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FAITHFUL FAN | Faith helps baseball players at SLU stay grounded

No baseball?

Despite Major League Baseball canceling the first few games of the season due to a labor dispute, there’s still opportunities to watch games. Saint Louis University, for example, plays a high level of college competition at its home field in Midtown St. Louis.

SLU’s head coach Darin Hendrickson invites you to the games. “College baseball will never replace MLB, but if you like baseball, it’s a good product,” Hendrickson said.

SLU typically gets off to a slow start each season, playing away games against teams from better climates that are more advanced at the start. But the Billikens, with a track record of success the last 10-plus years, are at home on an upgraded field now and ready to pick up some wins. The season extends through May.

Several local players are on the team. Mark Vierling and Colin Bergmann come from a stellar Christian Brothers College (CBC) High School program. Bergmann, a sophomore who was conference player of the year at CBC, homered in a March 1 game vs. Southeast Missouri State University. Others include Jack Weber, a pitcher from Chaminade College Preparatory School; Tyler Fogarty, an infielder from Chaminade; Jackson Holmes of Columbia, Illinois, High; Reid Hendrickson of Edwardsville, Illinois, High; and Dominic Cusumano, a Westminster High grad and transfer from Indiana State who is attending SLU’s law school.

The university’s Jesuit, Catholic presence extends to the baseball team. Team chaplain Emmanuel Arenas, a Jesuit scholastic, serves as a spiritual guide. His weekly reflection program was especially helpful after some losses and the sudden death of a security guard who served at the athletic department.

Coach Hendrickson said his players “are wonderful young men who are going to do wonderful things in life.”

One of those is Mark Vierling, a transfer from Mizzou for his graduate year, who said it’s been a good experience playing with the Billikens and being close to his family.

CBC helped develop him into the player and person he is now, he said. Eventually he and his brother, Matt, gravitated to baseball. He enjoyed playing basketball and soccer in the Catholic Youth Apostolate’s CYC sports program at Mary Queen of Peace Parish, where he attended the grade school. He credits his family and coaches on his travel teams, CBC, Mizzou and SLU for his success.

His brother, Matt, debuted with the Philadelphia Phillies last season.

Baseball is a game that mimics life, Mark Vierling said. “A lot of it’s mental, seeing how you can deal with adversity, ups and downs. It’s not always going to be good times the whole way. There’s going to be some tough times.”

His Catholic faith helps him, especially in the down times. “I’m always praying. I wear a cross chain, which puts things in perspective — I hold my chain, say something to God. That helps me reset, refocus and not let my emotions overwhelm me. That’s been a big part of my college career. That perspective is huge.”

SLU’s chaplain is a help, too, Vierling explained: “He’s always positive, always pointing everyone in the right direction.”

Kenny retired in 2021 after nearly 40 years as a reporter at the St. Louis Review. He and his family are parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi in Oakville.

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