By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
No, it wasn’t Mudville and with rosters of 22 players, the Nine were way outnumbered. This was the third annual “Pitching for Priests” Softball game between the priests and seminarians of the Diocese of Kansas City –St. Joseph and their brother priests and seminarians of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., held at Community America Ballpark (T-Bones Stadium) in Kansas City, Kan., June 19, which coincidentally was Father’s Day.
The game, fondly called the I-435 Series, was sponsored by Catholic Radio to raise funds for the Vocations Offices of both dioceses. About 2,300 fans attended the game and according to Ryan O’Laughlin of Catholic Radio, $25,000 was raised, to be split evenly between the KCSJ and KCK Vocations Offices.
The first two years were solidly won by the pitchers and batters of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. This year, the game, a “Roman Collar Rumble,” was, however, solidly in the Archdiocesan pitcher’s mitt.
Pitching for Priests is a slow-pitch softball game. Each team sported a 22-man roster. A total of 10 batters for each team bat each inning, regardless of the number of outs, but with 22 men playing, not every priest bats in every one of the six innings.
Pitching is underhand, which differs from baseball. A baseball pitch can be overhand, underhand or sidearm. Since softball came about as a way for baseball players to play indoors in the wintertime, a slower pace was necessary. There were more fielders, a smaller field, a bigger ball and no pitcher’s mound. So it made more sense to pitch underhand.
Batters swung the bat until it made contact with the ball then raced around the bases trying to make it safely to each base and then score.
After the National Anthem was sung by the Schola Cantorum of Most Pure Heart of Mary School in Topeka, the game was on!
The first pitch was lobbed by Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., “Slugger,” of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese to Archbishop Joseph “Extraordinary Ordinary” Naumann of Kansas City, Kan. After his turn at bat, the archbishop then stood on the sidelines, talking with his priests and seminarians, and a few monks from St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison. He also chatted with friends and numerous kids who clamored for his attention.
Bishop Johnston spent most of the game on the field, pitching, hitting and encouraging his team.
For the first time in the I-435 series, religious sisters served as second base umpires. They were Sister Alison Marie, of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, Kansas City-St. Joseph; Sister Miracle of the Franciscan Fraternity of the Poor, in Kansas City, Kan., and Ruth Jaros, a postulant with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist in Independence.
Replays of big and sliding plays were played on the Jumbotron seconds after they happened; such as when Archdiocesan Father Dan “Danger” Morris, ordained just a year ago, batted an early Grand-Slam, priests, fathers and families of priests were interviewed and autographed softballs for the 2015 and 2016 games were auctioned off, as well as Pitching for Priests ball caps and a Justin Huston-signed Kansas City Chiefs football.
Father Richard Rocha, formerly director of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan Vocations Office, now president of St. Michael the Archangel High School, slated to open in the fall of 2017, said funds raised by Pitching for Priests were used predominately to promote vocations within the dioceses and recruit young men to the priesthood. Since the first game was played in 2014, he said, 36 young men have been accepted to formation in this Diocese, and eleven will be entering seminaries this coming Fall.
“I cannot wait for the game next year,” he said, “when the Mighty KC – SJ comes back to bat! We’ll get that trophy back!”
Father’s Day was hotly bright; dads played with daughters and sons
While out on the ball field, the start of the game between “Fathers” neared.
Players and coaches came out one by one; fans in the stands awaited the fun
Sudden silence, all leaned for’ard as “O say can you see” was heard.
And priests in blue and in red waited to bat.
The Anthem faded away; Archbishop Naumann bowed his head,
In prayer for a “polite KCSJ priestly defeat” and KCK priestly win – out flat.
Applause and cheers sounded overhead for the Blue and the Red
As players jogged to their places, in dugout or on bases.
Bishop “Slugger” Johnston lobbed a pitch to “Extraordinary Ordinary” Naumann at bat.
The annual “Roman Collar Rumble” began, and the KCK fans kept cheering
As their priests in red hit pitch after pitch.
Though all throws were slow, Kansas seemed to blow
Each pitch away, run or hit, didn’t matter which.
KCK seemed to score each time they came to bat.
Ten batters later, the Mighty KC – SJ stepped up to the plate.
For sure they would win, as they’d done twice before.
Ten up, ten down, and batters in blue wore a frown.
They had to catch up or lose this matchup
Next time the KCK priests came to bat!
Seminarian pinch runners aided KCSJ’s final batter
Racing for first base as KCK threw all of them out.
Mighty KC-SJ had tried for three, alas t’was not to be.
KCK outran and outscored, leaving their opponents floored.
Good thing it was all in fun when the clergy came to bat!
After six innings it was clear that KCK owned this game.
The final score – 22-8 – meant the trophy came to them
As Archbishop Naumann held it high, he paid tribute to both sides
“Last year I was their bishop too, so I’ve had this trophy times two.
All played well, KCSJ and KCK, whoever came to bat.”
Next year, the Mighty KC-SJ plans to take that trophy back!