Rookie of the Year

Rookie of the Year: Jesus Stalks

The following is a reprint from Unwinnable Weekly Issue Sixty-Three. If you enjoy what you read, please consider purchasing the issue or subscribing

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The Wife of the Year and I are so virulently anti-religion that once, when I called myself an agnostic, and not an atheist like her, we had a knock-down, drag-out fight about how we’d be raising our son in a two-faith household.

It’s funny now. It wasn’t funny then.

I have secular reasons for loving religion – mostly Christmas presents and stained glass windows – but I abhor it for the destruction it can cause and for the ignorance and bigotry it inspires in far too many. When I go to church, it’s not to worship.

It’s to stalk musicians.

There is a band I love that doesn’t tour anymore. They record their albums in their modest living room and release new material once or twice a decade. They are religious folk, whose Catholicism informs their music but doesn’t overwhelm or define it.

And they just so happen to run the music program at their local church.
Why am I telling you this? To be honest, I’m not sure. Their first record in five years is coming out this month and I just can’t wait to hear it. I’m sure it’s going to be great. If only there were fewer Kim Davises and more of these guys (and gal) in the world…and so forth.

Anyway, back to my stalking – and a question for you: If, say, [INSERT YOUR IDOL, MUSICAL OR OTHERWISE, HERE] stopped performing but would occasionally show up to play at a homeless shelter across town, would you not consider, um, dressing down for an afternoon? Or maybe he or she or they are stumping for a politician or a political cause you oppose. Would you not grab a button and some literature to blend in with the rabble and rock out? In other words, would you be willing to shamelessly pretend to be someone you’re not just to hear the voice of an angel? I’d argue you would.

At any rate, I gave it a shot. The Wife of the Year and I showed up at the band’s church, a beautiful, historic building in the center of a small city. It was welcoming to strangers, with plenty of space to handle walk-ins. By no means, mind you, are we talking about a tiny room in the basement of a rec center, lest you are already judging us far too harshly.

The priest, in his flowing white robes, said hello as we entered. I nodded and smiled, awkward, but so far steering clear of any lightning bolts (if there’s no God, I needn’t have worried; if there is, there is no chance He or She or It would have cared about this). The Wife of the Year made a beeline for the ladies room.

As I waited for her, mustering my courage, I peered through a window in the vestibule door, my view straight down the aisle between the center and stage-left pews.

I saw him: the band’s lead guitarist, walking right toward me.

My first reaction was to look away, embarrassed, and likely I turned a shade red, but by the time The Wife of the Year returned a few moments later, I was beaming as I breathlessly told her about it. She rolled her eyes and we stepped through the door, taking a seat in the back row. Within a couple minutes, the lead guitarist – whose solo records I also own, because clearly I’m not messing around here – returned to take his place, standing directly behind us, where he would remain throughout the service. As the mass droned on, I peeked back a few times to watch him mingle with the congregation, but he didn’t seem to notice me looking.

The band’s lead singer, his wife, unfortunately never showed. We didn’t get to hear the voice of that particular angel. But the bass player did; I saw him perched high in the choir box, playing piano and leading the chorus, and again I excitedly pointed him out to The Wife of the Year, so we did get a little music out of it after all.

When the service ended, we hung out for a bit outside the church – hoping, I don’t know, for a hootenanny to break out? – but there were no major developments on that front. There was, indeed, a post-mass bagel breakfast in the rectory, but even we have our limits. With that, our concert experience was over.

All told, we didn’t hurt anyone. We didn’t bother anyone. Unlike my homeless shelter or political rally analogies, we didn’t wear any costumes. We did nothing more than blend in with the crowd. We stood up and sat down when we were supposed to, put some shekels in the collection box and even sang a few hymns, too, made all the more beautiful by the guy we could just barely see playing piano above our heads.

Outside on a gorgeous Sunday, we snapped a few final photos, descended the stairs onto the sidewalk and followed it further into town, resuming our run-of-the-mill, totally un-creepy sightseeing. There was an art walk and some museums and a bunch of places within driving distance that we had planned to visit.

This was several months – and the birth of a child – ago. Now the band’s new record is due. It probably won’t come with a tour, or even a one-off show, and certainly will lack fanfare or significant promotion. After such a long hiatus, I’ve given up all hope of that sort of thing.

Which is to say, the new record – sweet and fair as always, I’m sure – will need to last us a long time.

Because we fucking hate going to church.

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Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011, which seems paradoxical until you learn he would rather celebrate the return of geoDefense than find a new favorite game, has a nickname derived from wearing an orange traffic cone on his head and still doesn’t undestand why the @$@$&@@ you need two goddamn directional pads just to walk down an effing hallway. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.

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