St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
It was Friday, May 9, and the St. Nick’s players were getting dressed for the game
against S.I. and had their game faces on because it was war week, the last battle with
Saint Ignatius. If St. Nick’s won they would sweep S.I. in football, basketball, and two
baseball games, and they would win back the Mahoney trophy that S.I. had had for nine
Tom Mahoney was a talented athlete in the late twenties when St. Nick’s began.
He was the catalyst for St. Nick’s winning football, basketball, and baseball
championships in 1928 and 1929. A local sports journalist gave St. Nick’s the nick-
name of the Fighting Irish because St. Nick’s came from behind in many games and fought
back to win. Mahoney died tragically a week before he would have graduated. There
was a fire in his apartment and he tried to save a little girl. They didn’t make it. The
following football season the Mahoney trophy was offered to the team that swept the
other team in the three sports.
Woody walked into the gym with a broom.
“Hey, Woody, why the broom?” asked Bobby.
“We’re gonna sweep the cherries.” He began chanting, “Sweep. Sweep. Sweep.”
The other players joined in. Mr. Meyer walked in to see what was going on. Woody
was sweeping the floor and Duke watched the players following Woody. He could see that
Woody would replace him as the clubhouse king.
The starting pitchers were Duke and Graham for S.I.. They had battled for four
years and Duke had won more games. During batting practice Duke approached Graham
and they talked for a few minutes, then shook hands. Duke walked back to the batting
cage, got a bat, and took batting practice.
Big Wreck was filled with students, alumni, and there were baseball scouts from
seven universities. Duke wanted to go to the University of Southern California and he
would get a good look. They had a good baseball program. Jim hoped to have a good
game. Lupe sat in the first row behind the St. Nick’s dugout, and wore Jim’s varsity
sweater. Duke finished batting and it was Jim’s turn. He approached Duke.
”Did you tell the enemy any secrets?” asked Jim.
“Nah, I told Graham about the baseball scouts. I told him that USC needed
pitching. I just wanted to throw a little fat in the fire. Just one more thing for him to
think about when it’s three and two.”
“You never stop. I thought that you’d wish each other good luck and recall four
years of competition.”
“In a pig's ass. I want him to sweat.”
It was game time and Coach Meyer exchanged lineup cards with the ump and the
S.I. coach. The St. Nick’s players ran onto the field and the umpire yelled, “Play ball!”
S.I. relied on speed, bunting, and hitting sacrifice fly balls to get a run. The first
three batters were their offence. S.I. won low scoring games. Duke painted the edges of
the plate with various speeds and changed the location of the pitches and his motion.
Duke could throw a rainbow curve that came at the batter then broke, or a slider that broke
quickly at the plate. His fast ball would rise. Duke was the master of the change up.
Some guys would get faked out of their jock, and take two swings at air. Duke was
pumped with adrenaline.
The first batter grounded to Bobby and the next two struck out. When the ump
called, ”Strike three!” Macell yelled, “No mercy!” Duke was in a zone. His feet never
touched the ground when he walked back to the dugout. The players sensed that
today could be special. Woody sat quietly and watched the game. In the bottom of
the first inning Bobby flied out to left, then Cain got a walk, and Jim hit single to right,
advancing Cain to third. Brocker came to the plate and he was intense. He took a few
extra practice swings, which annoyed the S.I. catcher. Brocker enjoyed annoying the
opposing team. Cain was edging down the third base line. If Jim was faster he could have
stolen second. The S.I. pitcher was starting to lose concentration with men on base and
St. Nick’s best hitter at the plate. The first two pitches were low. and the next pitch was
high for ball three. Coach Meyer flashed the signs and indicated to swing away. The next
pitch was a fastball that kissed the outside corner for a strike. Brocker foul tipped the next
pitch for a 3-2 count. Jim crept out a little further from first base. One out, men on first and
third, 3-2 count to the batter, and the pitcher throws a curveball. Brocker got most of it and
hit a fly ball to medium deep left field. The outfielder was playing Brocker deep. He caught
the ball running in and threw with momentum. Cain tagged up and ran home. Jim saw the
throw go to home and ran to second. Cain was thrown out at home, double play, and the
inning was over.
In the top of the third S.I. had a man on second with an error by Chavez and a fielder’s
choice and he was left stranded after the S.I. batter flied out for the third out. St. Nick’s
went quietly through their batting order and after three innings there was no score. Duke
was working on a no hitter after three innings. Jim sat alongside Duke during every game.
Duke typically got better as the game progressed. Today he was pitching like it was the
ninth inning. Jim teased Duke and said, “Save some heat for the late innings.”
Duke turned to Jim,” The ball feels light and it’s popping in Macell’s mitt.”
In the bottom of the fourth Chavez led off with a walk, Bobby bunted Chavez to
second, and Jim hit a double and Chavez scored. Jim stood on second and watched Lupe
cheer. Duke was the first one to greet Chavez. “The error is forgiven,” said Duke.
Chavez smiled and was congratulated by the players. Brocker came to the plate. He
fouled off the first two pitches and was in the hole 0-2. The pitcher threw outside for ball
one. Then Brocker foul tipped the next two pitches. The pitcher threw low for ball two, and
Brocker foul tipped the next three pitches. He wouldn’t be denied. The pitcher threw a
fastball that didn’t tail away, and Brocker hit a single into right center. Jim ran to third and
Coach Meyer waved him to go home. Jim ran home and arrived as the catcher caught the
ball. His hard slide knocked the ball loose from the catcher’s mitt.
“Safe!” yelled the ump. The inning ended when Holmes grounded out to short.
After four innings St. Nick’s was leading 2-0.
Woody got vocal on the field and the other infielders joined the chatter. Suarez was
charting the game. He couldn’t sit, and paced back and forth. Six innings had passed and
Duke still had a no hitter. Jim didn’t sit by Duke after the fifth inning. No one wanted to
jinks Duke, so Jim sat at the other end of the dugout, leaving Duke by himself.
The seventh inning began with a strike out. The next batter hit the first pitch Duke
threw for a double in the gap in left field. Holmes ran it down and threw in to Chavez. The
no hitter was gone. Now Duke concentrated on the shutout. The next batter flied out
to Jim in right field and the runner on second tagged up and started running to third. Jim
threw a bullet to Brocker and he ball arrived as the runner slid. “Out!” yelled the ump.
Duke turned to Jim and pointed at Jim acknowledging the good play. Lupe was bouncing
and waving her arms. Jim looked at her and tipped his cap. Duke struck out the next
batter and after seven innings it was 2-0 and Duke had six strikeouts.
The bottom of the seventh and the top of the eighth went by quietly. St. Nick’s
started the bottom of the eighth with a single by Jensen. Macell bunted Jensen to second
and Coach Meyer called time. Woody ran for Jensen at second. Duke came to he plate
and he was a good hitter for a pitcher. A pitcher will throw fastball to the opposing pitcher,
but Graham threw curveballs. Duke foul tipped two pitches. Graham was tiring. His next
two pitches were low. Two balls and two strikes. Coach Meyer flashed signs. The pitcher
stood on the mound with his hands gathered at his chest. He looked at Woody, he rocked
and kicked to begin his delivery. Woody took off and ran for third. Duke took ball three.
When the dust cleared Woody stood on third. He took a big lead from third and chattered
relentlessly. He was distracting Graham. The pressure was mounting. The St. Nick’s
students were cheering. The pitcher threw from the stretch and the ball sailed over the
catcher’s head hitting the backstop. Duke stepped away from home plate and waved
Woody home. The S.I. pitcher ran to cover home, while the catcher ran to retrieve the ball.
He threw to Graham, and Woody slid under his tag. “Safe,” yelled the umpire. Woody
sprung up from the dust and hugged Duke. “How you feel now?” asked a charged up
“Great, Secret Weapon!” said Duke with a big smile.
Duke turned to walk to first and saw the hurt in Graham’s eyes. All of the emotion
had just drained from his body and he stood numb at home plate. The S.I. coach came
out and brought in a relief pitcher. He patted Graham on the back and Graham slowly
walked to the dugout and sat at the end of the bench. He slammed his mitt against the
ground and looked up as if asking why. The players in the dugout greeted Woody. Duke
stood on first and watched the new pitcher from S.I. warm up. He had a good fastball.
Chavez and Bobby grounded out to end the inning. St. Nick’s was three outs away from
getting the Mahoney trophy.
Woody replaced Bobby at second, Bobby replaced Holmes in left field, and Holmes
replaced Jensen at first. Duke walked to the mound and kicked the rubber. He turned and
stared at Macell. The batter walked up to the plate, hit his cleats with the barrel of the bat,
and took a couple of swings. Duke threw fastballs. The batter missed the first one, and
foul tipped the next two. Duke threw the next pitch in the dirt. Macell called for a change
up. Duke thought, why not? The batter hit it for a single to right. The next batter bunted
on a two ball, two strike pitch, and moved the runner to second. The S.I. second baseman
came to the plate and hit a slow roller to Woody at second, and was thrown out. He
advanced the runner to third. Man on third, two out, and S.I. was one out away from being
swept. Their first baseman came to the plate. The infielders played shallow to make a
play at home. The outfield played deep. The batter had power. On a two ball, two strike
pitch the batter hit a ball to shallow right field. Jim ran as fast as he could. The ball was
dropping in front of him. He lunged for the ball and Woody ran by catching it. They
almost collided. Jim tumbled to the ground and rolled on his shoulder. He heard a cheer,
and saw Woody waving his mitt with the ball. He got up and hugged Woody. They ran to
the pitcher’s mound and the team was hugging one another. Duke thanked Woody for
saving his shutout. Coach Meyer watched for a while, then joined the players. The sheer
joy and the relief of accomplishment surged through the players. For a brief moment there
were only 24 players on earth. The noise from the crowd was muted by the numb
exhilaration of victory. Then reality kicked in, and the roar of the crowd was heard. The
S.I players lined up to shake hands with the guys from St. Nick’s. Graham shook hands
with Duke and Duke whispered something to Graham. Duke nodded and patted Graham
on the back. Jim looked for Lupe. She was at the edge of the dugout. Jim went to her
and kissed her.
The players went to the locker room and cheered for half an hour. Coach Meyer
gave a short speech and reminded the team that there were three games left, and they
were 13-0. The next game was against Washington. If they won that game they would
win the city championship. The players started chanting, “13 and 0.” Later the players
left the locker room. Duke and Jim were the last two to leave.
“Why don’t we just stay here, Duke? Let the others go on with their lives.”
“Don’t you want to see if we go undefeated?”
“I don’t want this to slip into the past.”
“It has, man. Let go and see if we go 16-0. Let’s finish it out.” Duke put his arm
around Jim’s shoulder and they walked out into the sunlight of victory. Lupe waited
patiently. “I had to drag him out. Hell, if I had a beautiful lady waiting for me, I’d be the
first one out,” said Duke.
Jim hugged Lupe. Lupe turned to Duke and congratulated him. He thanked her
and walked away. “You played a good game, Cookie.”
“Thanks, Angel.” Jim and Lupe walked across the street to Lincoln Avenue to get
the 21 McAllister bus. The numbing sensation of the victory was starting to wear off. Jim
sat with Lupe on the bus and felt the warmth of her body close to his. He was back from
the euphoria and standing on earth.
Jim visited with Lupe for a while. When he arrived home his mother told him that
Mr. Anconi had called. Jim was the recipient of the Sons of Italy scholarship for the best
athlete. The scholarship would pay for tuition and books the first year at Santa Clara.
Then the next year it would be renewed if Jim met the conditions. Mr. Anconi said that he
would get a letter in a couple of days acknowledging the scholarship. Jim called Mr.
Anconi the next day and thanked him for his help getting the scholarship. Mr. Anconi was
glad to help.
St. Nick’s was an L-shaped building the length of one block on Ellis Street and the
rectory was on Gough. The schoolyard was the length of the school less the width of the
two story rectory. The first floor was the kitchen, the garage, and a small garden with a
gazebo surrounded with flowers. It was an island of escape for prayer. The second floor
was bedrooms, bathrooms and the chapel. It was Saturday morning and Brother Raymond
sat in the quiet of the early morning. He prayed for an end to the battle that he stood in the
middle of. Arrows came at him from all directions. There seemed to be no place to hide in
the barren wasteland he wandered in. He felt like Moses who had wandered in the desert
for forty years. Two hours had passed in prayer.
“Good morning, Brother Raymond,” said Brother Philip.
Brother Raymond returned from his prayers, “Good morning, Brother Philip.”
“I have a letter for you. It just arrived.”
Brother Raymond opened the letter and read the single page. When he finished
his hands rested on his lap holding the letter. He looked up and said, ”Thank you.”
Bother Philip smiled.
"Brother Justin has been removed as a candidate by the Regents,” said Brother
Raymond. He felt like an ox that had the yoke removed after his daily toil in the hot sun.
"The answer to your prayers. Do you sometimes feel like we are an island in the
middle of San Francisco Brother Raymond?”
“I would say an oasis. Look at what surrounds us the Tenderloin and Hayes Valley.
We’re in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah.”
“Yes, Brother Raymond, but this gazebo is sanctuary.”
“Let us enjoy the new day free of the bondage of yesterday.”
“Yes. Let us go forth into the new day,” said Brother Philip.
The two brothers walked back to the rectory and climbed up the stairs to the chapel.
They joined the other brothers for scripture readings.
It was Saturday and Foxie and C.J. drove to Java Joe’s on Pier Three for lunch.
The chili at Blackie’s was starting to burn a hole in Foxie’s cast iron gut. Sometimes he
had a bad case of indigestion and tried to put out the fire with a couple of beers. That
magnified the discomfort and made Foxie feel bloated. Foxie was starting to cut back
on his excesses, and no longer buried the fries with ketchup and removed the big slice of
Bermuda onion from his burger. C.J. told him, “Don’t look back. That’s old age creeping
up on ya.”
After lunch they sat on the dock by the bay and had a smoke. Two tugboats were
returning from piloting an oil tanker through the channel in the bay to Richmond. The tugs
were mooring and the Seagulls were floating in the air searching for food from the
tugboats. Foxie was fantasizing about Miss Ida showing her sassy, sexy body, when….
“Well, son of a bitch, it’s Benny the scab. Ya got the info?”
“Yeah. Sunday in back of the Jade Palace. He drives a black Lincoln Continental.
They count the cash from the week’s take…”
”But by two o’clock they’re done. The others leave. Shin and his two bodyguards
that stay the night. Shin likes to blow snow.
“Yeah. He says that he can fuck all night snortin’ that stuff.”
“No shit. So about three in the morning Monday we nail’em”
“Yeah, Foxie, and we’re square. You’s guys gonna bust’em Monday morning?”
“Thanks, Foxie.” Benny looked around to see if anyone had followed him to meet
Foxie. “It ain’t too healthy being seen with you’s guys.”
“Yeah, sure. I wouldn’t want ya to catch cold, Benny.”
“I’ll see ya later.” Benny quickly walked away and disappeared into the crowd of
people and dock workers who were part of the activity of the wharf.
“Yeah, Benny. I’ll see ya. I’ll see ya in hell, ya son of a bitch.”
“You don’t trust that sack of shit, do ya, Foxie?” asked C.J.
“Fuck, No! He’s trying to pull a fast one.”
It was time for Foxie and C.J. to drive back to the Tenderloin and patrol the jungle.
“Hey, C.J., I think it’s time we look up Tommy the Dink and Spook Williams. Do you
remember which pool hall they hang out at?”
“Yeah, the one on Turk by the bus depot. That joint is crawlin’ with shit. Ya
gotta’ wear rubber gloves to go in there.”
Foxie turned left on Eddy Street, then right on Turk, drove by Willie’s pool hall and
parked across the street. “This joint gives me the creeps,” said C.J.
“Yeah, it’s a shit hole.” They looked through the dirty window.
“There’s the Spook,” said C.J.
They opened the door and the smell of cigarette smoke, body odor, and rancid
garbage stopped them cold at the doorway. “God damn,” said Foxie. They walked in
and gagged from the stench. They had entered a sub world of the Tenderloin. Foxie
called it the bottom world. It was a world with no laws and kept no promises. This was a
world of quicksand and snakes.
“Child, you gonna be late for Sunday go to meeting. You best get yourself ready
“Yes, mama.” Ida wanted to make a good impression with the Johnsons and
couldn’t decide if she should wear the blue or the green dress.
“Girl, I fixin’ to go. You best be gettin’”
“I’m coming,.” Ida ran down the stairs. When all else failed the white dress was
“What you been doing, girl? You know we gotta meet the Johnsons.”
“Sorry, mama.” The independent college graduate became the little girl with
pigtails when every mama had that tone in her voice. They walked the two blocks to
Trinity Baptist Church. The bell rang as they turned the corner. They walked up the
steps and took their place in church. Ida felt disheveled. This was not the way she
wanted to meet the Johnsons. She turned and looked in their direction and smiled. They
reciprocated. Pastor Franklin’s sermon was about helping those in need. He spoke
about the Good Samaritan, how it was better to give than receive, and that they were a
community of Christians. He ended by saying, “ We all God’s children and we all got to
take care of our brothers and sisters in this community.”
The choir replied, amen, and began to sing, “Jesus Is Coming Today.” It was a
lively song that rousted their spirits.
The church service ended and Pastor Franklin thanked each member of the
congregation and invited them for fellowship. The Johnsons remained seated. Ida and
Sarah approached them. “Good morning to ya. I’m Sarah and this here is my daughter,
“Pleased to meet you,” said Ida.
“Howdy, Miss Ida. I’m Lester, and this here’s my wife, Elsie May. Miss Sarah
morning to ya,” said Lester.
“Pleased to meecha Miss Ida and Miss Sarah,” said Elsie May.
Pastor Franklin joined the group and said, “Praise Jesus.”
They walked to the hall for fellowship and to help serve the noon meal. After the
meal they helped cleaned up. Ida sat with Lester and Elsie May, and explained what a
foster parent was, the obligations, and the payment. Ida explained that they would have to
qualify to be foster parents. “We ain’t doing this for money,” said Lester.
“The county doesn’t expect you to support three children. The money is for clothes
“I can’t cotton to takin’ no money. It ain’t Christian.“ Lester was a proud man.
“We gonna spend the money on the kids, Lester,” said Elsie May.
“If’en you gots extra, ya gives it to the Pastor on Sunday. There ain’t no harm in
that,” said Sarah. Ida smiled at her mother’s enterprising ways.
“You know mama, there are times when you just amaze me with your interpretation
of the Bible.” They all laughed.
It was two-thirty in the afternoon and time for all to go home. Ida and Sarah
stopped by he corner market for groceries and the latest gossip. A certain eligible
gentleman had been making inquiries about Miss Ida. If the man was God fearing and
descent, Ida would entertain the notion of a suitor. Sarah was more interested than
Ida. “Why, child, he may have an older brother,” said Sarah.
“Yeah, mama, much older,” said Ida. They laughed and paid for the groceries.
They walked home and changed into comfortable loose dresses. Then they sat on the
sofa on the porch in the back and enjoyed the cool breeze from the bay. “I sure hope the
Johnsons get qualified,” said Sarah.
“So do I, mama.”
More next week...