Tevlin: Saints have a prayer? Not on atheists’ night

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 31, 2012 - 11:52 PM

If the St. Paul Saints stage a dramatic comeback to defeat the Amarillo Sox during their game on Aug. 10, it probably won't be because of divine intervention.

And if any of the ballplayers attempt the Tim Tebow kneel-and-pray during the game, they probably won't get much appreciation from the crowd.

The game is being sponsored by the Minnesota Atheists, who are calling it "A night of unbelievable fun." The team's name will be changed for the evening to the "Mr. Paul Ain'ts," and the letter "S" will be covered up.

If you are not familiar with the cheeky nature of the Saints marketing efforts, you might be taken aback. But consider that this is the team that features live pigs named Kim LARDashian and Kris HAMphries. It's the team that once gave out Michael Vick dog chew toys. They like to push the envelope, and it's a major reason so many people show up to watch minor league baseball.

The Saints have also had many games sponsored by religious organizations. They have a nun, Sister Rosalind Gefre, who gives hugs and massages during the game. They have given out bobble heads of Sister Ros and miniature Buddhas to fans.

As news of their latest promotion spread across the country from the Washington Post to Sacramento Bee, however, it became clear that not everybody was in on the joke.

"When we started discussing this, there was no question there was going to be an issue," said Derek Sharrer, Saints general manager. "I don't know if controversial is the right word."

Yep, it's the right word.

Sharrer said the team has gotten a lot of response to the promotion from both supporters and critics, but "as is usually the case, the disagrees are a lot more vocal than the agrees."

Most of the critics have been civil, and many get it when they hear about the team's history of religion-sponsored games, but a few have "suggested that really bad things should happen to us," said Sharrer.

"Most of those were from outside the state, from people who are not familiar with our history."

Sharrer stresses that the team doesn't endorse any group that sponsors a game. "We don't claim to be anything more than a baseball team and entertainment company."

The Saints approached Minnesota Atheists after one staffer saw billboards for the group earlier this year. The group has been on a push to be more visible, so the billboards featured children on them, mimicking anti-abortion advertisements. They indeed got attention.

The local group is also hosting a national convention in St. Paul the weekend of the game, and the organization's president will throw out the game ball. They are also releasing a book, "Atheist Voices of Minnesota," published by Freethought House, at the convention. Meanwhile, the group is in the middle of a fundraiser to construct a building where they can go and not worship.

More than 130 people have bought tickets to the game through the Minnesota Atheist website (mnatheists.org), where special jerseys with "Aints" written on the back can be purchased, as well.

August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists, said sponsoring a baseball game seemed like a good way to show that atheists are like everybody else, apart from the faith stuff. The group had to assure the Saints that they would not mock any religion.

"We made it clear that no part of this would ridicule anyone's beliefs," said Berkshire. "If anything, we're going to poke fun at ourselves."

Atheists are sometimes seen as serious or pedantic, he said, so they might include a few atheist jokes on the scoreboard between innings.

"Why are atheists' funerals so sad?" Berkshire asked. "Because the deceased is all dressed up with nowhere to go."

Ba-da-bum.

Someone has even suggested that for the game, they change "infield fly rule" to "infidel fly rule."

Will Sister Ros lay hands on atheists, I asked Sharrer.

"She always says that she welcomes all God's creatures," said Sharrer.

Might she try to change their minds?

"Hug by hug, back rub by back rub," Sharrer said.

jtevlin@startribune.com 612-673-1702

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