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WORLD SERIES: Astros wall ad spotlights Houston’s First

HOUSTON (BP) — At a critical moment in this year’s Major League Baseball playoffs, pursuit of a Houston Astros home run ball at Minute Maid Park caused New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge to crash into a right field sign promoting Houston’s First Baptist Church.

Minutes later, the church tweeted to Judge, a candidate for both the American League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards, “Our church is more welcoming and forgiving than our sign.”

The sign — and numerous other connections between First Baptist and the Astros — will be on display again as Houston takes on the Los Angeles Dodgers in this year’s World Series, which opens Tuesday night (Oct. 24). The Fall Classic is a welcome development in a city still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

First Baptist’s ties with the Astros this season also have included an appearance by team president Reid Ryan at a church staff gathering. Additionally, First Baptist’s Spanish campus pastor Juan Jesus Alaniz is the Astros’ Spanish-language chaplain.

Last season, First Baptist’s contemporary worship team sang the national anthem at an Astros game. Over the years, Astros have been church members, with at least one or two receiving baptism, First Baptist director of communications Steven Murray told Baptist Press. Additionally, there have been First Baptist nights at Minute Maid Park, and pastor Gregg Matte has thrown out the first pitch before a home game.

Amid Houston’s World Series run, an increasing number of baseball fans are noting First Baptist’s connection with the Astros.

One apparently surprised playoff viewer tweeted after Judge’s wall crash and the resultant First Baptist tweet, “Bro, … a church just roasted Judge.” The following week, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason Allen tweeted, “Pretty cool seeing Judge crash into FBC Houston wall ad to rob a homerun in [American League Championship Series] game 7 tonight.”

Murray said “the spiritual value” of supporting the Astros “is being present in a secular space, where people might think … the church is some archaic building that’s only relevant on Sunday, if that. This is saying: No. We’re a member of the community. We’re a part of what’s going on in Houston.”

The outfield sign materialized in March, when another sponsor backed out of the opportunity and the Astros asked First Baptist to consider a sign in right field. The funds were available, Murray said, “because of the ongoing generosity of our church family.”

Throughout the season, members and nonmembers alike have tweeted photos of the sign. “People are noticing,” Murray said.

Alaniz is completing his second season as an Astros chaplain. His wife Josie Ban-Alaniz is in her first season as chaplain for the wives of English- and Spanish-speaking players and coaches.

Of the 25 players on Houston’s postseason roster, Alaniz said, nearly half are native Spanish speakers. During the season, he has held chapel services before Sunday home games and made himself available for pastoral counseling and prayer throughout the week. His chaplain ministry, organized through Baseball Chapel, also includes visiting teams and umpires.

When the World Series shifts to Houston this weekend, Alaniz will be there for ministry.

Murray said First Baptist “is just glad to be a part of something that’s so exciting going on in our city, especially after our city has been through so much in the last couple of months” with the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey.