In this Collage of Cardinals he is the Apostle of Good Will!
America, Baseball and apple pie! That is a cliche that epitomizes the grand old game and it has never been grander than this past week. How fitting it was that in the heartland of America, in the area established by the Jesuit priest Pere Gabriel Marest in 1700, in the Catholic city where Archbishop Justin Rigali is solidly promoting Eucharistic Adoration city-wide that one of the greatest events in the history of the game founded by Abner Doubleday took place this past Tuesday night at exactly 8:18 on 9-8-98. Eight was the number and it wasn't an eight ball St. Louis Cardinal firstbaseman and slugger extraordinaire Mark McGwire hit but a tiny horsehide sphere that had been valued at up to one million dollars and counting for the person who retrieved it. The lazer that found the second "K" of the lighted row of strike-out symbols below the Konica billboard above the 8' foot high fence in extreme left field at cavernous Busch Stadium was the shot that was heard 'round the world for with that 341 foot blast, McGwire set the all-time single season home-run mark, besting Roger Maris' record of 61 the day before on Labor Day. How fitting it was that not only did Big Mac smash the record with Maris' family in attendance, but he did it on the feast of the Blessed Mother's birthday. Since we don't think McGwire is Catholic, he undoubtedly is not aware that it was Our Lady's special day, but the present he gave to the world - especially here in America is something that had to bring a smile to Blessed Mary's face for McGwire's feats have done something Our Lady has been pleading for over the past two centuries - to bring people together for good. This may seem far-fetched on the surface since you might say there's nothing spiritual about baseball vs. the messages of the Mother of God, but stay with this editor for a few moments and we think you'll agree. September 8th was truly a day for M&M - Mary and McGwire!
First of all, consider that this past year the president of the United States has degraded the office and torn people apart, making a mockery out of morals and family values. Actually he has been doing this for seven years but it's only in the last few months that most people have woke up to the reality of what we have said all along about the character of Bill Clinton. Add to this the rollercoaster ride of the stock market and people were in a frenzy, not feeling all that good about themselves. Enter Mark McGwire and his friend Sammy Sosa a Catholic ballplayer from the Dominican Republic who have not only energized the game but brought back a feeling of family, an essence of goodness that has long been lacking in an era of big business sports, greed and the drug culture. All that is good about mankind, all that Our Lord has asked of His children over the years seems to be coming to the fore. Yes, folks, while there is much rotten in Washington D.C. there is virtue in St. Louis and it's spreading. As the media plastered the headlines and airwaves with speculation of how much the Ruth-tying homerun ball, the Maris-tying homerun ball and the record-breaking homerun ball would garner on the open market, three young men retrieved those balls and didn't ask for one red cent! That in itself has got to be one of the most laudable traits that shows there is something right in America. On top of that, here's a superstar who doesn't take himself too seriously. Unlike the spoiled demigods who have no time for the fans but who have plenty of time to get their names in the news for all the wrong reasons and who are in it for the almighty dollar, McGwire downplays his greatness and gives credit where credit is due, thanking the Man upstairs - number 25's regular reference to God. No Hollywood script could have written a better script. It had to warm the cockles of your heart to see him hit his 61st homer on his father's 61st birthday. How fitting and appropriate that fatherhood took a front seat on this day and the next when the first person big Mark embraced, squeezed and lifted to the air was his own ten-year old son Matthew who has been interning as the Cardinal batboy throughout the summer and returned for the big weekend. It was about family in that the entire Maris family was in attendance, save for Roger's widow who was hospitalized at a local hospital. Just as the excitement took its toll on her husband back in 1961 during his record march in that magnifying glass known as New York, so also the renewed attention was too much for her. But it was McGwire who put everything in perspective by placing Roger and his memory as well as Babe Ruth on the diamond pedestals they've always belonged.
Now that pedestal has been elevated higher, not just because of the physical feats of Big Mac but because of the virtuous feats of the Cardinal slugger, father and devoted son. But he is human, and he is the first to admit this from his failed marriage to striking out at a record pace when most expect him to hammer a homerun everytime at the plate to his incredulity of the media madness that follows him day and night in his unintended quest for immortality. Yet he has remained the same man from childhood on. He is just a big kid playing a kid's game, but the difference between McGwire and the rest of today's primadonnas is that he has handled all the adulation as a mature, responsible adult, giving credit where credit is due and most of the time that is to God. He has admitted that the attention showered on him has done more than bring people back to baseball, it has brought people together and in this day and age when doom and gloom blare across the airwaves in all aspects of our lives and morals are scoffed at, the good old-fashioned values rise to the top in the breadbasket of America - the gateway to the West in a city named for a great French saint and king who held honor and virtue as his highest shield. No, McGwire has not entreated the people to pray and fast, but then again he has brought many to their knees praying that he would hit number 62. So has the Cubs' Sammy Sosa. In fact, in a recent game at Wrigley Field Sosa had gone hitless until Cardinal Francis George, OMI entered the pressbox with the WGN crew. Almost immediately after Sosa, acknowledging the presence in the ballpark of the head of the Chicago archdiocese, sent one out onto Waveland Avenue. No doubt the Cardinal had asked for some intervention as well. We suspect Archbishop Rigali was also entreating the Heavens to intercede on Mark's behalf this past Tuesday and we can just see the Blessed Mother approaching Jesus and asking for the favor as a small birthday present for her. We all know God can't refuse His Mother. Therefore the record many thought would never be broken was shattered with still seventeen games to go. Who knows how many more Big Mac will hit? Who knows how many Sammy will hit or if he'll even pass McGwire thanks to the friendly confines of the ivy-covered walls on the north side of the windy city? Regardless, both men have things in perspective in an industry that is just realizing character and virtue have its rewards and those rewards are not in endorsements or how much money they can make, but how they can bring people together from all walks of life to feel good about themselves. After all, it's the first step in the conversion process which is coming as we near the Third Millennium.
We doubt there will be an asterisk next to McGwire's name when the great book is finally written and revealed, but we wouldn't be surprised if McGwire and Sosa are given a little credit for bringing people together in a time when it is sorely needed. But everyone who experienced the goosebumps Tuesday night during McGwire's impromptu jog around the bases where, like a little kid who got so excited, he missed first base and had to awkwardly go back, and hugged everyone in sight on his journey gave credit where credit was due - pointing his muscular arm upward toward the Almighty. Yes, there is a God and He is smiling at the way McGwire's feats have brought His children together when another of those who has been given much responsibility is tearing the country apart. One has misused his talents, hiding them under a bushel basket along with a lot of other secrets that are just now coming to light as Sister Lucy writes about in her column this weekend, while the other has utilized all the talents at his disposal. Our Lord said it best in Luke 12: 48, "But of everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and of him to whom they have entrusted much, they will demand more." Mark McGwire has not disappointed the people. He has not disappointed God for he has taken his God-given talents and used them to the ultimate even while the media and the masses demand more. McGwire is no saint, but secularly he's the next best thing. Babe Ruth was called the "Sultan of Swat." In this city famous for its Gashouse gang, Dizzy Dean, and then Stan "the Man" Musial and Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and company it would not only be appropriate, but nice if Mark McGwire was forever remembered among this collage of Cardinals as the "Apostle of Good Will."