By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Consider the gauntlet thrown. The Border War is back.
“Oh yeah. We’re definitely going to win,” said Father Evan Harkins.
Got that, Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas? When your priests and seminarians meet our priests and seminarians July 14 on the friendly field of softball competition, you’re going down.
Already unofficially dubbed “The Border War” in memory of the now dormant rivalry between University of Missouri and Kansas University, both teams of ordained and about to be ordained on both sides of the Missouri-Kansas state line are serious about winning.
Pastor of St. James Parish in St. Joseph and player-manager of the Kansas City-St. Joseph team, Father Harkins promises to field a team full of athletic and holy men in the first “Pitching for Priests” softball game at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, the cozy home of the professional Kansas City T-Bones baseball team in Kansas City, Kan., located in the Legends shopping and entertainment district just west of I-435 between State Avenue and Parallel Parkway.
The game will begin at 6:30 p.m. with Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph Naumann and Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn throwing out the ceremonial first pitches before taking their respective positions in the third base coaching box.
Tickets to the game are all general admission at $10 each, and can be purchased in advance at www.catholicradionetwork.com, or by calling (816) 630-1090, or at the gate on the day of the game.
But the fun will begin even before the first pitch is thrown with the free parking lot opening at 3 p.m. for tailgating and mingling with the priests.
And that is what the event is really all about said Jim O’Laughlin of Catholic Radio Network (KEXS Catholic Radio AM 1090), who dreamed up the idea as a way primarily to help fund and promote vocations to the priesthood, but also a rare opportunity for priests to have fun while the people they serve can get to know them better as the great guys they are.
“It is a fundraiser,” O’Laughlin said. “We are having so many more vocations (to the priesthood) on both sides that both offices need some help, and Catholic Radio Network has always said we need to do more for our priests.”
O’Laughlin said that priests don’t often have the opportunity just to have a fun day. One occasion is the annual September Priests and Seminarians Appreciation Day golf tournament begun by the late Bob Miller and continued by his family through the foundation Miller established, CORE — Celebrate Our Religious Enthusiastically.
“I just love that event,” O’Laughlin said. “You look at the priests there, and they are so relaxed and having so much fun.”
But regular, great guys also like to win.
“I think both sides are pretty serious about this game,” O’Laughlin said.
Never mind that the Kansas-side archdiocese fields a basketball team of priests called The Runnin’ Revs that plays in high school gyms to promote vocations.
Father Harkins said the Missouri side has some pretty fine athletes among the ordained and the yet to be ordained.
Chief among them are a rather sizeable group of 10 spry, young men who will be ordained to the priesthood next year.
But there are also quality athletes among the ordained as well.
Father Harkins, too humble to cite himself, said the Bartulica brothers — Father Angelo who is pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Raytown, and Father Matthew, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Independence and St. Cyril Parish in Sugar Creek — should strike terror in the hearts of any opposing Kansas City, Kan., pitcher.
“There’s a lot of youth and athletic ability among our priests and seminarians, and we have the attitude and the ability to succeed,” Father Harkins said.
And for those priests whose knees may be past their athletic primes, Father Harkins intends to lean on them for the wisdom they possess and for whatever support — moral or spiritual — they care to provide to a winning effort.
Some of the more mature priests are anxious to help, O’Laughlin said.
“I got an e-mail from a retired priest who uses a walker,” O’Laughlin said. “He said he’ll be there.”
The veteran priests were quick to remind both O’Laughlin and Father Harkins that a softball game between the priests of the neighboring dioceses is really nothing new. Several decades ago , the two sides met on the softball field every year.
“Father (Ernie) Gauthier said they called it the ‘Toilet Bowl,’” Father Harkins said.
“Msgr. Mike Mullins (of the Kansas City, Kan., Archdiocese) told me he played in those games, and he intends to play in this one,” O’Laughlin said.
Father Harkins said that priests from both sides intend to show up early for the bring-your-own-food and drink tailgating, just for the opportunity to be with each other, and with the people they serve, and have some fun.
“So often we get into the routine of the year,” he said. “This is something different. How often do we get together in the context of a softball game and just celebrate our faith?”