lefty who had only one hand, pitched a no-hitter. They kept getting invited back to games by the friend who brought them. "It was just so marvelous to see that they thought we were their lucky charm," says Sister Liz.
They still have hallelujah moments when they watch Derek Jeter roll on the grass and pop up with the ball sitting in his glove. And praise be to Mark Teixeira when he makes a miracle grab.
"When they just play ball," Sister Liz says, "it's good."
Reach Jennifer Gish at 454-5089 or email@example.com.
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The Sisters pictured are (top) Sister Mary Rose Fox, CSJ, (middle) Sister Liz Cruger, CSJ, and (bottom) Sister Charla Whimple, CSJ.