Team spirit and Holy Spirit — for Nationals religion looms large on and off the field

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“When I’ve gone to chapel in the past it’s for all the wrong reasons,” he said. “It’s probably because I’ve had three bad games in a row. I think when you believe in a higher power, most of the time you’re always asking for something. So I stopped going because I felt like I was just going there to ask for things, or to go through the motions.”

Haren spent many days in Washington exploring the National Museum of Natural History, studying the science and history of the world. He read a Time magazine poll that posed the question: If science found a fact that contradicted the tenets of your faith, what would you believe? Sixty-four percent of Americans said they would continue to hold on to their religious beliefs. He mentioned the poll to LaRoche one day this year.

Adam is one of the more open-minded people on the team,” Haren said. “A lot of people just close themselves off. You believe one way or the other, and when you hear something else you just completely block it off. [The results of that poll], I think, bother me a little bit. I don’t know why, but it just does. I don’t want to seem like I’m testing their faith or anything, but I like to understand it from an intellectual standpoint.

“I like to hear what they have to say and then I kind of take it all in and give a rebuttal. Then they take it all in and come back to me. If it ever gets to the point of them or me becoming upset, it stops right there because I think there’s certain things that are good to talk about, but this is really a workplace.”

Still, Haren and others have challenged the more ardent believers in the Nationals‘ clubhouse this season, bringing different viewpoints to the table. Haren is inquisitive and studious, asking outfielder Bryce Harper about his Mormon faith or engaging LaRoche and Desmond with questions about the Bible. All are willing to talk with him, even if the conversation gets loud.

“I’m sitting on the bus and I’ll just [put my head in my hands] because, of course, Haren has his views and Scott Hairston has his views and Desmond and Span and [LaRoche],” said Harper, the only Mormon on the team. “But I try to stay away from it as much as I can. I just sit there and laugh and listen. It’s pretty fun to hear what they have to say because they all get so heated about it.”

Harper, who attended seminary classes at 5 a.m. on weekdays in high school, writes “Luke 1:37” on every autograph he signs. “For with God, nothing shall be impossible.” It’s his way own of spreading the Gospel.

Harper decided not to go on a Mormon mission because of his career, though he considered it. That fits for him because proselytizing isn’t his style. “If somebody asks me about it, I’ll tell them about it, but I’m not going to be Mr. Tim Tebow,” he said, clarifying that he does not mean that in a derogatory way.

“My mom always told me, ‘You can touch a lot more lives playing baseball and doing good things than you would on a mission,’” Harper said. “It’s very true. Shoot, I’ll tweet about God and get 1,500 retweets and it’s like, that just went to 1,500 people or more.

“I’m going to try to be the best person I can off the field [and promote my faith that way]. What I say is, ‘I try to be the best walking Book of Mormon as I can.’”

Diverse beliefs, mutual goal

Within the melting pot that is the Nationals clubhouse, most of those interviewed for this story agreed on a few things.

First, that the exchange of ideas and open-mindedness to listen to other opinions was important and, overall, positive.

“I’ll have a debate with anybody,” LaRoche said. “They may get mad, but we’re still great friends an hour later. I’ve found, the majority of the time, if we’re willing to open up about it, guys are incredibly receptive.”

Second, part of why they’re able to do that is because there isn’t a lot of unsolicited preaching. Those who hold fervent religious beliefs stressed that timing is important, and some said they mostly avoid the topic unless approached.

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