Is it a superstitious ritual, or something deeper?
When watching a baseball game – or any sporting event – it is extremely common to notice at least one player making the Sign of the Cross.
Why is that? Is it some personal superstition?
Baseball Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez explained in an interview with the Sun Sentinel how he blessed himself before every pitch. It was a custom he started when playing on the sandlot as a kid and he would pray a short prayer every time he did it.
I always believe in Jesus. Any time I get the time, I pray. And I talk to Jesus. I always ask him to take care of myself, to take care of my family. I never say, “I want you to give this to me today.”
Similarly, former right fielder Juan Gonzalez said that before every at-bat, he crossed himself and prayed for different things, “Keep me healthy. Let me play hard. Let me never get hurt.”
The ritual is ingrained in many athletes. And certainly the Sign of the Cross is something the Catholic Church has encouraged for centuries. Many mothers and grandmothers have passed on the tradition to their children to make the Sign of the Cross before everything, whether it is taking a test or hitting a home run. In their minds, nothing is off limits to God’s grace.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this practice and explains how: “The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties” (2157).
Note how the Catechism points out that the “Christian begins…his activities with the Sign of the Cross.” This highlights the fact that any activity (that is not inherently sinful, of course!) can be sanctified by Christ’s cross and made holy. When an athlete calls upon God’s grace and help in a stressful situation, he/she is doing so in recognition of the providential care of God.
It is true that the custom can be done in a superstitious way and does not in itself reveal much about the faith of the individual, which only God can judge. However, that does not mean it is something to be avoided. It simply challenges the person to remember what they are doing and to make the action of crossing oneself into a prayer.
God wants to be a part of every aspect of our lives and remain in our hearts in every activity we engage in. Making the Sign of the Cross reminds us of that fact and opens our hearts to him wherever we are. Whether we are at school, in church or in the outfield, God is with us.