By Eric Jayne
A Google search for "Faith and Family Night" pulls up a long list of professional sports teams holding a celebratory day dedicated to religious faith..
This list includes several major league and minor league baseball teams across the nation. Of course, not all sports fans are people with religious faith, so it would seem fair for these same teams to include an evening dedicated to individuals and families without faith. It could be billed as "A Night of Unbelievable Fun," but it would take a team that's managed by a daring and open-minded front office to make that happen. Fortunately, that's exactly what the Minnesota Atheists organization found with the fun-loving minor league St. Paul Saints.
Atheist-themed baseball will be played on Friday in St. Paul, four days before the Major League Baseball All-Star Game across the river in Minneapolis. The game will include some between-inning, atheist-themed antics, including a "Doubting Thomas" character who will likely question many of the umpiring crew's calls, and an obstacle course race where competitors will begin in a sea creature costume and "evolve" through the race until they reach the primate stage.
Additionally, the team will be re-branded from the Saint Paul Saints to the secular-friendly Mister Paul Aints. Players and coaches will wear the specially designed Aints jerseys. The jerseys will be auctioned off during the game and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Family Place Shelter in St. Paul where volunteers from Minnesota Atheists prepare monthly meals and dine with families experiencing homelessness.
The Saints front office staff will cover the "S" in "Saints" signs throughout Midway Stadium and, as with all of their business partners who sponsor a Saints game, banners will be hung in the concourse advertising the game's sponsors; in this case it's the Minnesota Atheists and Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The partnership between the Minnesota Atheists and St. Paul Saints began in 2012 after the Minnesota Atheists released two outreach billboards. The local media response from those billboards gave the Minnesota Atheists momentum to build on even more community outreach so when our atheist group was invited by the Saints to discuss a possible partnership, our board members jumped at the opportunity. After a few negotiations, and after American Atheists agreed to split the sponsorship fees with us that year, the Minnesota Atheists and St. Paul Saints dubbed the first "atheist night" game in professional baseball as A Night of Unbelievable Fun.
The Aints lost that game to the Amarillo Sox, then lost again in 2013 to the Sioux City Explorers. This year, the Aints hope to get their first win when they face the Kansas City T-Bones.
Even though there's been some negative chatter in the media and from individuals, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. This is attributable to the fact that our atheist-themed baseball game reflects the atheist attitude toward life: Have fun and enjoy the time while you can.
This year, as in the past two years, the Minnesota Atheists and St. Paul Saints have worked closely together to assure there is no mocking of religious faith, nothing mean-spirited and nothing exclusionary. This is purely about having fun, and when your baseball team is co-owned by Bill Murray and Mike Veeck -- who wrote the book "Fun is Good" -- even an atheist has faith that healthy amounts of fun will be readily available.