I RELIGIOUSLY watch the Red Sox, but, increasingly, I'm actually watching religion. Maybe baseball and the Bible have become the modern-day doubleheader.
Curt Schilling has an elaborate ritual when he takes the mound that includes a silent prayer and a kissing of the cross, which he wears around his neck.
Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz point skyward in praise of the Lord with each home run, a custom that Pedro Martinez practiced as well when leaving the mound victorious. (Apparently, though, his prayers were answered by the Mets.)
Lesser hitters thrust fingers toward the sky after reaching base, even on a seeing-eye single or a Texas League blooper.
The Fenway faithful have joined the crusade. Look carefully and you'll notice that some of the signs fans hold aloft in honor of one player or another are adorned with crosses. But the best display recently was a poster hoisted in the stands as a Sox home run soared over the right-field wall. It proclaimed: Jesus loves the Red Sox.
The same could be said, of course, about football, where many players, both college and professional, fall to their knees to pray in the end zone after scoring a touchdown, as the ''burned" cornerback or safety just falls to his knees. Meanwhile, John 3:16 signs are ever present in the stands.
These gestures and signs, no doubt well-meaning, do more to trivialize than popularize religion. In the midst of war, famine, AIDS, and tsunamis, even the most ardent members of Red Sox Nation surely believe that there are more important tasks for the Good Lord than putting a four-seamer over the plate or a four-bagger out of the park, all so that the BoSox can put another game in the win column.
If Fenway is to be an appropriate venue for religious expression, we should ask how the crowd would react to a sign held up by a Middle Eastern looking fan proclaiming that ''Allah Loves the Red Sox," or, even worse, ''Allah Loves the Yankees." Or how would fans respond if a Jewish player (the Sox have at least two) routinely kissed a mezuzah around his neck before stepping into the batter's box? Are all religions equally welcome inside the park?
Prayer and expression of gratitude to God mean a great deal to a great many athletes and spectators. One wonders, however, why their convictions must be on display at the ballpark. There certainly is a place for religion in America, but does it have to be Fenway?