.- If you met Jack McKeon and didn’t know who he was, you would think "practicing Catholic" first. Probably with enough poking and prodding you’d learn his baseball story.
Now 82 years old, McKeon made headlines when, in 2011, he became the second oldest manager in major league history as he was hired as the interim manager of the then-Florida Marlins, who he had guided to a World Series title in 2003, when he won his second National League Manager of the Year award.
The other time had been after the 1999 season, when he was managing the Cincinnati Reds, although they would fire him after the following season. And that leads to his testimony about his favorite saint.
“Saint Therese of the Little Flower is the prodigy of miracles in the Catholic Church and I’ve prayed to her and have seen examples of prayers answered,” McKeon explains. “In 2000 I got fired in Cincinnati and didn’t think my career was fulfilled, so I prayed to Saint Therese and asked if she could talk to the Child Jesus about my dream to manage, and thereafter I got the call to go manage Florida, and we won the World Series.”
“I was out in Sacramento last year (giving a speech). The guy who ran the event called me two weeks ago. He had a youngster at the banquet that heard me talk about Saint Therese and the power of prayer. This kid didn’t make the team and was down in the dumps and they wanted me to talk to him about the power of prayer, and I told him, ‘don’t give up, the good Lord has plans for you.’”
That’s not a surprising gesture or piece of advice considering that McKeon, when asked what advice he has for today’s student-athletes, says, “Pray. Put your trust in the Lord and ask him to help you become the best you can become, knowing that there’s going to be pitfalls, there’s going to be roadblocks along the way. But you’ve got to be persistent in practicing your faith. The good Lord gave each one of us a special talent and, in my case, athletics, but in other cases, music, business, and so on. And He expects us to take the maximum benefits from Him but put the faith and trust in Him that he’ll steer us to go in the right direction. Sometimes a door closes but another opens, but you have to treat Him fairly and follow His commandments.”
This devotion didn’t come just from winning a World Series or having his managing prayers after losing the Reds job. The foundation had been laid in his childhood.
“I grew up in a Catholic household. My mother and father preached going to church on a daily basis and practice our faith and put our faith in the Lord and go to daily Mass. And, I grew up in a Catholic school, so I had an advantage of getting encouragement not only from a Catholic family. And I even went on to Holy Cross and Seton Hall for college. Getting to appreciate going to Mass on a daily basis is something that I carried on.”
And when he says he carried it on, he means right into the heart of his years as a Major League Baseball manager, when there are the demands of a 162-game schedule that includes plenty of travel.
“It was no problem. I’ve been in the game a long time. I can probably tell you all the churches in the major leagues, where they are, their Mass times. It’s not a big deal. It’s a great inspiration to go to church early in the morning and then to the ballpark with a clean head and knowing that the good Lord is with you and helping you make the right decisions, and it’s uplifting.”
When McKeon would arrive at the ballpark he would bring his faith right along with him.
“Many of these guys were Catholic, so I’d get them to church and on the weekdays I’d alert them to Mass times, and chances were there’d be a cab at the hotel waiting to take us, if necessary. And that in itself was an example and helped those guys believe in me and a lot of guys would go daily with me. The good Lord wants you to set an example, so I’d show them my faith and they’d have faith in me.”
As a result, the ‘win now’ mandate from team owners that has reached a whole new realm was manageable for McKeon, whose managing career had also included stints in Kansas City, Oakland, and San Diego.
“I think, in my particular case, the fact of going to church everyday relieved that pressure. I let it roll off my back. Whatever I was doing was the good Lord’s wishes and He was going to guide me, direct me, and help me make a good decision.”
That approach has left McKeon grateful for the lasting impression it has left on people.
“I feel so proud when I get letters, and I see people all over this country, coming up and thanking me for some good example that I had set, talking to young kids or players or fans and setting the example to get them to realize that the power of prayer is tremendous.
“I feel like I’ve had an impact on people’s lives. I’ve been able to reach them by going to church and getting them to come back to church and go more frequently to church.”
He finishes the thought by instructing, “Be His ambassador here on earth.”
Posted with permission from the Catholic Sports Association, an organization dedicated to highlighting Catholic sports professionals and enriching junior high and high school student-athletes with Catholic sports articles, conferences, a Web series, and other programs.