There’s a tongue-in-cheek rumor flying around that the Arizona Diamondbacks have been playing better since hosting the first-ever “Catholic Night” at Chase Field on Sept. 29, the Feast of the Archangels.
“I’d like to think ‘Catholic Night’ had some role in invoking God’s blessing on them because about a week later, they started playing fantastic against the Brewers,” said Fr. John Muir, vicar general for the Diocese of Phoenix and rector of St. Mary’s Basilica, located just a few blocks from the D-backs’ Chase Field in Downtown Phoenix.
Maybe it was those extra graces and angels in the outfield that helped the Diamondbacks make to their first World Series since 2001. However, they got there, the one certainty is the support they’re getting from fans throughout the Valley and state, including from Catholics.
Paul Mulligan, president and CEO of Phoenix-based Catholic Charities Community Services offered a friendly wager to his counterparts in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, where ALCS champions Texas Rangers play. If the Rangers win, then he and the director of Diocese of Tucson-based Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona have to wear Texas Rangers jerseys to all events and functions, including community gatherings and board meetings for a week. However, if the D-backs win, the directors for Catholic Charities Fort Worth and Catholic Charities Dallas must wear D-backs jerseys for a week.
“We have 168 agencies around the country. We’re in all these markets. Let’s put our charities in the spotlight,” said Mulligan. “Texas is a great state with a lot of great Catholic Charities from small ones they have in Lubbock and Rio Grande Valley to the big ones in Houston, San Antonio [and] Dallas.”
Since they made the bet, Mulligan and Catholic Charities Fort Worth president and CEO Michael “Iggy” Iglio have been playfully talking trash with each other in favor of their respective teams. After the Rangers won Game 1 on Oct. 27, 6-5 in extra innings at Globe Life Field in Arlington — Iglio sent a gif of two Rangers sharing a silly handshake. Not to be outdone, Mulligan shared a photo of himself wearing a custom D-backs jersey giving the “thumbs up” sign after they defeated the Rangers in Game 2 on Oct. 28, 9-1. The Rangers came back to win Game 3 on Oct. 30 at Chase Field, 3-1, with two more games scheduled at Chase Field on Oct. 31-Nov. 1. If the series extends to all seven games, Games 6 and 7 will be played in Arlington on Nov. 3-4.
“We thought it’d be a fun way to support our community, for me here in North Texas and the Rangers and the incredible season they’re having,” Iglio said. “Much like the Rangers going from six years of not really good performance to this turnaround, it’s a great way to let people know in the community that we’re here to help, and we’re here to help people make this turnaround, this transformational change.
“The hope of our organizations, even though we’re different, we still serve with the same passion and purpose with incredible services to make a difference in people’s lives,” he added.
In addition to the Catholic Night, the Diamondbacks also hosted Catholic Charities Night Sept. 20, presenting Mulligan with two custom jerseys and allowing him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
“The D-backs have been good partners to Catholic Charities here in Phoenix,” said Mulligan. “Players come over, sign autographs, they invite us to go to baseball games. We have residents — guests at the shelter — many of whom have never been to a professional ball game. These guys have been so generous.”
Mulligan credits the culture fostered by Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall. Through the Diamondbacks’ charitable arm, Catholic Charities received a grant to build a new kitchen for MANA (Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force) House, which helps veterans find long-term security.
“They’re a very giving franchise. As far as the Arizona market, you won’t find a more generous sports franchise,” Mulligan said. “I love the culture these guys have. Derrick Hall has been recognized for that throughout.”
Although Joyce Coronel, the Diocese of Phoenix manager of Evangelization and Sacramental Life, didn’t anticipate a World Series run, she is leading a team outside the Diocesan Pastoral Center to distribute rosaries and offer to pray for people, similar to their evangelization efforts during Super Bowl LVII. Future plans include evangelization efforts during the NCAA Men’s Basketball “Final Four” in April 2024.
Referencing the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s Paragraph 905: “The true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers … or to the faithful,” Coronel noted that the World Series provides such an occasion.
“By our baptism and confirmation, we’ve been commissioned to share the Good News,” she said. “We’ve been called to announce the Good news and to share the love of Christ with the world.”
Volunteers will set up outside the Pastoral Center from 3-5 p.m. every day that the series is being played in Phoenix. While Coronel and Fr. Muir wish to be welcoming, they both shared their excitement at the Diamondbacks making their first World Series run since winning in 2001.
“I was in seminary in Denver when they won the World Series in 2001,” recalled Fr. Muir. “I’m excited to be in Phoenix when we get another championship.”
To accommodate that Game 5 is on Nov. 1, All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation, Fr. Muir shared that in lieu of an evening Mass, liturgies will be celebrated at 7 a.m. and 12 p.m.
An avid baseball fan, Fr. Muir at one point wanted to play professionally, even playing in high school and college. Throughout the course of the week, he’ll be wearing a special D-backs hat that also has the Diocese of Phoenix logo from Catholic Night. Even as a fan, he wants to be sure to be a welcoming presence.
“It’s about being welcoming and showing the Church cares about the community,” he said. “We’re excited about our baseball team and welcoming people. Being proud we’re Catholic and chatting with them, being as friendly as we possibly can. It’s exciting for the city, and exciting for the Church, especially for the Basilica and the Pastoral Center.”