Detroit Tigers

Despite a few holy ghosts, sweet Father's Day story involving a major-league catcher warms the heart

Despite a few holy ghosts, sweet Father's Day story involving a major-league catcher warms the heart

Heartwarming. Powerful. Definitely worth a read.

All of those descriptions fit a Father's Day sports column published by The Detroit News.

The piece by John Niyo concerns the personal journey of Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann and his wife, Jessica, as they brought premature twin sons into the world six months ago. My friend Ron Hadfield, a longtime Tigers fan, tipped me to the story. 

I mostly loved it. But — if you'll indulge just a little constructive criticism — I thought it was haunted by a few holy ghosts. As in, I wish the writer had been a bit more specific in places about the couple's faith. More on that in a moment.

First, let's check out the compelling opening:

DETROIT  It’s not just the double vision he gets every day. Sometimes, it feels like James McCann is looking in the mirror, too.

The Tigers’ stalwart catcher sees it before he heads to work most afternoons, and often when he gets home at night as well, depending on how late the Rally Goose keeps him at the ballpark. He’ll take one look at his sons, Christian and Kane  6-month-old twins with a remarkable story to share on Father’s Day  and Christian will give him one right back.

“He’ll give me those eyebrows like, ‘What are you lookin’ at?’” McCann said, laughing as he dressed in the Tigers’ clubhouse before a game this week against the Twins, of course. “And my parents both say, ‘Yep, that was you.’

“Christian is a little bit more laid-back. Kane, he’ll let you know how he feels. And he’s a little bit quicker to smile, quicker to laugh, where Christian is more stoic, stone-faced, sort of like, ‘You’re gonna have to work for this smile.’”

At that, McCann, who celebrated his 28th birthday Wednesday, cracks a smile of his own  a grin, really  and the square-jawed stoicism is nowhere to be found. Funny what fatherhood can do to a man, or as his wife Jessica notes, what six blessed months can do for a young couple raising premature babies.

Keep reading, and the writer explains the nature of the high-risk pregnancy and how the boys were born 10 weeks early and weighed only 3 pounds each. 

And then there's the first mention of faith:

The McCanns would spend the next seven weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, and for a time, James and his wife were only allowed to hold the twins once a day. The doctors and nurses made no promises early on, but the parents parried any doubts with prayer. The devout couple named the firstborn Christian, and they settled on Kane for the second boy after looking up the name and learning it meant “little warrior.”

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Another faith angle with a Detroit Tigers pitcher: Free Press nails how Matthew Boyd raised his game

Another faith angle with a Detroit Tigers pitcher: Free Press nails how Matthew Boyd raised his game

Apparently, I'm not the only journalist interested in the faith of Detroit Tigers pitchers.

To refresh those who haven't committed all my baseball stories to memory: A few years ago, I interviewed Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris about his baptism in his uniform as a high school player.

Just a few weeks ago, I interviewed a different Tigers pitcher — Michael Fulmer — about the role of faith in his approach to baseball and life, including his offseason job as a part-time plumber.

And now — thanks to my friend Ron Hadfield, one of the world's most devoted Detroit fans — I have come across a feature about the faith of yet another Tigers pitcher: Matthew Boyd.

The recent Detroit Free Press story notes that Boyd has "raised his game."

How'd he do it?

Let's check out the subhead:

Family, faith, fatherhood have helped take Matthew Boyd to a new level over his eight starts for the Detroit Tigers this season

Alrighty. That sounds like a religion story.

Often, we at GetReligion complain about holy ghosts in sports stories. But in this case, give the Free Press credit for its willingness to focus on that angle.

The paper even quotes Boyd's pastor up high:

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From 'van man' to man of God: Finally, a ghost-free profile of quirky Detroit Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris

From 'van man' to man of God: Finally, a ghost-free profile of quirky Detroit Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris

My three favorite holidays: Thanksgiving. Christmas. Opening Day.

I'm on vacation from my regular job this week and headed — as soon as I can type this post and throw a few baseball shirts and jeans into a suitcase — to Arlington, Texas. My beloved Texas Rangers open the 2017 season at home tonight against the defending American League champion Cleveland Indians.

If you need me, I'll be Section 115, Row 33, Seat 5.

Given the peanuts-and-Cracker Jacks nature of this Monday, it seems only appropriate that I critique a baseball story — and thanks to my friend Ron Hadfield, an avid Detroit Tigers fan, I've got a terrific one to highlight.

"Here's one Detroit sportswriter unafraid to write about a player's faith," Hadfield said in sharing a link to this story.

If you're a baseball fan and a GetReligion reader (by my rough count, there are three of  you), I know what you're thinking about this ghost-free Detroit Free Press profile of Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris.

And I agree: It's about time someone in the mainstream press delved into Norris' faith and took it seriously. We've been begging for this since Norris first burst onto the national scene with an in-depth ESPN the Magazine profile two years ago.

Later that same season, I did some behind-the-scenes ghostbusting and interviewed Norris for The Christian Chronicle — answering a key question that ESPN ignored:

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God and baseball: Why sportswriters keep ignoring this MLB pitcher's Christian faith

God and baseball: Why sportswriters keep ignoring this MLB pitcher's Christian faith

Daniel Norris makes no secret of his Christian faith — no secret at all.

The Detroit Tigers pitcher's Twitter profile is typical of that openness:

I live to find 3 things. 1. Eternal life. 2. The strike zone. & 3. Good waves - 2 Peter 3:18 - Just Keep Livin' *dirtbag*

So why do sportswriters — again and again and again — either totally ignore that aspect of Norris' character or keep the nature of his faith vague?

The latest examples of how sports journalists treat the top prospect's faith come in recent reports on the 22-year-old having a malignant tumor removed from his neck this offseason. 

Despite a drive-by scattering of terms such as "prayer," "faith" and "eternal life," holy ghosts haunt the reports.

The Detroit Free Press notes:

After the season, Norris announced his cancer on Twitter and Instagram.
“I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer,” he posted Oct. 19. “So now, I’m asking for prayers.”
His faith is the center of his being. “It’s something to lean on,” he said. “Without faith, I don’t think I would be in the big leagues.”

Photo by Mark Cunningham, Detroit Tigers

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Detroit Tigers pitcher with cancer believes in 'power of prayer,' but why?

Detroit Tigers pitcher with cancer believes in 'power of prayer,' but why?

Daniel Norris believes in "the power of prayer."

The Detroit Tigers pitcher made that clear in an Instagram post Monday in which he revealed he will undergo surgery for a malignant growth on his thyroid.

However, sportswriters seem to be leery of Norris' faith. Again.

This is the Detroit Free Press' lede on Norris' cancer diagnosis:

Daniel Norris will be put to the test.
His opponent: thyroid cancer.
The Detroit Tigers’ young left-handed pitcher announced on Instagram and Twitter this afternoon that he was diagnosed with the disease earlier in the season while playing with the Toronto Blue Jays and will undergo surgery to remove a malignant tumor in the off-season.
He acknowledged playing baseball helped him deal with the troubling diagnosis and that a doctor determined he could wait until after the season to have surgery.
"I've been debating for months as to how or even if I should share this with people," he posted on Instagram. "I'm a firm believer in the power of prayer. So now, I'm asking for prayers.”

Give the Free Press credit for using Norris' direct quote asking for prayers in the fifth paragraph. But did the Detroit newspaper bury the lede?

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Revisiting ESPN's Man in the Van: Why was this pitcher baptized in his baseball uniform?

Revisiting ESPN's Man in the Van: Why was this pitcher baptized in his baseball uniform?

Get ready for some ghostbusting.

Way back in March, we spotted holy ghosts in an otherwise terrific ESPN the Magazine profile of highly touted pitcher Daniel Norris, then with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Readers had alerted us to the story's blatant avoidance of religion.

In my critique of the ESPN story, I wrote:

Given how much Norris talks about his faith, there's no way ESPN missed the religion angle. The magazine obviously chose to ignore it, and that's a shame.
Granted, ESPN still produced a fascinating story — a solid double off the wall.
But the magazine missed a chance to hit a straight-down-the-middle fastball out of the park.

Fast-forward more than six months, and Norris now pitches for the Detroit Tigers (he's the scheduled starter vs. the Chicago White Sox tonight). Detroit obtained Norris in late July in a deal that sent former American League Cy Young Award winner David Price to Toronto.

Typically at GetReligion, we are not in a position to ask the actual source of a story about the handling of the religion content. 

But on a recent reporting trip to Detroit, I interviewed Norris, a member of the Central Church of Christ in Johnson City, Tenn., for The Christian Chronicle.

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