St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
It was Tuesday, May 1st, 1963. The mid-tern exam results were posted on the
bulletin board in the cafeteria. Now that Jim was an upper division student, he rarely
looked at the grades. The plebes now played the numbers game. The first half of the
varsity baseball season was over. St. Nick’s was in second place behind Washington.
They had had some injuries, and had lost to Washington and Lincoln on their home
fields. St Nick’s would have to win the second half of the season to have a chance to
play Washington for the championship. Duke had lost a close game to Lincoln, 2-1. St.
Nick’s didn’t have the luck they had last year. The team still believed in Duke. Before
each game the Apostles knelt before Duke, and he anointed his disciples with the power of
the Holy Ghost. Mr. Meyer cringed when Duke looked up to heaven, and beseeched the
Holy Ghost for the divine power to kick the opponent’s asses when taking the field.
Sometimes Mr. Meyer would turn and start walking away in case lightning struck. It was
difficult wearing a tiny high school ring on the little finger and playing baseball. The guys
started wearing the rings on gold chains. Brother Justin complained about the gold chains.
Jim told Brother Justin they were wearing a crucifix with the chain and showed his. Brother
Justin conceded. He had a talent to concentrate of the miniscule issues of life and make
everyone’s life as miserable as possible. He didn’t have a heart. It was a Timex watch
that kept on ticking.
St. Nick’s played Lincoln at Big Wreck on Wednesday. Duke pitched the game and
St. Nick’ won 5-2. On Friday they played Mission and Preston won the game 7-3.
Washington had lost to Lincoln. Washington, Lincoln and St. Nick’s were tied for first place
halfway into the second half of the season. Their next game was against Lowell. In the
fifth inning the second baseman for Lowell hit a line drive that hit Duke on his left side. He
spun and hit the ground in pain. Mr. Meyer and the infielders ran to Duke. He got on his
knees, pulled up his jersey and saw a four inch red circle on his left side. “God damn, it
hurts,” he said to Coach Meyer.
The coach motioned for a left-handed pitcher to replace Duke. “I said it hurt. I
didn’t say take me out,” said Duke.
“Take some warm up pitches. Let’s see your motion,” said Mr. Meyer.
“I’m okay, coach. Let’s play ball.”
Macell was the catcher, and told the batter, ”The last time someone hit Duke, the
next pitch was a fastball in the teeth.” Macell called for a fastball high and tight. The
batter saw that the ball was speeding towards his head, and ducked. “Ball one,” said the
The batter turned to the umpire and said, “He threw at me.”
“He missed you. Ball one,” said the umpire.
The batter worked the count to three balls and two strikes. Macell wanted Duke
to throw a curve. Duke wanted to throw a fastball. Duke shook off Macell three times.
Finally Macell said, “Better call the dentist.” The batter noticed Macell leaning towards
him, and thought that another high and tight pitch was coming. Duke threw the ball and
the batter took one step out of the batter’s box, expecting the ball to be thrown at his face.
Duke threw a rainbow curve that started at the batter’s head and dropped in for
As the batter walked back to his dugout Macell said, “ Hey Duke, that was suppose
to be a fastball.” Macell and Duke smiled. The next time the batter who had hit Duke with
the line drive came to bat he waved at Duke as if to say sorry. Duke just stared at the
batter. “I guess he’s still mad,” said Macell.
“It was an accident,” said the batter.
“You wearing a cup?” asked Macell.
“Yeah! Why?” asked the concerned batter.
Macell called for a slider. It was a curve that began inside belt high, and broke
down and over the plate. Macell made sure that the batter saw the location, and leaned
towards the batter with his mitt crotch high to the batter. The batter saw the location out
of the corner of his eye, and choked up on the bat. Duke rocked back and threw what
looked like a belt high fastball that was inside and tight. The batter leaned back in a
defensive reaction to the pitch. The ball broke sharply towards the middle of the plate
for strike one.
“You see that baby bend?” Macell asked the batter.
The batter ignored Macell. The Lowell third base coach was encouraging the
batter to get a hit. Macell called for a change up. Duke used the same motion as a
fastball and threw a floater that the batter swung at twice, strike two. The batter was
getting frustrated. Macell called for a set up pitch. It was high and outside, ball one.
The next pitch started high and outside, but broke down and inside “STEERIKE
THREE!” said the umpire. The batter slammed the bat to the ground. Macell choose
not to say anything to the batter, which might have been his best call of the day. St.
Nick’s beat Lowell 4-2. The team enjoyed watching Duke pitch. He was their hired gun.
After the game Duke had a red lump the size of an apple on his left side. He
was in pain when he undressed. Jim asked Duke, ”How could you pitch like that?”
“I wanted to finish the game. We need every win we can get,” he said.
The next day the team found out that Duke had bruised ribs that were taped. He
rested the next week to get ready to pitch against St. Ignatius. The players had a meeting
during the week. Macell and Brocker told the rest of the team to play the rest of the
season for Duke. If he could pitch with bruised ribs, than the rest of the players had to play
hurt as well. Duke was chosen as the team’s inspirational leader.
It was Friday, game day, soldiers dressed in gray with blue trim waited to battle the
enemy dressed in red and white. St. Ignatius was the home team, and wore white
uniforms with red trim and piping, and black numbers. St. Nick’s wore gray with blue trim
and numbers. St. Nick’s was up first. Brocker was having a good year, batting 387 with
twelve homeruns and twenty-eight runs batted in, batting fourth in the lineup. Duke was
the starting pitcher and would pitch as long as he could. Mr. Meyer thought that Duke
might last five innings, so he told Rojas to be ready for the fifth inning. The first inning
went quietly with no score. Brocker came to the plate in the second and was hit in the left
knee with the first pitch, a mean fastball. He crumpled like an old brick building, and lay
on the ground in pain holding his knee. Coach Meyer ran out and yelled at the pitcher for
throwing at Brocker. Then he yelled at the umpire, who replied,” It didn’t look intentional.”
“If you see blood, is that intentional?” asked Coach Meyer.
Brocker tried to get up and fell. Duke came out to help Brocker get up and leave
the field. Mr. Meyer came to help Duke and grabbed Brocker’s shoulder. Brocker pushed
them away and walked gingerly in circles. He walked a little faster each circle and told the
coach that he was okay.
“You can’t play defense,” said Coach Meyer.
“Let’s find out,” said Brocker.
“If you can’t make the plays, I’m replacing you.”
“Fine. If I can’t play defense I’ll go.” Brocker hobbled down to first. He kept on
flexing his knee so that it wouldn’t get stiff. The next three batters flied out, and Brocker
walked back to the dugout to get his glove. Duke got Brocker’s glove and gave it to him. “I
understand why you’re staying.”
“Good. Now make them hit to the right side of the field so that I can have one more
at bat,” said Brocker.
“You got it,”
Brocker hung in there for the next three innings. He was getting stiff and sore,
and continued flexing his knee. Most of the batters were hitting to the right side or
striking out. Duke pitched his best game of the season and kept Brocker in the game to
the fifth inning. Brocker came up to the plate and pointed at the pitcher with the bat. At
first the pitcher for S.I. was intimidated, then laughed and said, “You couldn’t hit me if
you tried.” Brocker brought the bat back and took a couple of practice swings. He grit
his teeth and concentrated on the ball coming to the plate. It was fat and down the
middle. Brocker swung at the ball and did not turn his hips. He swung straight through
the ball and it jumped off his bat, bouncing in front of the pitcher, then hitting his right
shin. The pitcher forgot about the ball that lay by his side and grabbed his leg. Brocker
limped as fast as he could to first base and was safe. The St. Ignatius Coach ran out
and complained to the umpire, then checked his pitcher. The pitcher left the game in pain.
A new pitcher came into the game for S.I. Brocker signaled Coach Meyer to replace him.
Coach Meyer sent Holmes in to run for Brocker and play third. Coach Meyer waited for
Brocker to walk into he dugout, and asked, ”Were you aiming at the pitcher?”
“No, Coach. I was hoping to hit a home run, said Brocker.
“Then why didn’t you turn your hips?”
“I changed my mind and aimed at his head.”
Coach Meyer looked surprised. “You aimed?”
“Hey Coach, if I was that good I would be hitting 900,” replied Brocker.
Coach Meyer walked away and continued to concentrate on the game. It was
Jim’s turn at bat. He wanted to hit a home run for Brocker. The new S.I. pitcher was
nervous, and threw four balls. Holmes was on second, and Jim was on first. Suarez
came to the plate and took a couple of practice swings. The first three pitches were
outside. The S.I. pitcher was nervous and lost his control. Coach Meyer flashed a sign
to Suarez to take the next pitch. The next pitch was room service, right down the middle in
his wheelhouse. It was too tempting to take. If he did, it would be strike one. Suarez
swung from the toes up and got every bit of the ball. After the crack of the bat the ball was
sailing over the left fielder’s head. That was the winning hit. The final score was 3-0.
After the game Jim saw Brocker’s knee. It was twice its normal size. Coach Meyer told
the team that the next time someone failed to obey a sign he would bench the player for a
“Suarez, you got lucky. What if you hit into a double play? Brocker, you should
have sat out the rest of the game. This is a team, damn it. Good intentions don’t win
championships.” The team showered, and the joy of beating St. Ignatius vanished.
Brocker had his knee drained of fluid, and didn’t play the next week. St. Nick’s played
Galileo, the weakest team in the league and won 7-2.
St. Nick’s last game was against Poly High School and they won 5-3 at Big
Wreck. Washington played St. Ignatius. It was hard to root for the Jesuit cherries, but
they beat Washington in extra innings 3-2. St. Nick’s was 8-0 and Washington was 6-2
for the second half of the season. Overall St. Nick’s was 14-2 and Washington was 13-3.
The championship game would be played at Big Wreck in Golden Gate Park. Lupe had
gone to all of the baseball games, and was becoming a good baseball wife. At the end of
the game, she waited at the tunnel exit for Jim. It took about a half an hour to shower and
dress. On the way home she asked questions about the game. She was excited that St.
Nick’s was playing Washington for the championship. They took the 37 Corbett bus
home, and sat with some of the guys on the team. At Castro Street they transferred to
the 24 Divisadero bus, and got off at Liberty Street. Jim walked Lupe home.
The championship game was Friday, June 2nd at Big Wreck. The team formed a
circle around Duke for his big game blessing. Duke invoked all of the mystical powers
of the Holy Ghost to “kick their asses and take no prisoners. Kill one for Christ.” Coach
Meyer turned and ran in fear of the wrath of God. The team was pumped up and ready for
the game. Lupe sat behind St. Nick’s dugout on the third base side. Jim could hear her
cheer when he was at bat. There were about a thousand students from Washington and
an equal number from St. Nick’s. The air was charged with excitement. Jim was nervous.
Then he heard the magic words that made the butterflies disappear “Play Ball !” said the
home plate umpire. St. Nick’s ran out on the field to their positions. Jim played catch
with Cain in center. Lupe sat with her hands in front of her face joined in prayer. Duke
was warming up with Macell. The infielders were taking grounders from Jansen on first.
The first batter was the Washington second baseman. He was a good hitter and
had speed. There is a different mindset when you are ahead by one run, compared to
trailing by one run. Washington was a team that scored a few runs with speed, sacrificing,
advancing runners, and stealing bases. They were like the Dodgers. St. Nick’s had power
and scored runs with timely hitting and the long ball. The were like the Giants. It would be
power against speed. Macell noticed that the batter was choking up on the handle of the
bat. You slide your right hand up the barrel of the bat when you bunt. It is difficult to bunt
a ball that is above your belt, so Duke threw four balls letter high at the batter’s chest. The
batter swung at two pitches and missed, and took two pitches. The next pitch was a little
higher. The umpire called, “Ball three.” The count was three balls and two strikes. Duke
threw the same high pitch and the umpire called, “Strike three.” The batter and his coach
when crazy. Macell stepped between the batter and the umpire by accident, trying to
move away from the batter. The batter thought that Macell was getting involved, and
pushed him out of the way. The batter was face to face with ump and said, “ That was
high, you…” The Coach from Washington arrived in time to shut up his player. The
Coach pushed his player in the direction of the dugout. The umpire warned the Coach that
the batter and he were on thin ice. St. Nick’s caught a break.
The Coach went back to the dugout and had a long talk with his player, reminding
him that they couldn’t win the game if he was ejected. Duke and Macell took advantage of
the ump’s high strike zone, which limited Washington’s ability to bunt. The next batter
stepped up to the plate, and Duke threw letter high strikes on the outside corner of the
plate, and knee high strikes on the inside corner of home plate. The batter was off balance
each time he swung. On a two ball, two strike count the batter hit a grounder to Brocker at
third base, and was thrown out at first. The next batter hit the first pitch to Jim in right field.
He saw the ball fly out of the infield. If a ball was above the brim of his cap, it was hit over
his head and he would have to run back for the ball. The ball remained under the brim of
his hat. He took two steps in, and the ball fell harmlessly into his glove for the third out.
Jim saw Lupe stand and cheer when he caught the ball.
St. Nick’s was at bat. With one out and two men on base Brocker hit a towering
drive over the left field wall. It was 3-0. Duke was the first one to greet Brocker. Everyone
shook his hand. It would be difficult for Washington to get three runs quickly.
The next four innings were scoreless. Washington was running out of time. They
started taking chances by stealing bases, and playing hit and run. During the seventh
inning with a man on third, the Washington Coach called for the suicide squeeze. Duke
rocked, brought his hands together above his waist, looked at the third base runner, and
threw home. The base runner ran to home plate. The batter laid down a good bunt
and Brocker charged the ball. He threw the ball to Macell, who was protecting the plate
with his body. The runner and the ball came at the same time. Macell caught the ball, and
tagged the runner while blocking the runner’s sliding feet with his left shin protector. The
runner’s spikes ran down the shin protector and tore open Macell’s left shoe. The spikes
ripped into his toes and cut the second, third and fourth toes. Jim saw the blood on
Macell’s white sock from right field. The umpire called the runner out. Coach Meyer and
Duke ran to Macell. The Washington Coach ran to the umpire to complain about the call,
and never looked at Macell. The runner was the second baseman who the umpire had
called out in the beginning of the game. The umpire was concerned about Macell getting
first aid. He had had enough of the Washington Coach and the second baseman, and
ejected both. They exploded with frustration.
A twisted towel served as a tourniquet and was applied on Macell’s left foot to
stop the bleeding. He was helped off the field and taken to French Hospital a few
blocks away. The Washington Assistant Coach had to remove the Coach from the
baseball field or Washington would default the game. Order was restored, and the
game continued. Jansen came in from first base and played catcher. Holmes played
Jansen walked to the pitcher mound and Brocker joined them.
“I haven’t done this in a while, Duke, so let’s make it simple. You throw what you
want, and I’ll catch it.”
“You got it,” said Duke.
“They’re sitting in their dugout with their heads down. “Let’s get this over with,”
The Washington team lost their Coach, their leadoff hitter, and momentum. In
the bottom of the inning St. Nick’s came to bat. Holmes hit a single and took second on a
wild pitch. Jim hit a double and Holmes scored. Jim was on second, and Cain hit a
single in the gap between the center and the right fielders. Jim ran to third. Coach Meyer
motioned him to continue running for home by waving his arm like a windmill. The coach
slapped Jim’s butt as he passed him by. Jim needed all the speed he could muster to
slide just ahead of the catcher’s tag. “SAFE!” said the umpire. Jim couldn’t see anything
with the collision and dust, but heard the umpire loud and clear. The assistant Coach took
two steps from the dugout, and was stared down by the umpire. He turned, and walked
back to the dugout. Jim got up. He looked for Lupe. She was cheering, and bouncing up
and down. Brocker and Duke were the first to greet him. “Way to go, Flash,” said Brocker
and patted Jim on the back.
“When you hit home plate it sounded like a freight train,” said Duke and rubbed
Jim’s head with his cap.
It was 5-0 after seven innings. St. Nick’s took the field. The Washington team
played with no emotion. They went through the motion in the top of the eighth. The
inning ended with a weak grounder to the short stop. St. Nick’s was three outs away
from the varsity championship. In the top of the ninth Duke made it simple. He threw
smoke and the batters fanned at it. The first batter tried to get on base with a walk, but
was called out on a three-two rainbow curveball that dropped in the strike zone at the
his knees. The next batter popped up on the second pitch. He slammed his bat in the
ground and the second baseman caught the ball. Washington’s last hope walked to the
plate. He valiantly foul tipped two pitches, but struck out. The game ended, and Duke
threw his glove in the air. Jansen and the infielders ran to the pitchers mound and
circled Duke. They hugged one another and jumped for joy. Jim ran in, and waved at
Lupe. Usually the teams shook hands at the end of the game. The Washington team
got their stuff, and walked into their locker room with their heads down.
St. Nick’s ran to their locker room to shower, and quickly changed so they could
see Macell at French Hospital. Typically, the team celebrated a championship by going
to Remo’s for pizza after the game. They postponed that celebration until the following
Monday when Macell was strong enough to hold slices of pizza after losing so much blood.
Jim asked Lupe if she wanted to go home or join him and the guys going to see Macell.
She took the bus and went home. Jim would call her later.
Twenty-seven Fighting Irish stormed into French Hospital to see how poor Macell
was doing. A nurse and two blonde candy stripers took care of the fallen warrior. They
were leaning on every detail and hand gesture as poor Macell continued telling the heroic
sacrifice he had made, giving up his body for the sake of the team. He had stitches on
three toes. His left foot was wrapped and had a walking heal attached. He bid farewell
to the three maidens and hobbled out with the help of a cane. Duke offered to help Macell.
“It’s okay, Duke. I can handle it. Are they still watching?” Macell turned and waved at the
two candy stripers. They waved and became history as Macell limped into the Coach’s
car, and drove away.
The following Monday there was a rally celebrating the championship. It was
mild compared to years past, but it was better than nothing. Brother Justin had siphoned
the spirit that once filled the halls of St. Nick’s. That night the team went to Remo’s for
pizza and cokes. The next Friday evening would be the awards dinner. A year had
passed since Jim’s grandfather had passed away. He was curious to see his father’s
reaction to the awards dinner.
It was Friday, June 9th , and the awards dinner was in the cafeteria at school. The
Alumni Association donated steaks and all had a great time. Brother Justin declined to
attend the dinner. The gap between him and the student body was getting wider. It
was difficult to respect a man who held sports in contempt. He was never a player.
Brother Raymond was invited, and gladly joined them. He was a player, a gentleman, and
well respected. Each player and coach received a trophy. All of the athletes who had
earned forty points participating in sports received block sweaters. It was the most fun
Jim had that semester. His father enjoyed the awards dinner and was proud of him.
Jim enjoyed sharing the evening with his dad. They became closer that night.
Days later, Jim could still hear the guys' laughter and see their smiles.
More next week...