Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Pope Comes To Town

(My weekly column from The Love Of Sports. It's not every day that the Pope comes to your town. Unless you live in The Vatican. And even there, it's not like it's very easy to get on the pontiff's schedule - even for a friendly game of bowling. I hear Benedict loves bowling. So now that he's in New York for a visit, I had to throw something out there on the topic.)

We all have our own special way of rooting for our favorite teams and players – fantasy or otherwise.

Sometimes, we find ourselves crossing our fingers when a beloved player is up to bat with runners in scoring position.

Other times, we cover our eyes and bite down on our hand during potentially pivotal plays - like I did during the 1993 World Series, whenever Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams was pitching. Depending on the importance of the particular play, blood may have been drawn.

With me, if you look closely, you can still see the bite marks.

We all want to believe that our cheers and our rituals will have some effect on the outcome of a game. And inevitably, we experience that occasion when we cheered real hard, and, lo and behold, our team won the game, or our guy hit a home run. So we keep doing it, no matter how ridiculous it may seem to a non-sports-fan observer.

- Hold your breath until the opposing team’s power play is over?

- Chug a 32-ounce beer every time your team scores a touchdown?

- Paint a big blue letter on your chest and stand outside in subzero temperatures, shirtless. During a blizzard.

- Sleep outside your favorite tennis player’s house for weeks on end, and not shave or shower until he/she wins a Grand Slam tournament.

Despite this seemingly irrational behavior, it all comes down to something called faith, no matter how you slice it.

And as illustrated above, each of us has our own brand of faith that we subscribe to when it comes to sports.

This begs the question - Does God/Jesus/Zeus/Buddha/Allah etc. really want our team to win more than anyone else’s?

And don’t you think the Yankees are taking it a step too far this year?

Pope Benedict’s visit to the Stadium – “The House That Ruth Built”, and I don’t mean the biblical Ruth - has been billed as just another leg of the pontiff’s journey through America – our first papal visit in almost 10 years.

Yeah right.

My theory?

The Steinbrenners arranged for the Pope’s entire trip in order to get him to bless their team – at their home stadium. After all, we know the Yankees are searching for something, anything that could help them return to the pinnacle of baseball – and dominate those damn, dirty Red Sox once again.

And although the Yanks couldn’t get Johan Santana, they did get Pope Benedict XVI. He might be the next best thing.

You might think that Pope Benedict is only good at blessing things, and spreading peace, love, and all that jazz. However, I’ve been told by senior Vatican officials that the current pontiff not only fires a fastball that lights up the radar gun at 99 mph, but he’s also got a knee-buckling overhand curve – which is a fantastic change of pace pitch.

He looks to be a solid number 2 or 3 starter – which is just what the Yankees need to get over the hump.

Pope Benedict's curtain call, after tossing 8 innings of shutout ball. He struck out everyone he faced, and miraculously turned Gatorade into Orangina - his favorite soft drink.

They’ve got the offense. They’ve got the defense. They just need some pitching help. And a little lift from the hand of God. With Pope Benedict, they get a bit of both.

Only time will tell if the Yankees radical strategy will work.

All I’ll say is – to all of you Red Sox fans out there – you should PRAY that it doesn’t.

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