By Jeff Brumley
The leadership of First Baptist Church in Dalton, Ga., expects no congregational split Friday night, regardless of which side prevails when the local favorite Atlanta Braves take on the St. Louis Cardinals in a do-or-die game that will send the winner to the National League playoffs.
The dilemma for some at First Baptist is that one of their favorite sons, Mitchell Boggs, pitches for the Cards. Going into the single-elimination game standing between the Redbirds and an opportunity to repeat as Major League Baseball World Champions, the 6-4 righthander is 4-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 78 games, mostly out of the bullpen as setup man for Cardinal closer Jason Motte.
“The banter that goes around sometimes has already started,” said Christian Byrd, minister to youth and their families at FBC Dalton, a church multiply aligned with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Southern Baptist Convention, CBF of Georgia, Georgia Baptist Convention and Virginia Baptist Mission Board.
It’s the same around the rest of the town. “Most people have grown up Braves fans in Dalton, but you have a group that’s been following the Cardinals since Mitchell was first drafted by them” in 2005, Byrd said.
Senior Pastor Bill Ireland said the in-town and congregational rivalry is a good-natured one. “It’s a win-win, because either way they have someone to pull for,” Ireland said of Friday’s NL wild card playoff game set for 5:07 p.m. local time at Atlanta’s Turner Field.
Both men agreed Boggs’ importance to the congregation, its youth and the entire community cannot be overstated. Boggs has maintained his faith and a Christian lifestyle, and is a living lesson that professional success – and fame – needn’t require a sacrifice of values, Byrd said.
“They see that the two can blend and co-exist,” he said. “From a youth standpoint, they see someone who is not obsessed with self and not drawn in” by the trappings of fame.
For Dalton, a carpet-manufacturing capital where unemployment has risen to double digits, Boggs’ long, uncertain slog through the minor leagues has also been an inspiration. “Hearing how he’s gone through difficult times and how his faith got him through it, that’s a message that’s universal – especially in this community,” Byrd said.
Ireland said he’s been impressed that Boggs continues regular church attendance in the off-season, and does so without fanfare.
And the hurler is very down-to-earth, Ireland added.
“I asked him once if he always knows where the ball is going,” Ireland said. “He said ‘most of the time.’”