There’s always been a connection between religion and baseball — they both attract true believers and occasional fanatics. And now that “The Book of Mormon” has fielded a softball team in the Broadway Show League, the faithful can come watch the cast and crew of this Tony winner in action on Thursday afternoons in Central Park.
But while critics and audiences alike have deified this cast of characters on the stage, it looks like the “Book of Mormon” team could use some divine intervention on the field. At 3 and 3 during this mid-season check-in, the team is looking pretty average.
For the past 57 years, teams of actors, stage managers, stage hands, electricians, carpenters, box office personnel and bartenders — to name a few vocations of this theatrical lot — have taken to the Central Park softball fields to play for shows, theaters and unions in the Broadway Show League.
The list of Broadway stars that have played in the league include Matthew Broderick, Al Pacino, Tim Robbins, John Lithgow, Billy Crudup, Edie Falco, Rosie O’Donnell and even Meat Loaf. Daniel Radcliffe really wanted to play in the league this year but “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” didn’t get their paperwork in on time, according to the League’s management.
Gallery: 57 Star-Studded Years of the Broadway Show League
On the last Thursday in June, all eyes were on Field 5 as “The Book of Mormon” played against “Jersey Boys” — the old hat Tony winner for Best Musical vs. the hottest ticket on Broadway. A team that’s been around the block a few times vs. the kids that are running The Great White Way this season. It’s not exactly the Yankees vs. Red Sox, but it may be as close as this league gets.
“I think that we’re going to annihilate them,” said “Jersey Boys” shortstop Matt Bogart, who plays “Nick Massi” in the show, before the game.
“Mormon” ensemble actor and left center fielder Tommar Wilson admitted, with a grin, that his team had “had such a good year with our show that “everybody loves to have us lose on the field.”
“Mormon’s” team manager, and ensemble actor in the show, Brian Sears smiled, wincing slightly, when he acknowledged that the pressure was on. He praised his team’s tenacity, but concurred that they’re “getting lots of grief from both sides of the fence.” He added that Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the co-creators of “Mormon” and “South Park,” are rooting for the “Mormon” team: “I get an email from them every week if I lose.”
The slogan on the back of “Mormon’s” jerseys? “God’s Favorite Team.”
There are many old rivalries in the league — “Mary Poppins” vs. “Phantom” (the team representing “Phantom of the Opera”) come to mind — but this year, everyone’s united in their quest to bring down the “Nederlanders,” the only team with a 7-0 record at the season’s halfway point. But gunning for the Nederlanders may not be the best career move, given that they’re the famed Broadway producers of such hits as “Wicked,” “The Addams Family” and “The Lion King.”
As the players sweated it out, just steps from the five impeccably groomed softball fields that were alive with the week’s match-ups, the folks who manage the Broadway Show League camped out around a plastic table at Central Park’s Ball Park Café, just across from Heckscher Fields (near-ish to the Columbus Circle entrance to the park).
Gayle Scott, an actress who has played for 25 years, spoke with her fellow league Advisory Board members, including John Gordon, a carpenter who has played since 1996 and serves as the league’s commissioner. “George C. Scott was up for an Academy Award,” relayed Scott (no relation), “And he said ‘the only award I want to win is the MVP of the Broadway Show League.’ He was a crazy player, loved it.” It was clear that Ms. Scott loves it too, as she sat with her cohorts talking shop and naming the stars of seasons current and past.
Back on the field, the “Jersey Boys” vs. “Mormon” game does not disappoint.
Going into the bottom of the 5th, “Mormon” is up 4-2. Then a two-run “Jersey Boys” homer in the bottom of the 6th ties it up, but they’re not done; by the end of the inning they score two more runs, putting them up 6-4 as they go into the top of the 7th.
“Mormon” has to score, or the game is over. “Jersey Boys” takes the field. Right away “Mormon” smacks two hits and there’s a man on first and second, no outs.
The bases are loaded, one out. Sac fly, run scores, two outs. Down by one.
Before the game, “Jersey Boys” shortstop Bogart declared that “God’s on our side today.” He was right… A fly out ends the game and the “Jersey Boys” earn their bragging rights over the “Mormons.”
Heads are not hanging low as “The Book of Mormon” folks leave the field. The season’s not over and the show must go on. As any fan of sports and theatre knows – anything can happen in the playoffs. Perhaps “God’s Favorite Team” will have that second coming after all.
Trish Harnetiaux is a writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y. She has played in the Williamsburg Softball League for over a decade.