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Does God care who wins the city series?
Experts, local clergy examine God's role in Cubs, Sox matchup
By Jamie Sotonoff | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 6/16/2009 12:01 AM

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God loves the Cubs. And He loves the White Sox, too.

So no matter how many times Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano points to the heavens or White Sox fans pray for a clutch hit from Paul Konerko, it won't sway the outcome of this week's city series, according to local clergy and other experts in the field.

Author Jon Gordon explores the role of God in sports in his new book, "Training Camp: What The Best Do Better Than Anyone Else," (Wiley, $22.95) and concludes that God does not determine the outcome of sporting event.

However, Gordon says God is at the games - God will be at Wrigley Field today - and uses sports to teach both players and fans important life lessons.

"It's the lessons we glean from sports that God cares about," Gordon said.

Local clergy generally agree with Gordon's premise, but note that the fans don't always pick up on the lessons being taught.

Rabbi James Gordon of Buffalo Grove, a Sox fan and author of "Pray Ball! The Spiritual Insights of Jewish Sports Fans," says the Cubs and Sox offer lessons in overcoming adversity, working hard to achieve your goals, and that you don't always get immediate gratification.

"To lose is a very important lesson, too," Gordon said. "What makes a great hitter? A 300-plus hitter? That means seven out of 10 times, he fails."

But Cubs and Sox fans still need to work on the lesson from the Bible's book of Leviticus: "And you should love your neighbor as yourself."

"If you grow up in Chicago, you're raised to root for one team and cheer against the other," Gordon said. "We need to adopt a new perspective of respecting all teams."

Syler Thomas, a Cubs fan and youth pastor at Christ Church in Lake Forest, said it can be a struggle to learn some of the lessons God tries to teach through sports because being a fan is a selfish act.

"(It's) not a very Christian thing, to care only about your team winning. As Christians, we're called to put others first. But most people don't give two seconds to think, 'Oh, I feel so bad for the other team's pitcher who gave up all those runs,'" Thomas said. "And I would like to hear an athlete who lost say, 'I want to give glory to God,' because it's easy to give glory to God when you just won. But you should give glory either way."

Faith among ballplayers is nothing new, of course. Whether it's White Sox prayer groups before games, or a priest sprinkling Holy Water around the dugout before a Cubs playoff series, a belief in a higher power drives many players and coaches.

Zambrano's finger to the sky is his way of thanking God for the inning, whether it was a good or bad one. Former Cubs coach Dusty Baker was said to have sprinkled Holy Water on players during the 2003-04 season.

Gordon said the proper prayer to God should be, "Please help me (or my team) play its best" or, "Thank you for my (or my team's) gifts and abilities" rather than "Please let us win this game."

Players and coaches pray in the Cubs and Sox clubhouses every Sunday, when a group called Baseball Chapel holds services for the teams. Baseball Chapel President Vince Nauss said attendance is equal among the Cubs and Sox.

"Lou Piniella attends when he can. Ozzie (Guillen) does not. And didn't when he was a player, either," Nauss noted. "But God doesn't play favorites."

Gordon, who is Episcopal and gives motivational speeches to major companies including the National Football League, believes God is setting the stage for the Cubs.

"When they do win ... think about what lessons we can all learn," he said. "It'll say, no matter how hopeless your situation may seem, there's hope for the future."