Baseball satisfied appetites of kids at lunch recess

April 04, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

A foul trick of contemporary economics is to plow up your childhood baseball field for a townhouse development.

It's happened to me and I bet I'm not alone.

Opening Day for that school playground diamond was sometime about now, maybe early April, maybe late March. Everything was governed by the weather.

A long period of spring rain could postpone the cracking sound of wooden bat on a baseball.

It was up to Sister Marie Aimee Gallagher to make the call on whether the ground was too muddy for baseball.

The old Baltimore Academy of the Visitation was a small school (190 students in a good year) with classes from kindergarten through the eighth grade.

We had a beautiful ball field (off the 5700 block of Roland Avenue and devoured by developers after the school's demise 15 or so years ago) but only so-so drainage.

A wet March or April meant school uniforms caked with mud and classroom floors that resembled the Mississippi Delta.

The nuns who ran the school knew that 10-year-old boys needed to let off a lot of steam, and among the ranks of the sisters were loyal, if cloistered, baseball fans.

(Under the rules of their order, the nuns never left the academy grounds except to go to the hospital or to make the ultimate trip to the New Cathedral Cemetery.)

Old Sister Mary Alice was the portress, an aged sister whose responsibility was to open and close the school door and punch the lunch tickets.

She was a great Dodgers fan.

Sister Mary Louise -- now in her mid-90s -- was a legend.

She put on plays and musicals, and doted on professional sports.

Some years later, her success at predicting the outcome of pro football games made her a celebrity in Washington.

Her color picture appeared in Time magazine.

The job of setting Opening Day fell to the directress of the school, the aforementioned Sister Aimee, a wise woman.

She was the commissioner of baseball at the academy, and had the key to The Cage, a sports equipment locker under a flight of stairs.

It was there that baseball bats, balls and gloves donated by the Fathers Club were stored.

Our teams were not always tremendously successful but we tried hard.

And baseball then was not a terribly competitive sport.

It was something played during lunch recess periods on warm days in April and May.

Lunch recess at an old and delightfully tradition-bound Catholic school was something of a mad --.

The noon Angelus bell governed all. Another nun, never seen by us because she lived in the very strictly cloistered monastery, pulled the rope on a centuries old bronze bell housed in a bell tower.

The ringing of the Angelus bell, named for that beautiful prayer, carried far more worldly connotations. It meant the beginning of the lunch break, but not before the words of that prayer had been recited aloud. During baseball season, those words often picked up speed.

There was a rush to bolt down lunch as quickly as possible, then beat it outdoors for a couple innings of play.

Or better yet, find a way of bringing food to the playground and eat while playing. This, of course, was a major violation of school policy. I think back of how innocent those days were when a handful of Cheese Nibs munched outdoors was considered an offense.

The no-eating-outdoors rule was taken to wonderful extremes. I can recall the very serious Sister Frances Patrick instructing her second grade charges in the nefarious ways that playground rules could be breached.

She taught her class to be on the lookout for older boys who secreted hot dogs in catchers' mitts. I don't think I'd have ever thought of this strategy without her suggestion.

Sister Frances Patrick died young of cruel cancer. I often thought that St. Peter would grant her early admission into Life Everlasting because of her close observance of the rules of life and her close observation of the rules of the playground.

And if she didn't get into heaven on strict merit, she rated it for common sense.

She also told us that the vinegar in hot dog mustard ruined expensive cowhide or pigskin gloves.

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