"St. Francis didn't necessarily go to churches, he went to the city streets to preach where people were, and he preached a language they could understand." - Fr. Casey Cole
The Bleacher Brothers – Fr. Casey Cole and Br. Tito Serrano, associate campus minister at Siena – are on a 17,000 mile, 11-week tour of all 30 Major League Baseball parks. They're spreading the Franciscan message "where people are" and throughout their trip they'll be sharing many of their stories and encounters in the SCoop.
A 17,000 mile journey starts with a simple drive to the first destination, and theirs could have gone better. A lost decal and a 30-minute detour complicated day one of a 77-day odyssey, but as Br. Tito says:
"They say we make plans and God laughs, well hopefully God is only going to chuckle on this trip, because a full belly laugh might leave us stranded somewhere."
Fortunately, the trip has gone smoother since they left South Florida. The Bleacher Brothers have been to seven games in the past two weeks: Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, Detroit Tigers, and Toronto Blue Jays.
They've also spoken at one junior high, two high schools, and two young adult groups, not to mention parishes. Of course, there have also been countless impromptu encounters at baseball stadiums. They're preaching their faith and spreading St. Francis' message of peace, after they convince baseball fans they're not in costume.
"When most people see us, they think we're jedis or mascots for the San Diego Padres," says Br. Tito. "It takes a little convincing, but they eventually believe we are who we say we are."
There have been plenty of laughs and poignant moments, and even some tears, though the crying was done on purpose.
As Jimmy Dugan, manager of the Rockford Peaches, Tom Hanks memorably and creatively insulted one of his players in the classic 1992 film A League of their Own. The scene was filmed at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Indiana. Fr. Casey, playing Hanks' role, and Br. Tito, as the emotional outfielder, recreated the scene standing on the exact dirt where it was shot 30 years ago. See the original scene and the Bleacher Brothers reenactment below.
As part of their midwest swing, the Bleacher Brothers visited the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory in Louisville, Kentucky. While touring the museum, Br. Tito was able to hold an artifact and felt a special connection to a special bat.
"It might seem a little shallow, but you have to understand where I'm coming from. My favorite baseball player of all time is Roberto Clemente. He played for the Pirates in the 60s and 70s, and he's the greatest player to come from Puerto Rico. As a Black man from the Caribbean, he faced his fair share of bigotry. Throughout his career, he maintained a strong desire to be of service to those less fortunate than him. In 1972, he died in a plane crash while on his way to Nicaragua to deliver supplies following a massive earthquake.
While at the museum, I was able to hold a bat that Clemente had used during a game (right). It reminded me of the first time I held a saint's relic, and while Roberto may not be a saint, he was a man who I believe did the best with what life gave him. He maintained his faith regardless of the success in his professional life, and he died in the service of the poor. I think of him as a man of ordinary holiness, and I hope to live a life of service like his regardless of where my life leads me. He's an example for all."
Clemente was a 15-time all-star for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame in 1973. There's a bronze status of Clemente outside PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Tonight, Br. Tito will visit the statue for the first time.