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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Roemer

Faith & Fastballs

Updated: Mar 22

The roaring of applause from a crowd of fans on the first base side of the stadium begins to heighten, as players give each other one last round of high-fives before making their way into the dugout. Over the next few minutes, fans continue to rise to their feet and cheer; while players and coaches mingle amongst themselves as they wait for their queue to take the field for pre-game festivities. 

However, one athlete remains behind.  

Taking a knee on the pale white foul line, Red Sox minor leaguer Phillip Sikes removes his cap and  quietly bows his head in prayer, before joining his teammates. 

Phillip praying before a game with the Salem Red Sox. PC: Danielle DiBenedetto

Over the past few years I have covered a variety of sports, but have heard religion spoken of by baseball players more than any other group of athletes. Most of the players I have worked with consistently wear a gold or silver chain with a cross on the end, reference a bible verse in their social media bios and captions, and start an acceptance speech with a “thank you” to a higher power. 

Though I have my own relationship with the subject - which I will be keeping to myself - I wanted to do a deeper dive. 

For this piece I had the privilege of speaking with Phillip about why he chooses to be open about his faith, and how he uses it to connect with others. 

Faith Journey 

Born and raised in Paris, Texas, a town in the Northeast region of the state consisting of roughly 50,000 people; Phillip began regularly attending church around the age of four. 

“My grandmother began taking me to a baptist church when I was young,” Sikes said. “But it wasn't until I was about ten years old when I started to understand what was being discussed during the service.” 

Phillip continued his faith journey throughout high school, regularly attending church and being involved with an organization called Young Life: a Christian Ministry that is often affiliated with junior high  to high school aged students, providing them a chance to bond while growing in their faith. 

His senior year, Phillip took a big step in his journey and made the decision to get baptized. 

“I felt it on my heart that this is something I wanted,” Sikes said. “I had my closest friends and family members there for me, so it was a really special day.” 

Advancing in his baseball career as well, Phillip signed to play at the collegiate level after graduating from Paris High School. After spending time at Pima Community College in Arizona, he made his way back to the Lone Star State as a member of the Texas Christian University baseball program; located in Fort Worth. 

Phillip playing for the Horned Frogs

It was there he began to bow his head in prayer on the chalky foul line prior to the start of each contest. 

“Before each game our team would come together on the line to talk and pray,” Sikes said. “We had a really special bond and I decided to keep going with it ever since.” 

While he is no longer a student-athlete for the Horned Frogs, Phillip resides in Fort Worth during the offseason, attending services from a non-denominational church that consists of individuals closer to his age. 

This gives him an opportunity to connect with his peers. 

“I usually worship with a younger crowd,” Sikes said. “This gives me the chance to really interact and talk with others, getting to know what’s going on in their life and grow in faith with them.” 

Though whenever he is back in his hometown for a visit, he still makes time to attend the Baptist Church service with his grandmother. 

“I’ll always remember that she bought me my first bible and really laid down this path for me,” Sikes said. “Even with the church being an older and much smaller crowd, I still really like getting to know the people.” 

Minor League Practices

As someone who works in minor league baseball, I understand - to an extent - the rigorous schedule that the athletes go through. The only designated off day players receive are Mondays, which usually includes long hours of travel. This made me think of the athletes like Phillip, who may not have the opportunity to go to a formal church service, if that’s something they desire.  

The answer to this thought presented itself once I was made aware of Baseball Chapel, a service that provides every professional baseball team with a Chaplain. A Chaplain is a certified clergy member who provides spiritual care for individuals in a non-religious organization. 

To clarify the role and responsibilities, I spoke with John Smith*, the Chaplain for the Portland Sea Dogs. 

A Cleveland native, Smith regularly attends Sea Dogs games with his family and is active with a local church in Portland. Last season marked his first with the club, and he was excited for the opportunity to get involved and meet with athletes like Phillip. 

“I grew up a baseball fan and this was like a chance for my worlds to collide,” Smith said. “I saw the Sea Dogs were in need of a Chaplain, and went through the process of applying and getting approved for the position.” 

Baseball Chapel is non-denominational and maintains the same structure for every team. Being non-denominational means the organization holds no connection with a particular christian identity, set of beliefs, or traditions. 

Smith comes to the ballpark every Sunday during the season to meet with players* who choose to attend the roughly fifteen minute service. Each week, a different chapter of the bible is covered and the content discussed is the same throughout all professional organizations. Not only does he meet with players for Portland, but afterwards will also hold a quick service for members of the road team. 

“This is a safe space where players are able to practice their faith and I can check-in on how they are doing,” Smith said. “Life for them is both exciting and challenging, as they are very far from home and under a lot of pressure.” 

For John, he has so far been very encouraged by how eager the players are to continue practicing and is already looking forward to 2024.  

“It is very encouraging for me to see them dedicate time to practice their faith,” Smith said. “At the end of last season they even expressed interest in meeting more often.”   

Spreading the Word 

Aside from having the opportunity to connect with others in person, Phillip also takes to posting about his faith on his social media platforms, particularly Instagram. 

“At first, this was kind of an internal battle because I didn’t want to offend anyone,” Sikes said. “But then I ultimately decided it was more important for me to reach anyone and possibly impact their life.” 

Since he began posting, individuals have directly reached out to him about the subject. 

“I have had a few people start good conversations about how they feel about their faith,” Sikes said. “It's exciting getting to know what is going on in their life, and discuss what Jesus has done for them.” 

Phillip praying before a contest with the Salem Red Sox. PC: Danielle DiBenedetto

His advice to younger individuals who want to be more open about their faith and spread the word is simple, just be yourself. 

“Don’t be afraid to be judged by others because God’s judgment is the only one you should be concerned with.” Sikes said. 

To conclude the conversation, Phillip shared with me his favorite bible verse, Mark 9:23 

Jesus said unto him, If thou can believe, all things are possible to him that believes. 

For more resources about baseball ministries please check: 

Our Baseball Life: 

*Players will not be named for privacy reasons 

*Chaplain's name was changed for privacy reasons

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