Although the Rocky Mountains are home, my mother’s roots dig deep in the state of New York. Her Catholic-size-family, combined with devout Yankee fervor, equaled blissful summers of Yankee love during my formative years. And although I cheer for the Rockies, I am a Yankees fan through and through; always have been, always will be. Not only am I a Yankee fan, which I hope does not scare any of my blog followers away, but God may be too! After all, can a strictly human-driven sports team win 27 World Championships? Not only are the Yankees playing on hallowed ground in the Bronx because of past and current baseball legends, but more importantly because of the organizations repeated support for the Faith!
Opening day, April 19, 1923, Knights of Columbus member Al Smith, the governor of New York, threw out the ceremonial first pitch in the ‘House that Ruth Built.’ To follow that up, Babe Ruth, a Knight himself, christened the new stadium with the first home run in the third inning that day. On top of the Knights being in charge of throwing out the first pitch opening day, they also were the Yankees’ landlord for 20 years. Beginning in 1953, the Knights bought the 9 acres that Yankee Stadium sat on at $2.5 million to create another outlet of fundraising for the Catholic apostolate. By leasing the land for $128,000 per year for 28 years, the Knights were trying to make an investment to aide the future safety of their organization and its charisms. Their charisms were first advocated by Knight’s founder, Fr. McGivney: country, family, and faith. However, after just twenty years of owning the land upon which many Yankee legends were made, the drastic 1974-75 renovation of the Stadium, eventually led to a for sale sign by the Knights.
If the Knightly history is not enough to prove the Yankee’s support for the Faith, ask yourself where the Popes bee-line for Mass when they arrive on American soil. The line up of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, have all brought our highest liturgical celebration to the faithful at Yankee Stadium, the Mass—60,000 packed in for Pope Benedict in 2008. In addition to the true presence coming forth in the footsteps of Yogi, DiMaggio, and Maris, so to has the permanent commemoration of papal visits. Beginning with Paul VI, a bronze plaque of the late holy father rests permanently in Memorial Park, any true Yankee fans most hallowed ground. Along side the ‘Iron Horse,’ Mantle, and Rizzuto, rests 100-pound bronze plaques for the three popes who celebrated mass in the Stadium during their respective pontificates. Just as in 1966, when over 12,000 Knights attended the dedication of Paul VI’s plaque, similar numbers were present for the Benedict ceremony.
Now if were going to talk numbers, it is hard to argue against The Greatest Knight of them all, George Herman Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, The Great Bambino–The Great Knight! Babe Ruth became a Knight in 1919, in Boston, and lived out the charisms of the Catholic apostolate for the rest of his life, most especially with respect to caring for orphaned children.
Now as I reflect upon my time as a Yankee fan, many memories arise. Boone’s game winner, Wells’ perfect game, and yes, now the 27th World Championship! However, I think the white Cathedral-like facade of Old and New Yankee Stadium has played host to far greater memories over the last century than the 40 pennants and 27 World Championships. Certainly the papal masses rank high, and perhaps the dedication of the Pope’s plaques, but more importantly, it is moments when professional ball players take the time to live their faith out in the public sphere. For instance, during Yogi’s years as manager, he would often hop the fence between innings and share a word with Bishop Greco. So simple an act, yet so profound for this day in age. We need World Championships to cheer for, as shown tonight, we need the celebration of papal masses, but we also need professional ballplayers living the faith out with an undivided heart. The time for fence riding is over, the season for a Championship Faith is upon us all!