Running Back to Home Base | Friar Reflections | “Bleacher Brothers” Mission Recap

By Rob Boelke, Manager of Communications

When introducing Fr. Casey Cole, OFM, and Fr. Tito Serrano, OFM, at the beginning of our parish mission this past Monday evening, I asked the pair of friars how the start of their ambitious tour was going, seeing as Tampa was just their second stop following the kickoff in Miami just days before. “There’s been a southern Florida cloud gently hovering over our  trip so far,” Fr. Casey stated. “Every part of our trip has had a little bit of ‘rain’ or a little bit of ‘slipping here, forgetting something there,’ but it has been great.”

Fast forward about 20 seconds, and he thought there was another cloud, as Fr. Tito’s microphone was fighting against him. Motioning to the congregation of more than 100 in attendance, Fr. Casey exclaimed, “we make plans and God laughs, and that’s what we are praying for.” Fr. Tito eventually figured things out (he forgot to turn it on) and thus began an evening of discourse that we rarely get to have in our parishes these days. One of openness and civil discourse, humility and humanity. I certainly hope their visit to Sacred Heart set a tone for their summer tour.

Watch the Full Mission Session Here:

Casey and Tito are on a pilgrimage more so than a tour, however. You’ll have seen in our advertisements over these last few months that the pair of young friars are visiting each and every Major League ballpark this summer, marrying ministry and their passion for the sport of baseball. When I asked where their passion for baseball emanates, Fr. Casey provided insight into this mission’s focus on evangelization in untraditional settings. “Who doesn’t love baseball? It gets in your bones…it brings people together. There is something spiritual about it, almost like a church. You have the fraternal aspect; you spend a lot of time sitting with your brothers in the dugout. For some, that may call it boring, but I call it quality time. The beauty of the stadiums attracts us as well. They are kind of like cathedrals, each slightly different, some ornate, some big, some beautiful. They are hubs for cities, and they house tradition. No other sport has the tradition that baseball does, rooted in something much bigger than yourself.”

Fr. Tito (left) and Fr. Casey (center), with Rob Boelke (right) during the Bleacher Brothers event at Sacred Heart on May 23, 2022.

“We are putting ourselves out there,” Fr. Tito mentioned as the discussion turned to the goals for their interactions at the stadiums. “We’re hoping people will approach us. You don’t go to a baseball game dressed like this (in their habits) unless you want that attention.” Fr. Casey interjected, “Oh, look the Padres are in town. You’ll get kids asking if it is Star Wars night. These (jokes) are pretty popular.” Tito continued, “You’ll get that look from people thinking, ‘Can I?’ (approach) and we say ‘Of course you can!’”

Fr. Casey then told us about one interaction in particular from their first game in Miami that exemplified their mission. “We were in the bathroom and a young guy, 19 years old, came up to us saying he wanted to talk to us, but not in here.” I remarked that I was glad the gentleman in question made such an important distinction, as the congregation laughed. Fr. Casey went on to explain that the man had really been struggling with his faith, with his parent’s faith and culture, and that he felt disconcerted. “He had some real questions for us, and he ended up hugging us after. It was great!”

Fr. Casey (left) and Fr. Tito (right) at Tropicana Field on May 24, 2022

Similar to the interactions they anticipate on having in each ballpark this summer, we had questions prepared for Casey and Tito, covering topics that face the modern Church, both specific to Sacred Heart and on an broader scale. We discussed how to grow alongside the population moving into our parish boundaries. We examined how to invite back our family or friends who have fallen away from the Church, and how to do so with dignity and respect for their experience. We talked about divisiveness, and how civil discourse and listening can help you connect with those who have a different worldview. And just like the encounter with the fan in Miami, it was great.

On behalf of the parish, I thank Fr. Casey and Fr. Tito for their time, honesty, and compassion during this visit, and I hope we see them again soon. And thank you to our parishioners who made the trip out to the church during a Monday evening rainstorm to join us.