Last week, I spent a few days in Baltimore, MD with our chaplain in Colorado Springs, Kurt Trempert and with other sports ministers and chaplains from around Major League Soccer, United Soccer Leagues, the North American Soccer League, and other soccer entities in North America (wow, that’s a mouthful). The annual meetings are a way of connecting, not only with colleagues, but with former coaches and athletes that I have served over the years.
This was my 9th year of meeting and I reflect on 5 different lessons from my time in Baltimore and my time serving as a chaplain in professional soccer in the United States.
#5 – The Size of Baltimore and Denver
I know this might seem odd, but we were walking around Baltimore after the draft when Kurt and Pastor/Chaplain Gabe Kasper (Austin Aztex) started wondering which city is bigger – Baltimore or Denver?
Baltimore is bigger.
Of course this dialogue prompted us to inquire of google. Population = almost identical. What about the metro area vs. the city proper? Metro population = almost identical. Well, what about population density? Okay, so Baltimore is more dense – almost twice that of Denver…
I knew Baltimore was bigger!
Needless to say, that I was the target of more than a few jokes about my perception skills.
The size relates to my own perception around the club team that I serve – the Colorado Rapids are one of 10 teams remaining from MLS retraction back in 2002. And rumors are that the Rapids were one of the teams that could have been contracted based on market-size and some other factors. Back in 2002, with a 10-team league, it was easier to feel that another team and city were similar in size – with teams like DC United and the LA Galaxy bringing in the stars and the fans, there were more “small” clubs. Now, with a 20-team league, the Colorado Rapids are one of the smaller teams and in a crowded sports market.
#4 – The History of Baltimore
Much like Philadelphia, for the past two years, I was impressed with the history that Baltimore has as a city. Fort McHenry – where a key battle and the subsequent writing of the Star-Spangled Banner occurred, the grave of Edgar Allen Poe, and many, many more historical sites and locations.
The history of a place has great significance and is a point of learning. For me, my history with MLS and with the Rapids is something to look back on and to learn from. There are different places around town and around the country where significant interactions and relationships started and ended or went through a major transformation. Being present at the MLS Draft and seeing old, familiar faces and meeting new ones reminds me that this environment has an ever-evolving history.
#3 – The People of Baltimore
The train ride into the city from the airport was a great experience – conversations without much prompting centered around American Football and the upcoming playoff games. Of course, many locals were partial to the Baltimore Ravens, but then there were passionate arguments for who would win the weekend games and make their way to the SuperBowl.
The diversity of the people of Baltimore reminded me of the diversity of the people that we serve in professional soccer. There are somewhere near 70 countries that are represented in MLS, alone, and with the USL and NASL those numbers are probably a bit bigger.
For the Colorado Rapids, the MLS Draft was a busy time- filled with trades and moves – a lot of positioning and planning went into the various moves that were made in the early rounds of the draft. Attending several drafts in person, now, there is always a pressure on a team to find the right person, the right player. A team can be looking to fill a gap, make a difference, and usually improve on what was accomplished the year before.
The truth is, that many of the players acquired by teams will go through unseen struggles – on and off the field. There will be #1 picks that utterly fail and end up out of soccer. There will be 4th round picks that wind up being stars. The only thing that is predictable about drafting mechanisms in professional sport is the unpredictability. But when the star-power is stripped away, when the brilliance of draft-day fades with the career-ending injury or the disappointing trade or cut – there is still a unique person – with the hurt, pain, and emotion that accompanies the loss. Hopefully, there will be a good chaplain to come alongside and be present, too.
#1 – The Meetings in Baltimore
The main purpose in going to Baltimore was to take part in the day and a half-meetings with other chaplains and sports minister that work in and around professional soccer in North America. What has grown from those who originally started the work in Major League Soccer’s inaugural year of 1996 and the 12 teams at the time, has become much larger. I counted over 20 chaplains and sports ministers around the room – and knew the stories of another dozen that couldn’t make it to Baltimore for financial reasons or due to time-constraints with family or ministry.
Over the years, our conversation and time together at the meetings has shifted some. Back in the day we fellowshipped and shared about the challenges and work that we faced with our individual clubs. There is still an element of fellowship, but there is a sense that all of us are part of a larger work that is going on in professional sport – the women’s game is growing, the issues that are being faced by chaplains are more difficult. And whether one is working for an MLS club or a lower-division club that has suspended operations for a year – there is a great need for the chaplains and sports ministers to come together and dialogue and encourage and support one another.
It is interesting, Baltimore’s latest city slogan, “Baltimore: Birthplace of The Star-Spangled Banner” speaks of the city’s values, history, and its significance in regards to time and space. Perhaps, when we all get down the road much further from here, we, too, will be able to look back and see that we were part of something that was born; something that endures the tests of time. I pray that we will look back on all the time, effort, and energy poured into the people that we serve and that we could proudly say that we cared for them and gave our very best – that would be something worth singing about!
Rev Brad Kenney