Freethought Today · June / July 2016

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Mr. Paul Aints baseball game July 16: A night of unbelievable fun in Minnesota by Eric Jayne

By Eric Jayne

Performances of "God Bless America" were wedged into Major League Baseball games 15 years ago as an intended patriotic gesture and healing response to the 9/11 attacks. All MLB teams feature these performances as part of the seventh-inning stretch — along with the traditional singing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The team's public address announcer introduces the performer and tells fans to remove their hats and stand as they would for the National Anthem. This is an especially irritating experience during "Faith and Family Night."

In 2012, the Minnesota Atheists organization had an opportunity to hold an "Atheist and Family Night" with the minor league baseball team in St. Paul. Our billboard campaign caught the attention of local media and that led to a conversation between the Minnesota Atheists and the fun-loving St. Paul Saints. With significant help from Freedom From Religion Foundation, Minnesota's beloved minor league baseball team will again be secularized and rebranded from the St. Paul Saints to the Mr. Paul Aints on July 16 at CHS Field.

The team is literally rebranded because the player jerseys will feature a modified "Aints" team logo, omitting the usual "S," but including the scarlet "A" from the Out Campaign, made famous by Richard Dawkins. The misogynistic namesake of the capital city is tossed aside so that "Saint" Paul is transformed to "Mister" Paul. These unsaintly jerseys will be autographed by the players and auctioned off during the game, with proceeds going to Camp Quest, Minnesota Atheists and FFRF. There will also be atheist/secular/skeptic-themed antics between innings and during the game. One example of these antics is "Doubting Thomas," who goes around the stadium wearing a shepherd's robe vocally doubting things and questioning calls from umpires during the game.

The "S" will be covered on the Saints signage throughout the stadium and FFRF will have a few banners strategically displayed. There will also be a greeting table by the main gate hosted by local atheists with some free items, including our popular Get Out of Hell Free cards in the style of the Monopoly board game.

The motto of Minnesota Atheists is "Positive Atheism in Action," so we are demonstrating that by asking fans to give up their "soles" for charity. Our team of volunteers designed large wooden crates for fans to donate their gently worn shoes for individuals and families experiencing poverty. All of the shoes we collect will be sent directly to the secular global nonprofit Soles4Souls, who will then distribute the shoes to those in need.

It takes a special team to feature an "Atheist Night" game like this, especially since religious belief has such a strong presence in baseball and all other professional sports. You don't have to be knowledgeable about sports to have heard an athlete give credit to God for the team's win, or to have noticed a player make a religious gesture after making a big play. To be sure, the players on the Saints are no more or no less religious than players on other professional sports teams, so we are grateful for their participation in this night of "unbelievable" fun. Only a couple of players have refused to play in our past sponsored games, but the vast majority of Saints players have been really good sports.

The St. Paul Saints ownership includes Mike Veeck and Bill Murray (yes, that Bill Murray). Veeck was recently given the title of "funniest man in baseball" by ESPN, and it's worth noting that his father, Bill Veeck, was responsible for a number of entertaining stunts, such as in 1951 when he signed the shortest man to play in a MLB game. Standing at 3 feet, 7 inches tall, Eddie Gaedel had an impossible strike zone and was consequently walked on four straight pitches for what would become his only plate appearance. Mike continued his dad's intrigue for fun and entertainment, and was responsible for the infamous "Disco Demolition Night" at a Chicago White Sox game in 1979.

Bill Murray isn't as visible as Veeck at St. Paul Saints games, but he occasionally makes an appearance. He even greeted fans at the main gate during the last game of the 2014 season, which was the last game played at the original stadium. They now play in a brand new stadium (CHS Field) that was awarded "Best New Ballpark" last year by Ballpark Digest. Besides being part owner of the Saints, Murray also holds the title of team psychologist and once filled in as third-base coach during a game where the Saints rallied from a seven-run deficit in the third inning to win the biggest comeback in team history.

The Saints have one of the most competitive teams in the American Association league and are expected to make the playoffs again this year. They are quite popular in the Twin Cities market and they sell out most of their games. Our "Atheist Night" game will likely be sold out too, just like last year. We have some sections reserved for the Minnesota Atheists-FFRF group, but they are selling quickly. The Infield (aka "Infidel") section has already sold out but there are some seats still available in the General Admission section. Tickets can be purchased at Saintsgroups.com (password is 2016atheists).

The first pitch against the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks is scheduled for 7 p.m., but we'll be grilling and tailgating in the southeast parking lot by about 3 p.m. Food and drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) will be plentiful. We are also planning to hold a pregame speaking event with familiar FFRF leaders at a local library nearby, which is next to a light rail station that will take you directly to the ballpark. Details, including exact time and location for these pre-game festivities, will be updated at MinnesotaAtheists.org/baseballgame.

Eric Jayne is an FFRF member and president of Minnesota Atheists.

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