When I first started taking my baseball-themed vacations, the Pirates were still playing at Three Rivers Stadium. When I would go to a different ballpark, I would get jealous. Even when the park itself wasn’t the greatest, there would be something that I wished we had, such as natural grass. Since the Pirates moved into PNC Park, I always feel a little smug that we have such a beautiful place for baseball. That was especially true the first year that PNC Park was open. That year I went to see the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium. “The Big O,” as they called it (or, since it still wasn’t fully paid off, “The Big Owe”) was absolutely the worst place I have ever been for a Major League game. I truly believe that Olympic Stadium is one very real reason why the Expos failed, and I still hope that someday Montreal gets another team, with a better facility.
This year I am visiting Tampa-St. Petersburg to watch the Tampa Bay Rays. I will see three games against the New York Yankees and three with the defending World Champion Kansas City Royals. And I will see Tropicana Field, which may (from what I have heard) challenge Olympic Stadium for the title of the worst ballpark I have seen. “The Trop” will be the thirty-fifth big league park I have seen, starting with our own Forbes Field. The dome of the stadium has catwalks for maintenance crew, and a fly ball sometimes hits the catwalks. They have special ground rules for just such an occurrence.
I love seeing the beautiful ballparks like Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Wrigley Field in Chicago or Camden Yards in Baltimore. But it is also fun to see places like Tropicana Field or Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. That’s when I realize that I love baseball no matter where it’s played. And since I’m supposed to make a spiritual point, it reminds me that the same point applies even more to our churches. We are fortunate to have such a beautiful church here at St. Malachy. As I’ve said before, I fell in love with St. Malachy when I visited as a newly ordained priest stationed in McKees Rocks and in the many times I visited Fr. Michael while he was here. But what is really important is the Eucharist we celebrate on our altar. Our beautiful church enhances that experience, but it is a great mystery no matter where it is celebrated. Once, when I was going through a renovation at Nativity, we had our weekend Masses in the gym, but our weekday Masses in the cafeteria. After the school had finished using the gym, I asked the people if they would rather move the weekday Masses to the gym as well. They decided to keep things as they were, but one woman told me, “Father, if you celebrate Mass in the parking lot, I will be there. It’s the Eucharist that matters.”