God Gets His Innings at Baseball Chapel : Religion: Angel players make time for inspirational gatherings.


Lloyd Cotton sits amid the California Angels and delivers the scouting report.

Except he’s not talking about how to pitch an opponent.

He’s talking about life. And the afterlife.

Cotton doesn’t have much time. When he takes the floor, he doesn’t know if he will have five or 20 minutes. He prepares for 20, but his little flock could be called away at any moment for any number of reasons--one of which is to prepare for the game.

Speed, really, is of the essence at Baseball Chapel. Cotton figures he will get 10 quality minutes.

“One time I saw a very good speaker try to squeeze a 40-minute message into about 15 minutes and it was terrible,” Cotton said. “He was frustrated, the players were confused and I was embarrassed for him.


“I encourage guys who are speaking to have one point--maybe different illustrations, but one point. If you have three points, and you only get a chance to cover one, your overall message might seem fragmented.”

That’s why Baseball Chapel exists, to provide some balance in the often fragmented lives of baseball players. They work on Sundays and don’t often get a chance to go to regular church services.

“It’s funny,” Cotton says of his regular group, “it’s mostly the pitchers.”

Baseball Chapel Inc., based in Bloomingdale, N.J., was established in 1973 to meet the spiritual needs of baseball players, managers and coaches. It has grown to include weekly Bible studies such as the ones that Angels players and their wives or girlfriends attend on Tuesdays at an Anaheim Stadium restaurant.

Although Baseball Chapel began by focusing on major league teams, it expanded to include most minor league organizations in 1978. It was started by a Detroit sportswriter, Watson [Waddy] Spoelstra, who noticed that members of a few teams--the Cubs, Twins, Astros and Dodgers among them--were trying to meet regularly, often away from the park, but lacked speakers and momentum.

Spoelstra approached Bowie Kuhn, then the baseball commissioner, with the idea of having chapel services in the clubhouse. Kuhn liked the idea and backed it.

It’s informal. Players rarely bring Bibles. There’s little fringe involved, such as music.

The messages have remained unchanged regardless of the Angels’ record. The theme Cotton has used throughout the season is “Working on the work.”


“I speak 50% of the time,” Cotton said. “I like variety; I’m black, but I like Hispanic, white and Asian perspectives. I like guys with a different theological camp than I might be in.

“I am not charismatic, but I might invite a charismatic person in because some of the players might be charismatic. I’m pretty conservative, what you would call fundamentalist, but I’m trying to meet the players where they are as best I can without compromising my own values.”

Cotton, a physical therapist, volunteers at the ballpark. His responsibility at the stadium includes providing messages for both teams. When the Tigers were in Anaheim earlier this season, Cotton asked Raul Ries, pastor of Calvary Chapel Garden Springs, to deliver the message.

Ries prayed, delivered the goods on confessing Christ, and prayed again. Ten minutes. Perfect.

Baseball Chapel will always have a special place in Shawn Boskie’s life. The Angels pitcher became a Christian in 1988 through chapel services in the minor leagues at Winston-Salem, N.C.

“I went to church as a kid, thought I would go [to the chapel services] and I heard the message of salvation,” Boskie said. “I was curious about what I thought I believed; I said I believed in God, and yet it didn’t seem like it was the same as these people were talking about. I really didn’t know what part Jesus Christ played in the whole thing; I thought He was just another player in the play. That’s when I became a Christian, and since then, chapel has become more a part of my life.”


Boskie is among the most devout Angels, along with outfielder Tim Salmon, second baseman Damion Easley and pitcher Bob Patterson. They meet about 11 a.m. the day of night games on the road.

“We talk about the different problems that come up, pertaining to baseball or not pertaining to baseball,” Patterson said.

“That fellowship is something you can’t get in the locker room. It’s a business-type atmosphere in the locker room, and the emotional side is not really paid attention to.

“I don’t think Jesus Christ died on a cross so we could have a 3.00 ERA or a .350 batting average.”

Baseball Chapel’s western coordinator is John Werhas of Anaheim Hills, pastor of Yorba Linda Friends Church and a former Angels and Dodgers infielder. Werhas selected Cotton to lead the Angels.

This is Cotton’s first year after assisting John Verhoeven for four years; Verhoeven is now pitching coach for the Palm Springs Sun.


Chapel services for the Angels and Dodgers are unusual because, unlike those of past years, they are held on Saturdays instead of Sunday mornings. The visiting team might meet between 4 and 5 p.m. as the Angels are taking batting practice, and the Angels might meet the following hour while the visitors bat. Meetings are usually held in the auxiliary locker room at the Big A.

At a typical service, there will be 20 Angels players, coaches and Manager Marcel Lachemann gathered around the featured speaker.

Cotton has found a significant advantage to meeting on Saturdays: “I can bring in other pastors,” he said. “On Sunday, the big guns are busy--they’re all at church.”

The Tigers, Athletics and Blue Jays all have strong chapel programs, Cotton said, but not all teams do.

That disparity can be tough on a player.

“We build each other up and hold each other accountable, especially in the heat of battle--our language and stuff like that,” Angels infielder Rex Hudler said. “If you were the only Christian in the bunch, it wouldn’t be long before you’d be right in there with the rest of them.”

Hudler has been with 13 major or minor league teams since 1978 and says none had a stronger core of Christian players than the Angels. Hudler has baseball cards showing him in a St. Louis uniform; on the back is listed his favorite Bible character (David), hymns (“Amazing Grace,” “Love Lifted Me”), and Old Testament book (Job), among other facts. At the bottom, they read: “This card was printed by Rex Hudler and is not for sale.”


Lachemann attaches significance to providing a Christian message for the players who find it important. He has gone out of his way to make sure there’s some time set aside.

“It keeps things in perspective; there are so many ups and downs, and if you don’t have a foundation, baseball can be a difficult life,” Lachemann said. But, he added, “I wouldn’t be honest if I said there weren’t some guys who didn’t just use it because they thought it would help them have a good day.”

Even that isn’t such a bad thing, said pitcher Scott Sanderson, whose season was curtailed because of back surgery.

“Regardless of our profession, regardless of our individual financial situations, regardless of the position society has assigned to us, we all have the same needs.”