Brewers Opening Day

Clergy say to balance beliefs, Brewers on Good Friday and Easter

CREATED Apr 5, 2012

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Click here for a sampling of Good Friday services with times that allow people to also attend, watch or listen to the Brewers' Opening Day game.

MILWAUKEE - Brewers fans of many faiths have Opening Day and this weekend's games against the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park, and the Masses, services and family events that surround the celebrations of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Milwaukee's Opening Day 2012 falls on the day that Christians mark the death of Christ.

"Even though it falls on Good Friday, we observe (Opening Day), we observe the tradition," said Archbishop Jerome Listecki on Newsradio 620 WTMJ's "Wisconsin's Morning News."

"Enjoy the game.  Root the Brewers on to victory, and make sure you abstain (from meat)," he reminded Catholic Brewers fans.

But do Brewers games, and big sports events like the Masters on Easter Weekend, take too much away from the observance of the faith?

Dozens of churches across our area, such as Oak Creek Assembly of God, have scheduled many services that make it convenient for Brewers fans to go to games on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday without missing church time.

But according to the church's pastor, Jerry Brooks, it's not as easy as just getting to both events.

"Both can be accomplished, but it would do mankind well and serve them well, the players, the staff alike, if we just take a little quiet time for quiet reflection on this special holy weekend," said Pastor Brooks.

Fr. Peter Etzel serves with the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus.  But in one of his previous jobs before entering the Jesuits, he covered the Masters for the Milwaukee Journal on Easter Weekend. 

"Augusta National had these great, great egg salad sandwiches," Fr. Etzel, S.J., the former pastor at Gesu Parish in Milwaukee, remembered. 

"I could be faithful to the (Good Friday) fast and the abstinence as well as eating great.  I always wondered if the Masters did that out of respect to those who chose not to eat meat?"

But even in his time at the Journal (1976-83), which included a stint as assistant sports editor for two years, Fr. Etzel, S.J. witnessed how the sports business began to take over more and more of the religious holidays we celebrate.

"During those days in the sports department, we tried to tell people that sports was turning into business, and it was becoming a big business.  Sports began to lose respect for family traditions, religious practices."

"For example, I can remember when the NFL did not have any games on Christmas Day, no matter what."

Now, the NFL holds games on Christmas Day if it falls on a weekend, such as the Christmas night Packers-Bears game at Lambeau Field this past season.

For decades, when Major League Baseball's schedule or that of the Masters has fallen on Easter weekend, they have still played the games on a normal schedule.

That happens to include one memorable Easter 25 years ago in Milwaukee, when Rob Deer and Dale Sveum hit ninth-inning homers to help the Brewers come back and defeat the Texas Rangers and set an American League record for consecutive victories to start a season (12).

When it comes to the idea about asking Major League Baseball to forgo playing games on Good Friday or Easter, Fr. Etzel, S.J. says the business of sports takes the forefront.

"I don't think baseball cares.  I'm sure they don't care.  It's what's best for baseball, what's best for their TV contracts, what's best for whatever it is that helps the financial aspect of that game."

What about what's best for the fans?

Both Pastor Brooks and Fr. Etzel, S.J. say church time and sports time are do-able for their flock, though Brooks suggests that perhaps baseball should move first pitch times back later in the afternoon, or in the early evening.

"Maybe a little later start time would benefit making both a little easier to take place," said Pastor Brooks.

"We try to squeeze so much into a day, so much in life, that I'm not sure we appreciate any and all of the various pieces (of life) that we could."

Fr. Etzel, S.J., who now serves Sioux tribe members and others in South Dakota, suggests a few ways to appreciate the spirit of Easter while heading to Miller Park - perhaps a more prayerful, more spirit-led approach to treating players and umpires during the three-game series.

"Maybe be more kind to the umpire.  Don't (yell) 'Kill the umpire!  Murder the bum!'  If somebody makes a boneheaded play, be nice to them," said Etzel, S.J.

He also gave a humorous thought to your baseball and prayer life multitasking this weekend.

"Maybe you want to fast and abstain thinking about those poor Cubs fans over the years who are long-suffering and probably all have been in purgatory."