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They may not know it, but they’re evangelists

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Fans of the Major League Baseball Network, or MLB-TV, know the fun-loving, baseball-addicted hosts of the program are rarely at a loss for words.

But when 26-year-old Daniel Poncedeleon finished seven complete hitless innings in his major league debut after taking a year to recover from a near-fatal line drive to the head that did brain damage against our Cincinnati Reds July 23, he managed to prompt an awkward silence with the “Baseball Tonight” panel.

One of the panelists asked Poncedeleon what he learned about himself from his recovery from the injury and he said, “I found the courage through God. That strength did not come from me. It came from Him and His glory.”

Then he waited in silence while his witness was digested. It must have been a lot to digest because no one said anything you could hear crickets chirping. “Something like that would test your faith,” said commentator Harold Reynolds, who changed the subject to something about how well the rookie right-hander’s slider was working.

Poncedeleon’s story was known before his July 23 debut but it was very well known after that stellar performance. When we talk about evangelization, we often need look no further than things that happen in our daily lives like the national pastime.

The St. Louis pitcher continued his testimony in subsequent interviews saying the accident “changed everything” for him, and his time in recovery gave him a chance to focus on his family and study his Bible. “That allowed me to become a much better Christian than what I’d been,” Poncedeleon told MLB.com.

The Cardinals prevailed that night, although the Reds made it close, but Poncedeleon’s story made something more noticeable. Several Reds players cross themselves when they come to bat or when they perform well. Since most who do this are Latino, it’s easy to attribute it to culture – or even superstition, since baseball players are notoriously superstitious. But consider the youngsters in the stands or watching them on TV. They are being evangelized, after a fashion.

When the Catholic mayor of my former city of residence invited someone to lunch or coffee, no one took their first sip until he crossed himself and said grace. When George took the lead, those of us who were also Catholics found it easier to cross ourselves in public.

Each time a person of faith shares that faith in public, he or she is opening the door to the Good News for others. He or she is also making it easier for the timid and shy among us to find the courage to offer witness ourselves. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

So when we see someone like a baseball player give witness by crossing himself, we can follow suit – not to thank God for his run-scoring hit or walk-off homer, but for his evangelism to the thousands watching.

As I write this column, the temperatures and humidity in the Cincinnati metro area are tropical, but by the end of this month, leaves will be turning and we will be looking ahead to the season of Advent and the Nativity.

Even families with similar ethnic backgrounds have distinct traditions for celebrating the Christmas season. I’d like to hear about yours and share it with “The Catholic Telegraph” family of readers.

If your family has such a tradition or if your family is younger and planning to start or alter an Advent or Christmas tradition, please let me know. Keep the description brief and the gushing constrained, but do share and get the information to me via email ([email protected]) by Oct. 25.

I will publish them in November.

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