St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
There was less intensity in the spring semester than the fall semester. In the fall
everything was new, and time was needed to organize and sort, to learn the traits of six
new teachers, and to find out how demanding class assignments were. The first six
weeks exams were given in the middle of October. Then the students found out if they
were going to a gunfight with a knife. The second six weeks exams were the first week
of December. This allowed the students to spend the Thanksgiving holiday preparing for
the exams, and contemplating how fortunate they were. Finals were the last six weeks
exams, held the last week of January. They had a connotation of do or die. The fall
semester was cold and harsh. The spring semester began with birds singing and nature
preparing for springtime and summer. A teacher's temperament was mild and forgiving in
the spring compared to the cruel fall. The first spring exams were given in the middle of
March, which usually coincided with Easter break. The second six weeks exams were
given the last week of April, and final exams were given the second week of June.
The good brothers devised a way to extend the torture they inflicted by creating
"Competency Tests." On the last day of school, while others attended a half-day session
and restlessly await the official beginning of summer vacation, the students at St. Nick’s
spent the day taking a test that covered all material given during the year. They would
have to recall subjects taught and tested from September to June. Each test was forty-five
minutes long consisting of true and false, and multiple choice questions. The teachers had
the weekend to correct finals and comp tests. Finals were essays written on 9x7-inch
binder paper bound with blue covers -- blue books. The teachers had to read frantic logic
with cryptic writing, and tried to decipher the answer. Comp testing took less time with
answer sheets with punched holes indication the correct answer.
Such grueling tasks required a great deal of concentration and meticulous detail to
properly reward the student for effort given. To prepare the mind for such a chore, exercise
and stimulation were required. The brothers would open bottles of Christian Brother's
Brandy and lift heavy glasses of spirits. The lay teachers were on a higher economic level
than the poor brothers, and afforded more costly mind purification, like Johnny Walker Red
or French Cognac.
Brother Justin sent deficiency letters every six weeks to the parents whose sons
had fallen below a 2.0 grade average or received a grade of D or F. The letter began with,
"Are you aware that your son is failing?" The letter continued with the class grade, the
name of the teacher, and a reply to Brother Justin was required. Jim’s parents never got a
deficiency letter, because if they did, he could not play sports for six weeks. Jim enjoyed
sports too much, and he hated the way the brothers ridiculed any student who failed. He
enjoyed playing football the most and he was starting to develop into a good baseball
player. He wished the feeling of hitting a home run would stay with him forever.
Mr. Myers had noticed the improvement in Jim’s athletic abilities, playing guard in
football, and asked if Jim would try out for the junior varsity instead of the soph/frosh
baseball team. He told Jim he had nothing to lose. If he did not make the JV team, he
could always play soph/frosh baseball. Jim won the job of starting in right field on the
junior varsity team. When he came home that night he told his folks. They quietly said
it was nice. Jim called Bob and told him about starting in right field for the JV's. Bob was
happy for Jim. Bob was a good baseball player, and had made the varsity team playing
shortstop as a sophomore. Bob was quick and had a strong arm.
It was May 1, 1962, and the second finals were over. The first half of the baseball
season was finished. There were nine teams that St. Nick’s played twice, once at each
school’s field. St. Nick’s was halfway through the schedule and in first place. Washington
was the best team in the league. St. Nick’s was lucky to have beaten them. Washington
was looking forward to playing St. Nick’s the last game of the season on their home field.
St. Nick’s was just as eager to prove that the 2-1 victory was not a fluke.
The first game in the second half of the season was against Galileo. They were a
weak team, and most of their players had difficulty concentrating on the game. Their
first baseman was chubby and had a healthy appetite. The first time St. Nick’s played
at Galileo, he wandered off to the snack shack and bought a corn dog. It was the fifth
inning and he wouldn’t bat because he had made the last out in the forth inning. All of
the players could smell the scent of French fries cooking in oil and hamburgers sizzling
on the grill. The Galileo first baseman slowly walked back to the dugout preparing to
savor the last bite of the corn dog, when his coach slapped his hand, hurling the stick
and that last delicious morsel against the dugout wall, falling into the trash. The first
baseman stared into the trash as to say farewell to an old friend. His coach benched him
for the rest of the game. St. Nick’s played their home games in Golden Gate Park at a
bowl-shaped baseball field called "Big Wreck." There were no fences and few stands.
Folks stood on the sloop around the field. It was where the police and fire departments
played their intramural softball games. There was no snack shack. When Galileo played at
St. Nick’s and the Galileo first baseball man came to bat the first time, the St. Nick’s
players began calling him "Corn Dog." It upset him so much that he took three mighty
swings at air, and retired. St. Nick’s cruised to a 7-1 victory.
St. Nick’s next game was against Lowell. Duke Darren was St. Nick’s best starting
pitcher at 3-0. His first name was Walter, but he preferred Duke. Brocker, Duke, and
Jim were the only sophomores on a team of juniors. Jim began to tease Duke in the
clubhouse before the game by kneeling in front of Duke’s locker and calling him master.
He besieged Duke to bestow his power to his unworthy right fielder. Duke approached
Jim and touched both shoulder with his magical glove anointing him. Then Duke made the
sign of the cross over Jim and said, "Now rise and play well for your master. You will not
strikeout. You will see the ball clearly and hit it with new strength."
The juniors thought that Jim and Duke were crazy. Each time Jim went to bat,
he touched Duke's magic mitt as it rested by Duke’s side. Jim didn’t strikeout and hit
two doubles. St. Nick’s won the game 5-4. Jim thanked his master for bestowing the
power to hit two doubles. Some of the others players who didn’t get a hit were starting to
The next game was against Riordan, a Catholic high school built in 1947. It was the
new kid on the block compared to St. Nick's and Saint Ignatius that had established
tradition for more than 40 years. It upset the guys at St. Nick’s that Riordan was
considered a better school, and respected like S. I. Riordan was built to accommodate
those bright and fastidious young men who couldn’t apply to Saint Ignatius, but were far
superior to the trash that attended St. Nick's. These were guys whose parents could afford
to live in the nice homes in the Avenues or Westlake districts of the city. It was time to play
Riordan. Duke didn’t start the game. Jim knelt in front of Duke's locker asking for the
power that only Duke could bestow so that he might have a good game. They began the
farce, and three other players knelt by Jim’s side with their heads bowed. Duke blessed
the four apostles, and told them to use their power to defeat the wimps of Riordan. The
three new converts and Jim rose, made the sign of the cross, and said amen. The others
watched in disbelief. Brocker said it was blasphemy. In any event, the three new disciples
and Jim didn’t strikeout. One of the new faithful hit his first home run of the season. St.
Nick’s beat Riordan 4-2, and Prescott got the win. All praise and glory to Duke
The next game Jim hung a sign in the locker room that said, “In Duke We Believe."
Mr. Myers thought that the team was going a little too far, and he feared that maybe God in
his spare time had overheard their blasphemy. When one is in quest of a championship,
one shouldn’t invoke the wrath of God. The sign was removed. Jim walked over to Duke's
locker for the blessing. The three apostles joined Jim as he began to ask Duke for his
power, when suddenly Brocker wedged his way in and bowed his head. At the end of the
service, Duke put both hands on Brocker’s shoulders and said, " Because you have shown
faith, I will instill the power to play exceptional today." No one really gave much thought to
exceptional. If someone got the game-wining hit, that would be exceptional. Duke picked
up his fifth victory defeating Mission 6-2. Brocker went three for four, hit a triple, and
assisted in three double plays, a rather exceptional performance. Mr. Myers now became a
believer and allowed Jim to re-hang half of the sign, "We Believe." St. Nick’s was in first
place a game ahead of Washington.
St. Nick’s last game of the season was against Washington at Washington Park.
There were more than a thousand screaming Washington students anticipating victory.
The Championship game consisted of the winner of the first half of the season playing the
winner of the second half. If one team won both halves of the season, there were the
champions. If St. Nick’s beat Washington, then they would be the champions. Mr. Myers
couldn’t violate league rules by having Duke pitch the championship game, because he
had pitched the week before. Prescott was a decent starting pitcher, but no Duke. Prescott
pitched his heart out, but one of the players who didn’t get blessed by Duke made an error
that cost St. Nick’s the game. They lost to Washington 4-3, and had to play them next
week for the championship. No one spoke to Cain after the game, because he had lost the
ball in the sun, allowing the game-winning hit. Duke walked up to Cain, put his arm on his
shoulder, and yelled at the team for treating Cain so badly. Duke asked, "What if one of
you had made the error? We are a team win, or lose." He asked Cain, "Who is the starting
pitcher next week against Washington?"
Cain timidly replied, "You Duke."
Duke looked at all of the players and yelled, "Who is going to kick their ass next
"We are!" the team yelled.
Mr. Myers sat and savored the magical moment when the mood in the locker room
went from depression and shame to exhilaration and team spirit. Duke was inspirational
and respected by all. The day of the championship game, everyone gathered in front of
Duke's locker for the blessing. Then the team ran out and played their best game of the
season beating Washington 8-1. There was no doubt that St. Nick’s was the junior varsity
champions of San Francisco. After the game Coach Myers told the team that next Friday
would be the awards dinner held in the cafeteria, and their dads were invited. Jim counted
the days to Friday's awards dinner. He wanted to see the look on his dad's face. The
awards dinner also invited all of the athletes that had earned varsity sweaters. They were
navy blue sweaters that buttoned down the front, with two pockets. A varsity letter: a four-
inch block with S N and the sport lettered was sowed on the right pocket. Jim would get a
trophy for the junior varsity championship, and he had earned 40 points for a varsity
sweater, not bad for a sophomore.
It was Friday morning. During Western Civilization with Mr. Fagoni. Brother Justin
made an announcement over the intercom calling Jim to the office. When he arrived, his
mother was waiting for him. Jim was confused. Mary told him that Grandpa had died after
suffering for more than a year with cancer. Brother Justin asked Jim to get his books and
jacket from his locker, and extended his condolences. Jim left with his mother. He felt bad
that he hadn’t seen grandpa in a couple of weeks. His grandfather looked so bad. He was
a shell of his former body, and didn’t recognize Jim. While slowly and painfully dying of
cancer, his grandfather continued smoking an Italian cigar called Tusconi. These were
cigars that looked like dried stalks from the tobacco plant. It took a book of matches or a
Zippo lighter to set one of those stumps on fire. The very thing that had contributed to his
death, and he still wanted a cigar. Jim hated the smell. Grandpa's teeth were dark brown
from chewing the remaining bit of the cigar that had trapped the tar. Grandpa was 67. He
had worked hard and drank equally hard. Jim’s grandma had died seven years earlier of a
bad heart. Wellness was not was not a sign of the times. Jim’s dad had just quit smoking
and was taking pills for high blood pressure. Jim recalled Uncle Don and wondered if it
was a cultural trait to not give a damn about one’s health or the surviving family. It wasn’t
until they finished lunch at a cafe close to the mortuary that Jim realized he would be
dressed in a suit and tie as planned, but for a funeral, not an awards dinner. He didn’t say
a word about the awards dinner. The rosary began at seven that night, and all of the
relatives prayed for Grandpa to peacefully join his wife in heaven. Joe had spoken to his
sister Patty in Pennsylvania the night his father had died. Joe called his sister and tried to
tell her about the funeral. When he began telling her how peaceful his dad looked and
said, "He won’t suffer any more," he broke up in tears. Mary had to continue the
conversation with Patty, holding Joe as he wept. That was the only time Jim saw his father
Monday Jim went back to school. Every one graciously extended their condolences.
At the end of school Jim went to the office to see Brother Justin. Without congratulations
Brother Justin gave Jim his block sweater and trophy. It seemed so hollow like ending the
game in a tie. Augie was right. It was like kissing your sister.
More next week...