You never want to talk about religion or politics at a party, or so the saying goes.
That doesn’t seem to hold up completely on the baseball diamond.
Baseball players flashing crucifixes amid their game day jewelry or crossing themselves as they step to the plate is nothing new. I’ve been to plenty of major and minor league games, seen both the bling and quick prayers many times with nary a word of protest from the stands.
In fact one of the best stories in baseball last year was Josh Hamilton. The Texas Rangers’ slugger made a remarkable comeback from alcohol and drug addiction that saw him regain the skills that made him the top pick in the 1999 draft. He has done it with a strong reliance on faith, believing that God has helped put him back in baseball.
Hamilton was a superstar last season on an otherwise pedestrian Rangers club, pounding the ball consistently. The pinnacle was the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game, where Hamilton electrified Yankee Stadium more than the Yankees themselves did most of the building’s final year, crushing a record 28 home runs in the competition’s first round.
Politics can be a thornier issue, as Magglio Ordoñez has found out in recent days.
Ordoñez is playing for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. If you’ve only vaguely heard about it and haven’t watched it, you’re not alone. Only 13,000 fans turned out last night in Miami to see the United States win with an exciting ninth-inning rally against Puerto Rico.
Tonight the U.S. will play Venezuela in Miami in a game that only determines seeding for the two at this weekend’s semifinals at Dodger Stadium. Almost certainly, Ordoñez will again be roundly booed by the small but enthusiastic Venezuelan contingent at the game.
Ordoñez – who during the regular season plays for the Detroit Tigers – has thrown considerable political support behind Venezuela’s neo-Communist strongman Hugo Chavez. Chavez was given de facto dictatorial carte blanche in February when voters suspended term limits for the president and legislators. Ordoñez recorded pro-Chavez commercials and played softball with him in a pre-election propaganda move.
Ordoñez says the criticism hasn’t fazed him, but he’s hitting .150 for the tournament.
But compare Hamilton’s efforts last year and Ordoñez’s slump, and statistics, and sources of inspiration, don’t lie.