It’s Sunday morning and Jio Mier is at work. That’s the drill every Sunday from April through September. It’s not only part of the job; it’s part of the game. Baseball is every day.
Which means Mier misses out on a key piece of his identity – church.
Last week he scribbled a note on the wipe board in the Buffalo Bisons’ clubhouse that read “Chapel 4:30.”
It’s part of his job as a chapel leader, to let people know when they’ll be meeting. It’s a low-key, casual type of invite every Sunday, home and road. The non-denominational Christian service is voluntary, usually consisting of a reading from the Bible, reflection and prayer taking place in every ballpark across the country – from Class A to the Major Leagues.
And for some players, like Mier, chapel has become a cornerstone to practicing and deepening his faith while playing making a living on the field.
“To me faith is more important than anything,” Mier said. “It’s more important than baseball. It’s more important than my family. This is what for me what I feel we’re called upon to do. So for me to have that opportunity to go to chapel and obviously to spend time with God and especially with other teammates, I view that as more important than getting swings in the cage. I see it as it’s making me spiritually stronger just as I am getting baseball stronger. So for me obviously chapel is an opportunity to get more growth.”
Mier has been participating in baseball chapel since he was drafted in 2009.
The organization, Baseball Chapel, has been offering its service to ballplayers since 1973. By the start of 1975 all Major League teams had a chapel program with the minor league program established in 1978.
Baseball Chapel at its most basic began as a way to bring church to the ballplayers when the ballplayers couldn’t get to church. It’s grown to include separate chapel services for the home team and the visiting team and in recent years made services available to umpires.
“People who are now managing and coaching teams throughout professional baseball played their whole career with chapel ingrained in the game,” said Vince Nauss, president of Baseball Chapel. “That’s a big change form 40 years ago when it was a new thing and people who has played in the 50s or 60s, there was no such thing as baseball chapel. The longevity shows. We’re a service organization that comes in expecting nothing but are there to give and be available to staff and players.”
Players often utilize their baseball chaplain outside of Sunday services, for counseling or deeper study. But chapel also is a way for players to share their faith, to lean on each other when they face difficult times on and off the field.
“One of my roommates on the road is David Adams and we talk about faith nonstop and where we’re being led down or what we’re feeling whether we’re up or down whether we’re spiritually low and we need to feed off each other,” Mier said. “It says in the bible that iron sharpens iron. So if I’m in here by myself trying to get spiritually stronger, not speaking to anyone else about my faith or I’m letting everything eat inside me instead of talking with another teammate about it, you know, ‘Hey brother I’m going through this spiritually, can you help me out a little bit?’ He can easily help me out just as much as praying does and I think that’s really important.”
As Mier grows deeper in his faith, it also helps maneuver through a baseball career which is rarely a smooth experience.
There’s movement up and down affiliated ball, occasionally with stops at an independent league along the way. There are injuries and trades, inherent parts of the game, coupled with the strains of a baseball life can take on finances (especially in the minor leagues) and relationships.
“The baseball life is one that, like life in general, has ups and downs but this is magnified,” Nauss said. “You perform in front of a lot of people and a lot of people get to see your flaws. It’s a very public thing, in that regard. We help baseball people stay focused and grounded on the important matters of life. Your baseball career is the most important thing you’re doing right now, but in the course of time and average life of baseball career, it’s a brief snapshot of one’s life. You need to keep a right perspective.”
Mier said that chapel is a foundation for him during baseball season.
“It’s actually what grounds me because a lot of times in this game we fail every single day. We get two hits, we’re still failing two other times,” said Mier, currently on the Bisons disabled list with a groin injury. A former first-round draft pick of the Houston Astros is in his first season with the Toronto Blue Jays organization and eighth in minor league ball.
Chapel “just keeps everything in perspective and for me I don’t like to have an identity in baseball. I don’t like to be known as a baseball player. Once I’m done with this game, I have to be a civilian and outside of that I want to be a Christian more than anything else. So does it ground me? Absolutely. It’s what holds me down more than anything.”