NEW YORK – By the time this story is published, Father Roberto “Tito” Serrano will have thrown out the first pitch for the May 20 Miami Marlins v. Atlanta Braves’ baseball game, thereby launching a summer-long evangelization mission to all 30 Major League Baseball ballparks alongside Father Casey Cole.

The trip has been eight years in the making for the two Franciscan priests, who have dubbed themselves the “Bleacher Brothers.” It was inspired by St. Francis of Assissi.

“Years ago, we were told by one of the friars that [St. Francis of Assissi] didn’t necessarily go to churches to preach,” Cole told Crux. “He went to city streets; he went to where people were and preached the language that they could understand.”

“People don’t necessarily gather in the city streets anymore; so, being baseball fans, I thought it’d be great to go to stadiums to meet in the other cathedral, the other place of worship in some ways, this summer,” he said.

After Miami, Cole and Serrano travel to Tampa for a Rays game where Cole will get his chance to throw out the first pitch, which he describes as the “cherry on top.” For the first leg of the journey, the “Bleacher Brothers” will drive in a rented truck through the South, Northeast and the Midwest. Then they’ll fly out to the West Coast and visit the remaining 10 ballparks, finishing the journey on July 30, with a Colorado Rockies’ game.

With evangelization as their purpose, at each stop they’ll do far more than watch a ball game. In every state, they have scheduled events at schools, parishes, and dioceses. Cole said some of the talks will focus on vocations and “inspiring people to be faithful citizens and be engaged in the world.” Others will focus on the beatitudes and how Cole believes “they’re the answer to a divided and despairing world.”

“A lot of people have taken us up on that topic, which is how to be reconcilers, and how we make sense of the suffering and afflictions we’ve gone through with COVID-19, and racial upheaval and all of these things,” Cole said.

Of course, they’ll talk about baseball, too. Cole noted that America’s pastime has “some spiritual things to it about patience, about fraternity, about tradition, that we can easily connect to the church and life and the faith.”

Serrano added that the goal is to encounter people at the ball games as well. He envisions them walking around the stadium and creating opportunities to encounter as many people as possible, noting that their brown Franciscan habits will make them stand out.

“We want to make ourselves available,” Serrano told Crux. “We want people to come up to us and be curious because we are curiously dressed, so we want them to come up to us, and that gives us an opening to share our life, to share our fraternity, and to share the gospel message in a different way.”

Cole described the trip as an evangelization mission.

“’We’re on a mission from God,’” he laughed, a reference to the movie “The Blues Brothers,” noting the parallel to their own moniker – the Bleacher Brothers.

“It also fits really well with the synodal process of listening and going out to people and people who aren’t coming to the churches and seeing what’s wrong, why aren’t they coming, what are they struggling with and how can we be of service to them,” he said.

In terms of baseball, Cole is a Chicago Cubs’ fan and Serrano an Arizona Diamondbacks’ fan. They each said Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, and Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, are at the top of the ballpark bucket list for the summer.

Cole also highlighted a four-day stretch at the end of June into July where his dad will fly out. Together they’ll go to a St. Louis Cardinals’ game. Then they’ll drive up to Iowa to go to the Field of Dreams site to see it and have a catch. From there, they’ll drive to Wrigley Field in Chicago to see the Cubs play.

“That three- or four-day period is going to be pretty surreal,” Cole said.

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