Victoria HarbourCats baseball team welcomes first chaplain

Victoria's Park Jung has always been a sports fan. The longtime chaplain grew up playing softball, and loves going to a good baseball game.

So when he travelled to Phoenix, Arizona to catch a Major League Baseball spring training session, he fantasized about working for a team.

"I thought, 'Gee I wonder what it would be like to be a chaplain for these guys — for a major league team.' "

The idea seemed like a distant dream — until now. Jung will soon be working alongside some of the most promising up-and-coming baseball players on the West Coast as he's just been recruited as the official chaplain for the Victoria HarbourCats, a collegiate baseball team whose players hope to someday make it to the majors.

A sports chaplain

Sports chaplains are meant to provide spiritual support and guidance to players on a team. The roles are to help ease some of the stress that comes with playing sports at an elite level, and chaplains are common across major sports leagues, including the NHL, MLB, and the NFL.

But for the West Coast League, which includes baseball teams in Washington, Oregon and B.C., Jung's appointment is the first in league history.

"We're kind of late to the game," said Jim Swanson, managing partner with Harbour Cats.

Swanson said the team decided to recruit a chaplain after officials noticed that a lot of their new players were coming from faith-based schools and programs.

"We work with programs with names like Texas Christian and Cal Baptist," said Swanson. "We thought, 'Why would we not do what many many sports teams have done for years ... and provide that option for the team?' '"

Spiritual first aid

Jung's volunteer position with the HarbourCats will be his first as a sports chaplain. He's currently a volunteer chaplain for the Kairos Prison Ministry, an international organization that arranges for volunteers to visit prisoners.

He was recruited by the team after meeting one of its corporate workers through Glad Tidings Church in Victoria.

He said he'll be attending all of the home games, and will be there to support players so they can play to the best of their abilities.

"A lot of these kids come from teams that might have had some high stress," he said. "I can listen to them, hear their stresses, and let them unwind."

Jung said chaplains are often touted as character counsellors and provide emotional support as well.

"I'm a spiritual first aid guy," he said. "I don't push religion on anybody ... we're basically here to be a friend and to listen."

He said he'll do his best to ensure no is excluded from getting support, regardless of their beliefs and backgrounds.

"Everybody is spiritual in a way. We all believe in something."

With files from CBC's All Points West