“Ask Jesus to take control,” Hurdle urged the crowd as he clutched his black leather Coach’s Bible. “I have to do it every day.” J. C. Derrick
“Sometimes in the Major League Baseball world and the politically correct world we live in we’re told we can’t do that [share our Christian faith], and that’s definitely not the case with the [Pittsburgh] Pirates.” Ibid
PITTSBURGH, Pa.—The Pittsburgh Pirates shut out the San Francisco Giants, 4-0, on a recent night at PNC Park, but some 10,000 fans didn’t leave at the end of the game. About 45 minutes after the last pitch, several players and coaches dressed in street clothes made their way from the third base dugout to where 24 black Pirates folding chairs sat near the first base line.
“I am a fallen man,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, 58, announced as he began pacing back and forth between his seated players and the first base dugout. Hurdle, wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, told the assembled fans—a few dressed in Giants garb—about his two failed marriages and how he lived for himself for 40 years before putting his faith in Christ.
“Ask Jesus to take control,” Hurdle urged the crowd as he clutched his black leather Coach’s Bible. “I have to do it every day.”
Hurdle’s mini-sermon came at the Pirates’ third annual Faith Night at PNC Park in the shadow of downtown Pittsburgh. Baseball faith nights aren’t new, but they often entail a Christian rock band performance, a cameo by a Christian player, and gimmicks and giveaways to get people in the stands.
Pittsburgh’s event was different: It involved two coaches and 10 players (40 percent of the active roster), was based on content, not entertainment, and took place after the game. None of the fans seemed to mind staying at the ballpark past 11:30 p.m. on a work or school night.
Pittsburgh’s Faith Night began in 2013 after Hurdle and Pirates chaplain Brad Henderson hatched the idea in a brainstorming session. That first year about 2,500 fans gathered behind the first base dugout to hear a handful of players. In 2014 the crowd grew down the right field line. This year, fans started at the third base dugout, filled the entire lower level seating bowl on the right side of the field, and stretched into the right field seats.
“It’s significant to see the power of the spoken word and of the relationship with Jesus, and how many people are attracted to it,” Hurdle told me after the event.
Henderson, in his 13th season as the Pirates’ chaplain, said the organization has been very supportive of the chapel program, and he’s seen players come to faith in Christ through it. He said about 15 players regularly attend, which he called the strongest group he’s ever had.
Hurdle’s “love for Christ has infiltrated the organization,” Henderson told me. He said because the manager is so open with his faith, it has allowed others in the organization to do the same: “Sometimes in the Major League Baseball world and the politically correct world we live in we’re told we can’t do that, and that’s definitely not the case with the Pirates.”
Pittsburgh’s spiritual resurgence has coincided with a resurgence on the field: The Pirates set a big league record with 20 straight losing seasons from 1994 to 2012, but as of early September, they held the third-best record in baseball en route to their third straight playoff appearance.