Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch soap operas. I suppose my mom thought the content was too mature and well, pointless. In 2011, reality TV seems to have taken the place of soap operas; only one remains (Days of Our Lives). I wonder if my parents would have put a restriction on reality TV as well. If they did, I would make a case for one that will air on Showtime Wednesday, July 13 The Franchise: A Season with the San Francisco Giants. What’s my argument? Believe it or not, the spiritual dimensions of the show are worth considering.The preview that aired on April 13 included Sergio Romo getting locked in Brian Wilson's car; a fishing expedition with Bruce Bochy; and a firsthand view of Andres Torres' barefoot, bare-chested workout routine. A fair bit of the show is what you would expect from a team labeled a “band of misfit toys.” Toys are fun and so are these guys.
But, there's an up-close look at the story of Marc Kroon, a 38-year-old African American pitcher who holds the record for the fastest pitch ever thrown in Japan. His story grows surprisingly more compelling as he eloquently and articulately shares the struggle of his relationship with his own father and the joy of becoming one. I found myself hoping he would make the club because of his gentle and warm spirit. I saw how hard he worked, I knew of his desire to return to MLB in the US but more specifically, I was drawn to the connections he made with his teammates. The camera does not lie. For a person so new to this "tribe of torture," he made a laudable impact.Kroon’s story is juxtaposed against the highly touted “future Will Clark” first baseman/outfielder Brandon Belt. While Kroon’s career enters its “twilight” phase, “The Franchise” chronicles the 23-year old Brandon Belt's effort to make the big-league club out of spring training (which he did). Lucky for him, a reality TV provided the perfect platform to personalize the team's future.
And how are those two stories remotely spiritual? Dan Groody, CSC states that “Spirituality is defined in many different ways and here I describe it primarily in terms of how people live out what they most value. Christian spirituality, more specifically, involves living out what Jesus most valued.” “The Franchise” even in its season preview reveals what these two players value. It gets an inside look at their deepest desires. And according to Ron Rolheiser, OMI “Spirituality is, ultimately, about what we do with that desire. What we do with our longings, both in terms of handling the pain and the hope they bring us, that is our spirituality . . .”
But the story doesn’t stop there. The Kroon and Belt testimonies are sandwiched between another man’s struggle; skipper Bruce Bochy only has a spots for 25 men on his roster. He must inform both men of their fate. Bochy meets individually with each athlete and despite different outcomes—their reaction is the same. Despite the fact the camera is rolling Marc Kroon and Brandon Belt cry. Neither one can hold back their tears. The viewer is privy to a very spiritual moment. How? Why?
In his book The Holy Longing Rolheiser states Desire can show itself as aching pain or delicious hope. Spirituality is ultimately about what we do with that desire. What we do with our longings, both in terms of handling the pain and the hope they bring us that is our spirituality.
Marc Kroon’s dream is on hold. The aching pain in his heart, the desire that he had to make the team, to contribute his gift, to demonstrate his talent to his own children an the world will not be lived out in the way he had hoped. “The Franchise” documented what he did with his desire until that point. Will we see him later in the season? I hope so.
Brandon Belt’s future in April was ripe with delicious hope. He hit a single in his first major league at bat and concluded the series against the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers with a 3-run home run. Although he was optioned to Triple-A Fresno to make room on the roster for Cody Ross, I have no doubt he hopes to return to AT&T soon.
I will show this episode of “The Franchise” in my Sports and Spirituality class this fall. I hope the rest of the season provides a lens into the spiritual life in the same unexpected but wonderful way the preview did.
Watch the Preview here!