A Rather Rocky Reaction To Purpose-Driven Baseball Story

What's the use of blogging if you can't be self-absorbed at least some of the time? My obsession today revolves around the Colorado Rockies – not the mountain range, the baseball team. I spent most of my youthful days growing up in Colorado, rooting for Denver's triple-A baseball team and dreaming of the days when the big leagues would finally show up. So, naturally, I'm a Rockies fan and it should come as no surprise that the front-page of yesterday's USA Today grabbed my eye with a cover story titled: "Rockies seek revival on and off field."

Having spent most of the past decade with the team in the basement of the National League West, it was more than a little unusual to see them occupy prime real estate in a national newspaper. The story itself wasn't so much about the team's performance on the field (they're off to a promising start) as it was about the organization's character, or more precisely, its Christian character. Here's a sample from the story, written by Bob Nightengale:

On the field, the Rockies are trying to make the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons and only the second time in their 14-year history. Behind the scenes, they quietly have become an organization guided by Christianity — open to other religious beliefs but embracing a Christian-based code of conduct they believe will bring them focus and success.

From ownership on down, it's an approach the Rockies are proud of — and something they are wary about publicizing. "We're nervous, to be honest with you," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd says. "It's the first time we ever talked about these issues publicly. The last thing we want to do is offend anyone because of our beliefs."

The story was full of quotes from players and management supporting the story. But a day later, some are taking issue with the portrayal. Star first baseman Todd Helton, who was quoted in the story, went so far as to tell the Rocky Mountain News that he receives his Maxim subscription in the clubhouse, directly contradicting the USA Today story which stated: "No copies of Playboy or Penthouse are in the clubhouse of baseball's Colorado Rockies. There's not even a Maxim. The only reading materials are daily newspapers, sports and car magazines and the Bible."

Here's how the Denver Post reported the player reaction:

"It was just bad. I am not happy at all. Some of the best teammates I have ever had are the furthest thing from Christian," pitcher Jason Jennings said. "You don't have to be a Christian to have good character. They can be separate. It was misleading."

Todd Helton and Jennings were quoted supporting the article's premise regarding religion's role in the clubhouse. But both said they never were asked about religion, and were questioned only in general terms about the clubhouse environment.

"I wouldn't say it was accurate. (The writer) asked me about the guys in here and I said it's a good group. We work hard and get along well," Helton said.

While another player called the portrayal "over the top," so far it's only the players who are taking issue with the article. A great deal of the original article centered on the attitudes of higher-ups, especially manager Clint Hurdle, and CEO Charlie Monfort – both of whom have discussed their personal religious conversions. Left unanswered in all this is whether the organization emphasizes "good character" in general or a Christian belief system specifically. But here's one revealing look from the USA Today:
While praising their players, Rockies executives make clear they believe God has had a hand in the team's improvement.

"You look at things that have happened to us this year," O'Dowd says. "You look at some of the moves we made and didn't make. You look at some of the games we're winning. Those aren't just a coincidence. God has definitely had a hand in this."

Manager Hurdle is a bit more diplomatic in the Denver Post but hints at an emphasis on a certain kind of "values":
Asked what role religion plays in the team's roster construction, Hurdle said, "We look for men of character, men of skills. Their (religious beliefs) are not a question that is even brought up. That those have a common fabric with Christianity is not a coincidence. But values are the issue."
Since this is an obsession of mine, I'll recuse myself from making any conclusions. You can read the stories and come to your own conclusions about the accuracy of Nightengale's account. Let me know what you think.