Sweet victory

by Moira Cullings
moira.cullings@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. —  As vocation director for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, Father Scott Wallisch hardly goes a day without talking about his Redeemer.

But that was not the kind of redemption he was thinking of June 19 at the third annual Pitching for Priests event at Community America Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

There, against a team of priests from the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph that had defeated the team from the archdiocese two years running, he pitched — and coached — a 22-8 walloping of their rivals.

“I’ve dreamed about this for two-and-a- half years now, and this day is finally here,” said Father Wallisch, who was also the game’s MVP.

“We had our best team out there,” he said. “Everybody believed in the system, and they really bought into what we were trying to do out there.”

The priests from the Kansas side came out like a powerhouse against the priests from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joe, scoring five runs in the first inning and were ahead by 11-2 after the top of the third.

“We had a lot of fun and put the pressure on early, so that was great,” said Father Andrew Strobl, outgoing pastor of Holy Name Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, and team catcher.

Unlike the past two years, the team held onto its lead with solid defense and came out triumphant for the first time in the event’s history with a score of 22-8 after six innings of play.

But in the eyes of the priests, the mission of the event went beyond achieving a long-desired victory.

Not only did the event raise nearly $30,000 to benefit seminarians from both dioceses, but it also brought Kansas City Catholics together to see their priests in a new light.

“I never know if us playing softball or basketball inspires vocations, but what’s cool is [the fans] see that we’re real guys,” said Father Strobl. “We do the same things and we grew up in the same way they did.”

The priests also look forward to seeing the faces of parishioners and people they’ve served over the years in the crowd, said Father Strobl.

The nearly 2,200 in attendance kept the ballpark buzzing with energy, despite the sweltering heat.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Msgr. Mike Mullen, pastor St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, were particular fan favorites, and the crowd erupted in cheers at each of their hits. (Msgr. Mullen went 3 for 3.)

The enthusiastic crowd support, paired with a victory that had been long in coming, left Father Nick Blaha, chaplain at Emporia State University’s Didde Catholic Campus Center and team second baseman, at a temporary loss for words.

“The euphoria is hard to describe,” he said.

“But I think our team pulled together a lot better and our practices were more consistent. We got in the right mindset, the right zone,” he added.

Accustomed to gathering primarily only for meetings or solemn occasions, it was clear the priests enjoyed coming together in an informal, competitive setting.

“It’s fun to be out here with them relating in a different way than we normally do,” said Father Blaha. “It’s not a chance we have very often.”

But “Coach” Wallisch hadn’t yet had time to appreciate the bonding opportunity.

He was still savoring the win.

“When your team buys into your vision,” he said simply, “it can be beautiful.”

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