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USF Event Looks At Ties Between Religion And Baseball

USF Religious Studies Club
"Baseball: America's Sacred Pastime" takes place Monday at 4 p.m. in the USF Marshall Student Center.

The Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees 7 to 3 on Opening Day Sunday, perhaps fueling the optimism of fans in the team's 20th year.

The beginning of a new baseball season is one of the times that proves the statement, "hope springs eternal." The similarities between the tenets of religion and baseball are the subject of a Monday afternoon event sponsored by the University of South Florida's Religious Studies Club. 

Dell deChant is the chair of the Department of Religious Studies.

He says parallels can be drawn between the definition of "faith," at least in Christian scripture, and the preseason optimism of a baseball fan.

"If faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen, and you don't have, I think, a better example of that kind of faith than the faith of a fan on Opening Day," deChant said.

When asked why they're comparing the two subjects, deChant said that he and many of his colleagues focus on how elements of the sacred manifest themselves in the secular world.

"In the case of baseball, you have a wonderful example of what for many people seems like simply a secular sporting activity, when in fact, when explored a little bit more deeply and utilizing some of the characteristics that we associate with religion, reveals itself to be actually an experience of the sacred for many of the fans and many of the participants," deChant said.

The Tampa Bay Rays fan adds that most religions have a vision of an "ultimate destiny." He says that's similar to the faith of backers of sports teams. 

"That type of belief is not uncommon in many religious systems that are for example, awaiting a transition of the world, sometimes characterized as an apocalypse or a grand transformation that's going to occur - the waiting and the expectancy that's present in many sports teams and fans of many sports teams is characteristic of that same kind of belief, there's an apocalyptic element to it."

Similarly, fans of long-suffering teams like the Rays or last year's World Series winners, the Chicago Cubs, especially yearn for a championship.

"And then, when the team is successful, and in the case of the Cubs, it was over a century (between World Series titles), there's a sense of redemption, a sense of salvation and a sense of reward for this lifelong commitment, this lifelong faith," deChant said.

"Baseball: America's Sacred Pastime" begins at 4 p.m. with a showing of Kevin Costner's 1989 Oscar nominated film, "Field of Dreams," in Room 3709 in the Marshall Student Center on the Tampa campus.

"This movie introduces the mythology of baseball, which is part of the theme that we're exploring in the program," deChant said.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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