As baseball season about to begin, chaplain says Washington Nationals' World Series run was 'story of faith'
Jul 23, 2020
A baseball season and team are not often synonymous with religious or spiritual themes, but for Msgr. Stephen Rossetti using words such as miracle, grace and faith are actually the best ways to describe the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals.
“It’s a story of hope. It’s a story of faith. It’s a story of mutual love and friendship,” said the priest, who has served as the Nationals’ team priest chaplain for the past 10 years. “It’s an inspiring story, a spiritual story, and it felt like a miracle.”
In a July 2 talk at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., Msgr. Rossetti shared with several attendees the Gospel lessons, inspiration and blessings that continue to resonate from a Nationals’ season that began so bleakly, but against all odds rose to baseball’s highest peak on Oct. 30, 2019.
“It was deeply moving for me and everybody. You could feel the electricity, something special was happening, a special spiritual grace happening,” said Msgr. Rossetti, referring to the October playoff start. “The players, coaches and staff all felt the same.”
During the regular season, Msgr. Rossetti, who also is a licensed psychologist and teaches theology at The Catholic University of America, celebrates Mass at Nationals Park for the players, coaches, staff, stadium crew, as well as the visiting team before every Sunday home game. The priest said he offers prayers for a safe, healthy game, but doesn’t pray specifically for a Nats’ win.
“I think God knows who I’m rooting for,” he joked.
After a nearly four month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, the Washington Nationals open Major League Baseball’s regular season with a July 23 game against the New York Yankees at Nationals Park. Due to COVID-19 safety precautions, there will be no fans in the stands, but the game will be televised at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Throughout the past decade, Msgr. Rossetti said he’s gotten to know many of the Nationals front office staff and players. Although a majority of the players are young men between the ages of 19 and 28, he said they are respectful, mature and often faith-filled individuals. “From top to bottom (of the Nats’ organization), they are really nice people,” he said.
Msgr. Rossetti showed photographs of some of his favorite moments of the 2019 season, pointing out ways that remind him of the Gospel message. He said the team’s motto for the playoffs – “Stay in the Fight” – is a good example of the Christian virtue of hope. “Don’t give up...Hope is important for all our lives,” he said, adding that he told the players: “If you gave up, you wouldn’t be here (in the playoffs.)...It was inspiring that they never gave up.”
After the National League championship series win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, team manager Davey Martinez reflected on the rough start to the season, telling the overjoyed crowd, “Bumpy roads lead to beautiful places. And this is a beautiful place!”
Msgr. Rossetti said this is the same notion as the Paschal Mystery. “We must go through the darkness to get to the Resurrection,” he said. “We all pay our dues. There are no easy lives. The Lord is with us, and walks with us.”
He also commended the Nationals for their great team effort all season long and during the playoffs and World Series, an example of the Christian ideal that every individual is important and counts.
“Each guy had their own moment. Davey believed in them and each guy rose to the moment and contributed,” he said.
Msgr. Rossetti also shared more personal insights on the championship season, including how moved he was to witness the transformation of Nationals’ pitcher Stephen Strasburg, whom he described as shy, but had come out of his shell thanks in part to teammates Gerardo Parra and Anibal Sanchez. “It really was the most touching moment of the playoff series,” he said, showing a photo of the three players in a jubilant group hug.
“It’s really been a personal journey for him. He’s grown up, gotten married, had children,” the priest said. “Life becomes for you your own Gospel story.”
He played a clip of player Howie Kendrick’s seventh-inning World Series game 7 homerun that put the Nationals ahead of the Houston Astros. “A majority of players and staff are very faith-filled,” said Msgr. Rossetti, citing Kendrick’s heartfelt prayer at the plate before he hit the dinger. “He said, ‘God, if you have anything for me, this is the time.’”
Other examples of Gospel values from the season, he said were the young star outfielders – Victor Robles and Juan Soto – often praying together and frequently surrounded by their families. Even the dugout dancing after homeruns and the “Baby Shark” walk up song becoming a stadium anthem among the fans were instances of “self-effacing joy in the Christian life,” he noted.
“It can’t be underestimated what (those traditions) did for the team,” said the priest, who recalled his Little League baseball days as a youngster, but “was no good,” and really became a baseball fan when the Nationals first arrived in the nation’s capital in 2005.
Fifteen years later and a World Series championship in the books, Msgr. Rossetti said he feels very blessed to support the team and help keep the Lord present in their lives – win or lose. But this season, in particular, he said was a grace-filled experience that can serve to remind everyone of God’s love and care for all.
“It was a joy to be part of the Nationals’ season in a modest way. I thank the Lord for that grace, and I hope whatever happens (this season), they will do well and ‘Stay in the Fight,’” Msgr. Rossetti said.
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