Father Larry Swink, pastor of Jesus the Divine Word Parish in Huntingtown, pitches for the DC Padres during their Sept. 4 game.
Father Larry Swink, pastor of Jesus the Divine Word Parish in Huntingtown, pitches for the DC Padres during their Sept. 4 game.
Baseball fans of all ages found plenty of popcorn, pretzels and priests at the ballpark on Sept. 4 when the DC Padres - a team of local priests and seminarians - defeated the Bowie All-Stars 5-4 in a six-inning exhibition game at Prince George's Stadium in Bowie.

The DC Padres needed an RBI in the bottom of the sixth inning to win the game. Father Larry Young, pastor of Our Lady's Church in Medley's Neck and one of the game's organizers, hit a drive to the gap in left centerfield, enabling Shaun Foggo, a seminarian from Mount St. Mary's, to score the winning run. More importantly, the priests hoped their game would encourage more vocations to the priesthood.

"Please, do not be afraid if you hear Christ calling you," Foggo said earlier to the crowd of more than 500 people who watched the priests and seminarians play ball.

Foggo's witness came after the third inning, which also included a few words from Father David Wells, associate pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Lexington Park.

The priest, a Bowie native, said he remembered attending games at the stadium, home of the Bowie Baysox, the Double-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. "It is fun to be here," said Father Wells, who added that he began thinking of the entering the priesthood when he was 16 years old. He urged the young people in the stands to listen to what God might have in store for them.

Although not in the line-up, Father Carter Griffin, director of priest vocations for the Archdiocese of Washington, said the Holy Spirit recruits young men for the priesthood, but God counts on everyone to support vocations.  Father Griffin urged attendees to think about a young man who might want to consider the priesthood. "Your encouragement through prayers, actions, example and words to young men who might want to join the priesthood," is absolutely vital, he added.

Despite the counter-cultural aspect of priestly vocations, Father Young said, for those who are called, they "are totally fulfilled."

Earlier, Father Young, who had not played in a baseball game for 27 years, called the game "a dream." He said he was most looking forward to the "crack of the bat" and the fraternity of the team. "It's a great combination of baseball and our faith," the pastor added.

Chandra Hancock a parishioner of Our Lady's Church, brought her four daughters to the game and sold programs to the crowd. "We're baseball fans - we watch the Orioles all the time," she said. Baseball fans and parishioners alike filled the lower level of the stadium holding signs and donning homemade T-shirts supporting their pastors and favorite seminarians. Thirteen members of Father Young's family traveled from Delaware wearing shirts with his name and number on the back.

"I think it's a fantastic idea to see young priests participating in sports," said Father Young's mother, Clare Young. She noted that she attends many of her son's parish events as well. "We're thrilled to be here."

Father Young's sister Elaine Young said the baseball game was a "unique" way to promote vocations. "It's really important for young people in particular to see priests doing something all-American - like baseball. Priests like to have fun too, they have hobbies." In addition to her brother being a great organizer, she said he especially enjoys working with young people, running the parish youth group and serving as chaplain at St. Mary's Ryken High School in Leonardtown.

A St. Louis Cardinals fan, Matthew Hoelscher, No. 11, represented the DC Padres as a seminarian from Mount St. Mary's Seminary. His cheering section included other seminarians studying for the Diocese of Peoria, Ill.

"Our whole diocese decided to come," said Sam Mangieri, a seminarian. "We wanted to show up to support two of our guys." Adam Cesarek, who played for the Padres, is studying for the Peoria Diocese as well.
Mangieri, who played baseball while in high school, said he enjoys the sport because of the ever-present possibility of big plays. "That's what's beautiful about baseball - you have to be patient." He said in baseball, sometimes the underdog team can shine, just like in faith. "We're kind of like the dark horses, too. Sometimes it looks like we're going to lose the battle then we don't," Mangieri said.

Later the seminarians started to chant, "Here we go priesthood - here we go."

Even the coach of the Bowie All-Stars said he was excited to be sharing God's message through the game. Although he is not Catholic, Roger Brow attends St. Pius X Parish in Bowie with his family and became involved with planning the game while Father Larry Swink was associate pastor there. "I love God, and I love baseball," said Coach Brow, whose son joined the local high school and college players facing the DC Padres.

The All-Stars scored three runs to tie the game in the top of the sixth inning. Although Brow said he doesn't like to lose, he said God had a plan and perhaps there can be a rematch in the future.

Several of the players in the opposing dugout were parishioners of St. Pius X and two were from Jesus the Divine Word in Huntington, where Father Swink currently serves as pastor. "It will be interesting to see if they are going to cheer for or against me because their children are playing," Father Swink said before the game started. But he didn't have to worry about lack of support as a few parishioners unfurled a large banner reading "Go Father Larry S" and one parishioner asked him to autograph her program.

The pastor, who came in as a relief pitcher in the fourth inning, hit a sacrifice fly during his first at-bat.

Paul Zacharski, an eighth-grade student and CYO baseball player at St. Pius X School said he attended the game to support Father Swink. "It's pretty cool," Zacharski said. "The priests never do anything like this - they are usually inside all day."

The DC Padres seemed to have all the bases covered. They invited the chaplain for Sibley Hospital, Father John Clark, to sit with the team in the dugout. "I didn't bring my oils though, so if they get hurt I can only offer prayer," Father Clark said.

Maggie Smith, 14, knew several players, including her brother Luke Smith on the Bowie All-Stars team. "A lot of the players are also good friends with the young priests - it's going to be fun to watch them play," Smith added.

Before the game, Noah Morey, a seminarian for the Diocese of Arlington, was looking forward to coming together as a team - "it shows the unity of all in the Church." Seminarian Kevin Dansereau said he was happy "to give glory to God through the gift of baseball."

In the afternoon game, the other home team won as well. The Bowie Baysox routed the Erie SeaWolves 10-2. Officials from the host stadium helped the DC Padres team and fans by opening the concession stands, providing a microphone, donating some game balls and turning on the field lights as the sun went down. Father Young said the team was especially grateful for the hospitality and their offer to host another game in the future.

Additionally, Father Young said plans were already underway to schedule a game in Montgomery County against a team from The Heights School in Potomac. On Sunday his teammates all had fun, and "the fans seemed to really enjoy it," Father Young added.  "The players were loving life. And, in the middle of everything, we got the vocations message out there loud and clear."