By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — First they did what guys do.
The priests of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas went at each other like cats and dogs in the 2nd annual “Pitching for Priests” softball game, sponsored by Catholic Radio 1090 AM to raise money for the vocations offices on both sides of the state line.
For the record, Kansas City-St. Joseph, behind sterling performances from newly ordained priests and a couple of Benedictine monks from Conception Abbey, took a 17-12 win.
But then, after the game, they did what priests do.
Dropping to one knee on the perfectly manicured infield at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, home of the Kansas City T-Bones, the priests from both teams sang the “Salve Regina” together, typically the final prayer of night prayers that they say daily.
They are both guys and priests, something that they really wanted to show the crowd of well over 2,000 who braved threatening skies and were rewarded with sprinkles of rain, a hard-fought game, and even a brilliant rainbow as the setting sun peaked through the clouds.
“There is joy in our ministry, and it’s good for people to see that joy,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, this year serving both as the ordinary of the Kansas archdiocese and the administrator of the Missouri diocese. (For the record, in his one appearance at the plate, Archbishop Naumann laced a single — for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.)
“It shows that this is a vocation that can be fun,” said Father Scott Wallisch, director of vocations and coach of the losing team.
“Giving your life to the lord is not about being on your knees all the time, although there is nothing wrong with that,” Father Wallisch said. “You can still love to play the sports you love and the music you love and all the interests you have. In fact, it will make you a better, well-rounded priest if you do.”
That’s important for the young men in the stands to see.
“It’s great for vocations,” said Father Richard Rocha, vocations director for the winning side of the state line — for the second year in a row, and a former high school and college football coach before responding to his own call.
“Everybody likes to compete and everybody likes to win. Two years in a row? We’ll take that,” Father Rocha said.
“But it’s great to watch these young kids watch the priests play,” he said. “They may be saying, ‘Hey, I can be a priest and still have fun.’”
Archbishop Naumann echoed that message to the young men in attendance before his final blessing.
“You young fans in the stands, we have a place for you on either one of these teams,” he told them.
If the priests had fun, the people who paid $10 a ticket to see them might have had more, as they took a rare opportunity to cheer loudly for all the priests.
Huge roars erupted from fans of both teams when the archdiocese’s Msgr. Mike Mullen twice stepped into the batter’s box and twice knocked singles.
But stealing the show was a ringer from Conception Abbey — shortstop and Benedictine Father Paul Sheller, who dazzled at the plate, on the basepaths and in the field as he put the kibosh on a Kansas rally in the bottom of the fourth with a leaping grab of a line drive.
Joining him in the Gold Glove department was fellow Benedictine monk, Father Victor Schinstock who did an Alex Gordon impression in left field, along with diocesan priest Father Steve Cook, hailing from a large family in a small town and once again showing he was no stranger to a glove and a bat.
But it was perhaps the newly ordained who, with apologies to Kansas City Royals broadcaster Rex Hudler, “drove the bus.”
Not yet priests for a month, Father Brian Amthor rapped out three hits. Father Gabe Lickteig powered two extra-base hits to score key runs, and then added sparkling defense in centerfield. Father Ryan Koster also handled first base while getting his hits.
Not that the more veteran priests didn’t chip in. Father Joseph Totton, whose sport is — believe it or not — hockey, rapped a key RBI single.
Father Angelo Bartulica not only pitched but legged out some hits and scored a couple of runs. And Father Kevin Drew earned the “dirtiest uniform” award, diving at second base for everything, both inside and outside his reach.
But then Father Drew was under a lot of pressure. He brought an entire fan club from Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, face paint and all. Now at St. Joseph, Trenton, Fr. Drew spent his first year as a priest at Good Counsel.
“He’s the best priest in the whole world,” said Andrew Stancliffe, who wore Father Drew’s autographed and game-worn jersey from last year’s game.
Not that the Kansas priests were without fans.
“My son is Father Barry Clayton,” said Mark Clayton, not even bothering to conceal his pride as he sat outside the ballpark before the game, enjoying a tailgate meal with friends.
“I came last year, and Barry got a hit. So he’s good,” said Carolyn Chick.
Another group of people from Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe said they came simply for the fun of having fun.
“We came here to support our priests and have fun,” Linda Beck said.
“We wanted to get together with our friends from the parish and have fun,” added Kristine Borland.
And nobody left unhappy after the hard fought, six-inning contest.
Under special rules of this game, each half-inning consisted of 10 batters regardless of the number of outs made. 10 outs or 0 outs, after 10 batters, the inning was over.
The game started ominously as the Kansas side defense held the Missouri side to zip, nada, no runs in the top of the first, then put up four runs in the bottom of the inning.
The Missouri clerics then exploded for seven runs in the top of the second and never looked back, holding Kansas to just two runs in each of the second, third, fourth and fifth innings, then retiring all 10 batters in the bottom of the sixth to seal the win.
Catholic Radio’s Ryan O’Laughlin said that 1,200 tickets had been sold in advance, more than twice the number sold last year when 2,500 attended the inaugural game.
Although the final tally wouldn’t be known until later in the week, ticket sales may have topped 3,000, which would give each vocations office around $15,000 to use in programs to support vocations to the priesthood and religious life.