My Longest Yard

By Fr. Michael Stogre S.J.

It was in the summer of 1963 that I pulled off my novitiate caper. We were in the midst of a summer holiday and the novice master, Fr. Len Fischer – who would later work with us here in Northern Ontario – was away for his holiday too.

I approached the prison chaplain, Fr. Charlie Carroll, and suggested that we could field a ball team and challenge the inmates to a game – on their turf of course.

And so it was that one evening a paddy wagon arrived at our door and whisked our make-shift team to prison. The stands surrounding the prison ball field were packed with their fellow-prisoners. We had two fans – Fr. Redden a former lawyer, and the prison chaplain Fr. Carroll.

The prisoners had a league of their own and I believe also fielded a team to play outsiders, a formidable opponent for a few novices that rarely played toghether and never against any one else.

It started badly for us. Our first pitcher, Brother Horan, got bombed and we were down six nothing.  Then we brought in Mike Parent – presently a missionary in Tibet!  He was a strapping guy from Kingston – not the pen – and he began to strike out everyone of them with his windmill delivery.

Eventually we took the lead and by the bottom of the ninth it was 12 to 10 for the Jesuit Novices. Things were tense. And I remember the prison pitchers slinking off the field in disgrace as they couldn´t get out these pesky novices. I thought then they probably feared being lynched by their own fans behind the stands.

Then came the bottom of the ninth. The home team came to bat. I believe to this day the umpire managed to engineer a 13-12 victory for the inmates who went home jubilant. While I am extremely competitive in sports and hate to lose, I have – with time – managed to see this outcome as the only fitting and providential ending. I did hit three for five that night so I definitely tried to win.

We left as we came – in the paddy wagon. But Fr. Redden surprised us all by taking us to the Dairy Queen for a treat. And so we arrived. You should have seen the faces of the customers that night when this rag tag bunch of novice ball players piled out of the paddy wagon and headed for the dairy bar.

I only played one more serious soft ball game. It was in Northern Ontario with the Longlac Indian band in my first summer after ordination. We lost then too. Baseball is far behind me now, but I still play hockey with the Espanola Goodtymers. And like St. Paul I still play to win.

Fr. Michael Stogre S.J.

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