DENVER — No copies of Playboy or Penthouse are in the clubhouse of baseball's Colorado Rockies. There's not even a Maxim. The only reading materials are daily newspapers, sports and car magazines and the Bible.
Music filled with obscenities, wildly popular with youth today and in many other clubhouses, is not played. A player will curse occasionally but usually in hushed tones. Quotes from Scripture are posted in the weight room. Chapel service is packed on Sundays. Prayer and fellowship groups each Tuesday are well-attended. It's not unusual for the front office executives to pray together.
On the field, the Rockies are trying to make the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons and only the second time in their 14-year history. Behind the scenes, they quietly have become an organization guided by Christianity — open to other religious beliefs but embracing a Christian-based code of conduct they believe will bring them focus and success.
From ownership on down, it's an approach the Rockies are proud of — and something they are wary about publicizing. "We're nervous, to be honest with you," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd says. "It's the first time we ever talked about these issues publicly. The last thing we want to do is offend anyone because of our beliefs."
Rockies pitcher Jason Jennings says: "They do preach character and good living here. It's a must for them, and that starts from the very top. But we're not a military group. ... Nobody is going to push their beliefs on each other or make judgments. We do believe that if you do things right and live your life right, good things are going to happen."
The Rockies, at 27-24 entering Tuesday, are having their best season since 1995 with a payroll of $44 million, the lowest in the National League's West Division. Their season ticketholders and fans are, for the most part, unaware of the significance the Rockies place on Christian values.
"I had no idea they were a Christian team. ... I would love for them to talk about their Christianity publicly," says Tim Boettcher, 42, a season ticketholder for 12 years and an elder at the Hosanna Lutheran Church in Littleton, Colo. "It makes sense because of the way they conduct themselves. You don't see the showboating and the trash talking. ... They look like a team and act like a team."
That's a departure from the team's recent past. Colorado has averaged 91 losses the last five years, the legacy of costly personnel decisions that didn't pan out.
"We had to go to hell and back to know where the Holy Grail is. We went through a tough time and took a lot of arrows," says Rockies chairman and CEO Charlie Monfort, one of the original owners.
Monfort did, too. He says that after years of partying, including 18 months' probation for driving while impaired, he became a Christian three years ago. It influenced how he wanted to run the club, he says.
"We started to go after character six or seven years ago, but we didn't follow that like we should have," he says. "I don't want to offend anyone, but I think character-wise we're stronger than anyone in baseball. Christians, and what they've endured, are some of the strongest people in baseball. I believe God sends signs, and we're seeing those."
The use of faith as a motivator and team-builder isn't unusual in sports.
A few minor league teams — particularly in the South — have held Faith Night promotions for churchgoing fans that have featured rock concerts and even sermons. It's common to see groups of professional football and basketball players in postgame prayer circles.
The Rockies' approach is unusual in that religious doctrine is a guide for running a franchise. The club's executives emphasize they are not intolerant of other views.
"We try to do the best job we can to get people with the right sense of moral values, but we certainly don't poll our players or our organization to find out who is Christian and who isn't," says O'Dowd, who says he has had prayer sessions on the telephone with club President Keli McGregor and manager Clint Hurdle. "I know some of the guys who are Christians, but I can't tell you who is and who isn't."
Is it possible that some Rockies are playing the role of good Christians just to stay in the team's good graces? Yes, former Rockies say.
"They have a great group of guys over there, but I've never been in a clubhouse where Christianity is the main purpose," says San Francisco Giants first baseman-outfielder Mark Sweeney, a veteran of seven organizations who spent 2003 and 2004 with the Rockies. "You wonder if some people are going along with it just to keep their jobs.
"Look, I pray every day," Sweeney says. "I have faith. It's always been part of my life. But I don't want something forced on me. Do they really have to check to see whether I have a Playboy in my locker?"
Approach not for everyone
Other baseball executives say they appreciate the Rockies' new emphasis on good character but say they would never try to build a team of Christian believers.
"You don't hear about it so much with their players, but you hear about it with their front office," San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers says. "That's not us. ... We wouldn't do that. But who's to say they're wrong for doing that?"
The Rockies, who tied for the second-worst record in baseball last year at 67-95, are on pace to finish with a franchise-record 86 wins. They have had at least a share of first place for 32 days and were in first as recently as May 21.
They have fine pitching, led by starters Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and Jennings, and a bullpen anchored by Brian Fuentes is on target for the lowest earned run average in franchise history.
Their defense ranks third in the league. All-Star first baseman Todd Helton, the face of the organization, has been joined by rising outfield stars Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe.
"I'm very proud of the comeback they've made," says baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, adding he was unaware of the extent of the team's focus on religious values. "They have to do what they feel is right."
Helton, a regular at the team's chapel services, says: "There is a plan for everything. ... We have a lot of good people in here, people who care about each other. People who want to do what's right."
Hurdle, 48, who says he became a Christian three years ago, says of the team's devotion: "We're not going to hide it. We're not going to deny it. This is who we are."
While praising their players, Rockies executives make clear they believe God has had a hand in the team's improvement.
"You look at things that have happened to us this year," O'Dowd says. "You look at some of the moves we made and didn't make. You look at some of the games we're winning. Those aren't just a coincidence. God has definitely had a hand in this."