Bleacher Brothers take the Word to the street and ballpark
If you attend a Major League Baseball game this season you might be surprised to see two men in brown robes dispensing prayers with their chatter. Father Casey Cole, OFM, and Father Roberto “Tito” Serrano, OFM, also known as the Bleacher Brothers, will spend this summer evangelizing at ballparks.
Both work in education, Father Cole in Georgia and Father Serrano in Albany. Like their students, they have a lot of free time when school is out.
“During the summers, we wouldn’t have a whole lot to do in our local area. So, we’d be traveling around helping other people anyway,” explained Father Cole. “So, we had the idea a few years ago, and then decided to do it now, to travel to all 30 major league baseball stadiums and to evangelize at the parks.”
Father Cole is a blogger and writer. He runs the YouTube channels “Breaking the Habit” and “Under Friar Review” that have a total of 400,000 followers. He has authored “Let Go: Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship,” “Called: What Happens After Saying Yes to God,” and “The Way of Beatitude: Living Radical Hope in a World of Division and Despair.” Since 2020, he has served as chaplain of Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, Georgia.
Whether it’s on YouTube or behind home plate, the Bleacher Brothers meet people where they are at.
“Because this is what Franciscans do; they go to the marketplace and they evangelize where people are,” said Father Cole. “It’s probably unconventional to go to baseball stadiums, or at least it seems that way, but the reality is the friars have always done stuff like this. They went to where people gathered and you know, that they’re not really coming to our cathedrals anymore, so we’re going to go to the secular cathedrals where people worship during the summers, which are 40,000 seats stadiums.”
“City squares and city markets are not the gathering places that they used to be like in the middle ages. Now it’s stadiums and arenas and even online, which is why we’ve been doing outreach online as well,” added Father Serrano.
The two stopped by SS. Columba-Brigid last month to see Father Jud Weiksnar, OFM, on their way from Rogers Centre in Toronto to PNC Park In Pittsburgh.
When at the park they act like any regular baseball fans. They have a beer and mill about, making conversation with other baseball fans. But they go dressed in their brown habits. So, people can tell they’re …
“Different,” Father Serrano interjects.
“They don’t know what we are most of the time, but they know we’re different,” Father Cole explained. “We get, ‘Are you monks?’ We get, ‘Are you Padres fans?’ Our response now is, ‘No they’re fans of us.’ We get, ‘Are you Jedi?” So, it starts a conversation because people are obviously curious.”
What do people ask?
“It’s all over the map,” Father Cole said. “Some people are like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ Other people are like, ‘OK,’ and walk away. We had one, this was not at the stadium, but just walking down the street yesterday and the guy was like, ‘You real monks?’ Well, sort of, we’re Franciscan friars, Catholic priests. And I go to hand in my card because we’ve got cards we hand out. And just says, BleacherBrothers.org. And on the other side, ‘Is it, is it time to come home?’ It’s the church and the home plate.
A lot of times people don’t know how to react.
“Which is OK, because they kind of freeze and we get more time to talk to them,” said Father Serrano. “And usually they get a sense that we’re fairly normal aside from the way that we’re dressed, and we have pretty decent conversations.”
They make a point of letting people come to them and not pushing their message in an intrusive way.
“We met a Jewish girl. And you could tell she was immediately uncomfortable because she thought we were cosplaying and we’re like, ‘No, we’re real Catholic priests.’ And then she’s like, ‘OK.’ And then she walked away. She’s like, ‘I’m a little Jewish.’ I was like, ‘That’s cool too. We’re not trying to proselytize. You’re the chosen people,’” Father Cole said.
The majority of people seem accepting and even energized to see them.
“And I think that’s been the surprise for both of us,” explained Father Serrano. “How many people who either their faith has kind of grown stale or plateaued, who all of a sudden really get excited when they hear about what we’re doing. Like, that’s so cool. I wish more people would do stuff like that.”
“Probably 60-70 percent of the people we interact with are Catholic and they’re really just talking to us because they’re proud of it,” Father Cole said. “So, then it’s an opportunity for us to say, ‘Well, great. Take this energy and go back to your parish.’ It’s interesting and it surprised us in many situations. We were in Detroit, and we had just gotten a beer and we were walking out and we heard a group of 20 something, blonde girls, one of them yelled ‘Hey.’ I’m like, oh gosh, what’s this going to be?”
“Clearly a few drinks in,” pointed out Father Serranno.
“And the girl says, ‘Can you pray for us?’ All right, that’s not the question I was expecting. ‘So, we’re real Catholic priests.’ ‘Yeah, we knew. We’re Catholic too.’ And so, this whole group of girls was Catholic and they wanted us to pray for them and it’s like, OK cool.”
Along with the major league parks, they will visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, League Stadium in Huntingburg, Indiana, filming location of “A League of Their Own” and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
“Next month we’re going to Iowa to see the ‘Field of Dreams.’ And we’re going to fly my dad out there and my dad and I are going to have a catch and have a nice sentimental moment,” said Father Cole.