There are certain things that most people don’t get enough of in life, prison softball might be one of them. About 25 years ago our family business had a company softball team. It was actually rather good and was a fairly serious endeavor for quite a number of years. We called it the “Frei’s Flies”. We even had baseball shirts printed with a giant fly, sitting on a bat, a complete knock off of the baseball Cardinals. Luckily, they didn’t sue us. One of the players from outside of the company was a Catholic Priest, Father Tom (we made stained glass windows for churches after all). Most priests I know are actually fairly ordinary men. Father Tom, on the other hand, was something that a 1970’s sitcom would dream up as the Mr. Rogers, soft spoken, over the top, innocent and pious priest. I’m not knocking this, he was a wonderful person to be around. So was Mr. Rogers.
One of the things that we would do to get more practice was to play against the prisoners at the medium security prison, called “Gumbo Flats”. It has since been torn down. Though it was not quite the scene of “Shawshank Redemption”, it looked plenty ominous to me, complete with rolls of razor wire. The process of going in and out through security took a while, but the guards actually wanted us there, so it went reasonably pleasantly.
On rare nights, they let some of the women prisoners out in the yard to sit in the bleachers on the third base side. Smartly, our bench was on the first base side. We always took games seriously, so we would send someone out to be the third base coach.
I don’t remember who the third base coach was on the first inning, but they came back, muttering to a few of us, “damn, they yelled stuff to me that made my brain blush. I learned a few things that I’d never heard of before”. Of course, being young men, this was more entertainment than we had bargained for. Inning two, “Fr. Tom, you’re coaching third!” We could not hear any of it, but we intently watched as Fr. Tom stood up straight, motionless and stiff. We eagerly awaited his reaction upon his returning to the bench, trying not to let on that he had been set up. Nothing! Inning three: “Fr. Tom…..”, he interrupted “I’m not coaching third base any more”. That was the entirety of the report that we received received from him.
Sitting in the parking lot after we were let out of the prison, our juvenile side took over and we joked about singing “Born Free” and saying “we can go in, we can go out, we can go in…”. Of course we made sure that no one could hear us. So tough we were.
Most of the prisoners were good sports, with the rare one that just couldn’t seem to help but let their troubled temperament show through. On those occasions, the guards immediately revoked their sports privileges.