SBC Life Articles

Going To Bat For The Unborn

Pro-life activists need a firm grounding in science and apologetics — and a unique group of celebrities is trying to help ensure they get it.

When it comes to life issues, Oscar- and Emmy-winning folks like Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox aren't uncommon activists. They draw tons of media attention to their pet causes — and all too often, take positions that don't affirm the personhood of preborn children.

But now, a different group of celebrities is using its star power to help raise $1 million for the pro-life movement.

Instead of Hollywood, think Cooperstown. Instead of box-office champs, think World Series champs.

The program is called Battin' 1000 and is sponsored by the American Life League (ALL) in hopes that 1,000 people nationwide will each donate $1,000 to help build a pro-life university in Virginia.

"Baseball is our oldest sport and has wonderful associations with our heritage and culture," said Jim Berlucchi, Battin' 1000's president — though he is more widely recognized as a frequent speaker at Promise Keepers men's rallies. "It seemed fitting that [baseball] would serve as a backdrop for a pro-life message."

In a program designed to reflect the structure of Major League Baseball (MLB), Battin' 1000 consists of thirty teams spread across two leagues split into three divisions apiece; the donors are the "players," and team standings are updated weekly for the duration of the "season" (March 31 to Sept. 30). ALL hopes each of the thirty teams will contribute $33,000 during that time, a goal that may prove to be harder to hit this summer than a Randy Johnson fastball. As this issue of SBC LIFE went to press, the thirty teams had raised a combined $27,000.

For the ninety current and former MLB players who have agreed to autograph baseball memorabilia as donation incentives, though, the program has always been about more than money. It's about being able to take a stand for what really matters.

One of those players is Gary Carter, who made the National League All-Star team ten straight seasons (1979-88) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer. Battin' 1000 was a natural choice for Carter, a Christian since 1973 who got involved in the pro-life movement while playing with the New York Mets in the early 1980s.

"Planned parenting is one thing, and unplanned is another — but in both cases, we're talking about a life," Carter told SBC LIFE. "This is just a good program. I'm proud to be part of it."

But Carter isn't the only big name on the list. Fellow Hall of Famers Sparky Anderson, Jim Bunning, Ernie Harwell, and Robin Yount have joined a plethora of All Stars, two Gold Glove Award winners, and 1967 Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg in the effort. Some of the more prominent names are also prominent Southern Baptists — most notably, 1960 New York Yankees World Series MVP Bobby Richardson and former Atlanta Braves infielder Jeff Treadway.

The fund-raiser may be Berlucchi's brainchild, but the proceeds will go to ALL. The goal: A pro-life university at the group's Stafford, Va., headquarters, consisting of a school of bioethics, a school of communications, and a school of life leadership for future activists. Eventually, ALL brass would like to give college credit to the students and establish distant learning facilities so others can take classes over the Internet.

"If someone were to decide today they wanted to come into the pro-life movement, there's really no place they can go to get training," said Jim Sedlak, vice president of the League Executive Team. "We want to offer practical programs for people joining the movement. It's taking new and established pro-lifers and educating them on the issues."

The seeds of the program were planted in late 2001, when ALL President Judie Brown broached the subject with Berlucchi. Once Berlucchi hit upon the baseball theme, things started to take shape. He called his friend Sal Bando, a four-time American League All Star during his days with the Oakland A's and Milwaukee Brewers who has been active in Wisconsin's pro-life movement for decades. Bando signed on as chairman, then personally recruited most of the big names on the Battin' 1000 endorsers list.

"I sent out letters to people who I knew where they were spiritually," Bando said. "Then, through baseball chapel and a ministry to players, we sent out more letters.

"We had over a 90 percent response."

One of the people who said Battin' 1000 could use his name was Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo. When he allowed the program to use Phoenix's Bank One Ballpark for its initial news conference, the people involved with Battin' 1000 weathered their first media firestorm.

"[Colangelo] is suddenly wielding Bank One Ballpark like a baseball bat, first by allowing the American Life League to conduct a news conference at a facility constructed with $258 million of taxpayers' money, and then by endorsing the group's attempts to recruit Major League Baseball players and executives for $1,000 donations," wrote Sacramento Bee sports columnist Ailene Voisin on March 4. "What happens when Planned Parenthood wants its crack at the BOB bully pulpit? … The answer is no, unless the ballpark events coordinator agrees (wink, wink) … and the groups can afford the rent."

On the contrary, Bando said, there was nothing shady about holding the news conference at Bank One Ballpark.

"We were no different from any other organization — we paid for the use of the facility and the food," he said. "They think we got this freebie because he supports our cause.

"It's surprising, because [Phoenix] knows that [Colangelo] is born-again. What do they expect him to be, pro-choice?"

The Battin' 1000 story got more play on sports pages than many off-the-field issues, outside of a team sale or a star's scandalous run-in with the law. Reporters quoted agents saying they would tell their players not to touch the program with a ten-foot pole because it was politically charged and might cost them endorsement opportunities.

Though it's an agent's job to be concerned about money and advise his clients, former Red Sox owner John Harrington, one of ALL's endorsers, said he knows plenty of great players who will "take a stand regardless of what their agent tells them."

"I was a strong believer in players being role models in every way that was good [in thirty years with the Red Sox]," Harrington said. "If a player's in a position to do something, he should do it."

It didn't take long for Battin' 1000's first ripple effects to reach the public, then bounce back in the form of e-mail, particularly after the Bank One Ballpark controversy.

"Thanks for having the guts to stand up for an unpopular position," one grassroots activist said in an e-mail to the Battin' 1000 headquarters — one of about 14,000 received. "One could only hope that other celebs and politicians would do the same.

"This action has changed my mind that all of you are not spoiled brats but some are real men!"

For detailed information about how to donate to Battin' 1000, a complete list of endorsers and updated team standings, log onto www.battin1000.org.

    About the Author

  • Karla Dial