ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - You can buy the "Catacombs of Rome" DVD from the History Channel for $24.95, or you can just wait for it to play again one night on the channel. They get around to replaying most everything, it seems. The thing is, Brad Lidge has probably seen it already. He sounds as if he has seen them all.

It is another side of the Phillies' closer - an interest in religious studies and archaeology. He is pursuing college credit online as he continues to pitch perfect ninth innings for the Phillies, from April to the World Series, from the spring semester to the fall.

Religious studies and archaeology: the hunt for truth in artifacts and ruins. It is why some of his teammates call him Indiana Lidge.

"Honestly, it's something I've always wanted to know about," Lidge said the other day. "I love the background of religious studies - it's fascinating to me. Even when I was in college [at Notre Dame], when I was in marketing - which, at the time, I was taking with the guys on my team and stuff - [religious studies] was always kind of what my interest was, in the other direction.

"Now I've got a lot of free time . . . During the season, there's a lot of downtime. So I thought, if I was reading about it [anyway] I might as well get some credit for it and see if I can't work toward a degree in it."

He is studying as part of a program at Regis University in Denver. He is working toward a degree in religious studies. His course work is being taught and facilitated online by Grant Fleming, who told the story of how the students all introduced themselves in e-mails at the start of the semester.

His current course: RC220A. World Religious Traditions I: Eastern Religions.

"I had seen his name on my roster, one of 15 students, and I thought, 'That's very familiar,' " Fleming said, on the phone last night. "In his first posting, he introduced himself as an individual who travels around the country, that he works in a job that takes him to various localities. Then, he said, 'I pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies' . . .

"It's all been handled on a very professional level. Nobody makes a big deal of it. We get students from all over the world. In other courses, we have had police officers and firemen from all over the country, soldiers in Iraq, a sailor in Japan.

"But Brad, it's unique," Fleming said.

From what Lidge says, the religious studies degree will be more of a foundational thing for him. He says his main interest is in the ruins and artifacts of early Christianity in Europe, after the fall of Rome.

"It's more archaeological," he said. "I am Christian and I do take my religion seriously, but at the same time, my interest in it right now is more archaeological. That is something, whenever baseball is said and done, religious archaeology is something I want to pursue. It's just always been interesting to me. It's fun to learn about."

So far, his studies have been all bookwork and video work and online work - which Fleming says takes 10-12 hours per week. Lidge currently makes his living standing atop a dirt hill, but his hope someday is not to throw from one, but to dig into one.

"I have not been on a dig yet," he said. "It seems like I've watched so many history specials on the History Channel on them that I have, but obviously I haven't done anything like that yet. I have learned a lot of things online about it and that's why I'm getting a religious studies background right now. When that's done, I want to get a masters in archaeology and then try to combine the two and see where I go from there . . .

"Without getting too crazy into it, the start of Christianity and all the different things that shaped it, to where it is now, is very important to me. It helps me, in my faith, to understand where the background is. A lot of people just take things for granted. I'd really like to know the ins-and-outs of what I'm basing my faith on."

But you wonder: Where does he find the time? His wife is 8 months' pregnant, and there is this little baseball postseason thing occupying the imagination of an entire city. How exactly is he getting the latest reading on Hinduism completed?

"Honestly, I've been doing a little of it because it's nice to have something to keep me distracted," Lidge said. "When we're at the field we're thinking about baseball, clearly. It's nice to have something distracting when you go home, take your mind off of it, just relax and do something else."

But, still . . .

Fleming, the teacher, said, "How they all get the work done amazes me sometimes. But with Brad, he was on the West Coast playing the Dodgers, or he had just come back to Philadelphia, but one of his postings came in at about 2:40 in the morning. I don't know where he was, but he's just a regular student . . .

"Nobody mentions what he does in their postings. Nobody writes, 'Hey, what a great slider.' And I have been careful - you have to respect people's privacy. It wasn't until this week that I included something in a posting.

"I just said, 'Good luck, everybody's pulling for you.' " *

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