Sunday, September 9, 2012

Comerica Park offers Mass at ballpark for teams, staff

September 6, 2012
By , The Michigan Catholic
DETROIT — Since 1994, Eugene Sniezyk has worked for the Detroit Tigers in a variety of staff jobs, at Tiger Stadium and currently, as a crowd manager, at Comerica Park.
“Our job is to watch the people (averaging nearly 36,000 a game this year), watch out for rowdies and so forth, even amuse children,” he said, expounding on the last point: “Sometimes kids won’t listen to their parents, but they will listen to a stranger.”

Fr. Ron Richards. pastor of St. John Neumann
Parish, Canton, celebrates Mass in one
of the media rooms at Comerica Park
in Detroit for Tigers and White Sox
 team members and employees.
The retired factory worker lives in Roseville, but has remained a lifetime member of Sweetest Heart of Mary Parish on Detroit’s east side, not too far from where the Tigers play.
Looking years younger than his 82, Sniezyk came home from World War II military service “with a scar on one leg and blind in one eye. The Blessed Mother was my guide.”
In May, the Tigers began offering the opportunity to players, staff, personnel and media for the celebration of Mass at the park during home weekends, reserving an interview room on the park’s lower level for a makeshift chapel.
“I take advantage of it,” Sniezyk said. “I make it a point not to miss Mass. It’s too important in my life.” Last Saturday, he volunteered to do the readings — with the use of his good right eye.
Promoting the importance of the Eucharistic liturgy, and taking it to ballparks, is the special mission of Catholic Athletes for Christ (CAC), the driving force behind Catholic liturgies in more than half of the 30 Major League Baseball stadiums.
“It just sort of happened,” said Fr. Ron Richards, pastor of St. John Neumann Parish, Canton, and the Catholic chaplain at Comerica Park. Last fall, he contacted the CAC, which was “formed in response to Pope John Paul II’s call to evangelize the world of sports,” Fr. Richards said. “(It is) an integrated network of sports-oriented clergy and laypeople to serve Catholic athletes, coaches and staff in the practice of their faith.”

Fr. Ron Richards, pastor of St. John Neumann,
Canton, stands on the field at Comerica Park
on Sept. 1 after celebrating Mass at the
ballpark for Tigers and White Sox
team members and employees.
He took the idea to Mike Healy, vice president of Comerica Park operations, who in turn received favorable reports about the liturgies from his counterpart with the Cleveland Indians.
“With the nutty schedules of the players and everyone working at Comerica,” said Fr. Richards, “it is difficult for them to attend Mass. They are really appreciative.”
Healy, who directs a staff of 400 over every aspect of baseball at the park, uses his own situation as an example: “I’m usually the last person to leave Comerica after a night game, getting home (in South Lyon, where he’s a member of St. Joseph Parish) after midnight — and then having to be back for a day game the next day.”
Mass at Comerica Park is normally held at 3:30 on Saturday afternoons. Healy says a notice is posted in both home and visiting team locker rooms and elsewhere for personnel and staff. “Everyone is invited,” he said.
At the liturgy Sept. 1, only about half of the three dozen chairs lined up were filled, including a player from the Chicago White Sox and a White Sox announcer.
“It’s a new idea. We think it will grow,” Healy said. “We’re trying Masses on Saturdays this year, but we’re thinking of switching to 9 on Sunday mornings next year. We didn’t want to conflict with the non-denominational baseball chapel that has been held on Sundays since Comerica opened in 2000.”
Fr. Richards, who says he received Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s blessing for this ministry, has been able to fit in the Tigers Masses with his parish schedule, adding, “I’m there for any of their sacramental needs. I wouldn’t be much of a priest if I weren’t.”
Alumni of Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice High School will recognize Fr. Richards from his days as a faculty member and swim team coach in 1992-98. A layperson then (he was ordained in 2004), he directed the Warriors to six straight Catholic League championships and five consecutive Class A state titles.

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