Baseball In A Parochial Environment

An excerpt from my book of parochial school nostalgia: “I Thought I’d Died And Gone To Heaven.” Click on the link above for more information.


“Then there was Jim Reynolds: a tall athletic young man who
was very fond of Our Lady of Peace. I say this as he repeated the
higher grades of the Catholic elementary system, grades six
through eight, a plethora of times. In grade seven, when I first
ran into him, I do believe he was sixteen. He must have been, for
he smoked and drove a ’56 Ford to school. That was cool: to
park his beater with the grownups, the teachers, in the school
parking lot. We knew he was a smoker for he rolled his cigarettes
up tight in his short-sleeved white tee during the warmer spring
weather. Buckinghams, non-filters, seem to come to mind as the
cigarette of choice for all young punks at the time. Of course no
one seemed to care about second-hand smoke at the school in
those unregulated days.

A smallish baseball diamond was situated in one of the back
corners of our schoolyard. During the late winter, early spring
months, when the last vestiges of snow had all but disappeared
and the ground was suddenly covered with trash and rock-hard
dog shit, we would pull out our bats and balls and set up a game.
Teams were not a problem, for we used an “up or out” rotational
system of play. Somewhat like the Navy’s promotional and
downsizing scheme, but I digress. One could remain at bat so
long as one did not strike, fly, or be thrown out. You had to be a
good hitter to remain at bat. Once you were thrown out or struck
out, you were in the field and would remain out there until
another batter suffered the same fate. Then rotate positions. The
only exception to all of this was that if someone caught the ball
in the air, they would immediately go to bat and the batter would
take their place.

Jim Reynolds may not have been too smart but he was tough.
Street tough. And could he ever hit a softball.
When Jim came to bat it was pure delight. He could hit, man
he could hit: towering, out-of-sight fly balls that seemed to go on
forever. No one could match his skill or catch his fly balls. If you
were on base ahead of Jim, you were safe by default as a home
run was coming in very short order. I always tried to be on base
just before he came up to bat.

1950s TEEN News Photo - Getty Images

He was a sight to behold. Standing there full of confidence, a
smirk or sneer on his face, his lips sometime adorned with a
smoke out of the corner of his mouth. Of course he had to do this
by stealth such that he wasn’t noticed by any of the lay teachers.
Not the black and whites mind you, for they refused to come out
during recess, lunch time, or before or after school. I think that
this was the only time they could catch a few puffs of their own
without being seen by the prying eyes of us turds—as they sometimes
called us. They were possibly at prayer but I doubt it.

So here was Jim. His whole frame permeated confidence,
self-assuredness with an air of arrogance: shuffling his feet like a
rabid dog marking his territory after a good piss. The pitcher,
watching him suspiciously as he readied his throw, knowing full
well what the outcome was going to be, as did everyone else for
that matter. Yet Jim, for all his size, and swagger and confidence,
was not a bully. A show-off perhaps but no bully. We all appreciated
that. For he could have easily kicked the living shit out of
any one of us if he so pleased for he looked the part. He was the
James Dean of Our Lady of Peace. Slicked back brill-“a little dab
will do ya”-creamed hair, with a trace of growth above the upper
lip, muscles bulging beneath his body-shaped white tee. Blue
jeans, of course, with the bottom cuffs turned up about two
inches, showing his bright white socks, as was the style in those
days. He was cool and we all marvelled at that, but in a good
way, and all of us thought that when we reached the age of
sixteen we would all look as cool as Jim but with hope upon
hope to be in a higher grade perhaps.

The ball is ultimately pitched by the pitcher. It comes his
way, straight across the plate. As if on cue Jim swings the bat
with a florid motion, picture perfect, as if in slow animation,
stepping into the ball with his arms outstretched, his elbows
locked, his eyes focused entirely on the seams of the ball as it
comes into his sights. Whack, ball upon bat, in the sweet spot,
Jim’s cheeks and belly wobble like hard jelly, as if his whole
body’s energy force is transmitted down that bat and into the ball
itself. Then the pregnant pause as Jim looks up to the heavens,
arms outstretched as if giving lordly thanks and praise, dropping
the bat to begin his cool saunter toward first base. He doesn’t
have to run hard for he knows, yes he knows, that that ball is
gone. Like God’s angelic rocket, or a holy ghost of a hit, it soars
to the heavens above Our Lady of Peace’s schoolyard. And us,
with our innocence and heavenly gaze, are entirely awestruck
and enthralled at the power and the sheer majesty of it all as the
ball rises up and into the blue cloudless sky. A pure white
stitched canvas ball set against the backdrop of the apostolic
blue, like Christ’s resurrection, rising then arcing its way across
the heavens, then down and out and through a second floor
window of our school.


It was like this all the time. The nuns tried their best to curtail
Jim’s prowess. Perhaps that’s why they were praying during
recess, but to no avail. They would have loved to expel him but
his parents were church stalwarts and sat in the front pew at the
10:15 semi-high mass. They were quite rich, quite influential,
and quite demanding. I am told that his mother was the civilian
equivalent to Sister Mary Bernice. I would have loved to have
seen that. It wasn’t long though before Jim did leave us. Trade
school, we were told. Trade school! That prison and so-called
parallel universe of Catholic elementary school life. Trade
school! Failure in the eyes of the church. Trade school! We all
shuddered at the thought. Trade school! Be good or you’ll find
yourself in trade school they would tell us. Say your prayers
every night. If you don’t you might just find yourself at trade
school. Of course, the female equivalent was secretarial school,
or worse, in later years, home economics, code for getting yourself
knocked up! The rest of us, if we were good, worked hard,
and said our prayers every night, would be blessed in more ways
than one could possibly imagine at the time at the local Catholic
private high school for boys. Generalists! Arts and science! If we
graduated from the local Catholic high school for boys, we could
aspire to be “Jacks of all Trades,” “Masters of Fuck-all”. And for
all of my efforts, I became a real “Jack Tar”, although I wanted
to be a proctologist. Somewhat like a plumber. Perhaps trade
school would have been a good fit for me after all.

I missed Jim after he left. When he was with us he sat in the
back of our class. I can still see him sitting there in the tiny desk,
his legs sprawled out, arms folded across his chest, with his
Elvis-like sneer, snickering at no one in particular. He always had
a cig ready to go behind his left ear. He was so cool, and quite
funny. Like a class clown. Indeed, he intimidated the teacher and
swore like a trooper but he was very, very friendly to us.
Jim did leave a legacy of sorts. All the windows of our school
that were facing the schoolyard were fitted out with metal
screens. Even today, some fifty years later, those same screens
adorn the windows at Our Lady of Peace School. Today,
someone not completely in the know might surmise that vandals,
petty criminal activity perhaps, presented a causal relationship to
those metal screens. They would be wrong, of course, for whenever
I look at the school today with their protective screened
window coverings—for I knew the truth—I would nostalgically
think of Jim and his baseball prowess.”

Great memories of a simpler and fun age.

And F&^K AI. It truly is artificial

When men were men, women were women and great tunes like this one ruled the airwaves.

Play loud.

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