A Priest Remembers Finding Home at a Baseball Game

“I am grateful for having been taught by my dad the true value of sports – to draw us together into community. I’m grateful for having learned that true happiness is found in ordinary events that gather us and lead us to joy.”

 Photo by ChristinLola/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by ChristinLola/iStock / Getty Images

By Megan Schrieber

The idea of home and a baseball game usually conjure up home plate, with a hefty umpire gesticulating quickly that a runner is safe or out. But for one priest, Father Matt Guckin, a trip to the baseball field would imprint a different kind of home on his memory. 

Father Matt was the youngest of five children. His father, Vincent, was a plumber at a large distribution center for Sears & Roebuck and his mother was busy making a home. Father Matt attended St. Timothy’s school in Northeast Philadelphia where walking home for lunch was standard fare. Father Matt remembers:

For me it was all very routine - my dog, Rascal, would greet me, my mom would have peanut butter and jelly for me to eat, I’d watch television for a little while, and then would rejoin my classmates and walk back to school.

But on October 7, 1977, when Father Matt came home for lunch there was one difference in his midday routine; his dad was home. Father recalls the moment as one of surprise mixed with joy and then panic that he might be in trouble. His mind was peppered with questions: Am I in trouble again? Did something bad happen? Father Matt goes on:

Instead, something great was about to happen. He told me I didn’t have to go back to school that Friday afternoon. He was taking me to a Phillies playoff game! It seemed logical and appropriate. I was, after all, spiking a temperature of 98.7.

Changing out of his uniform into play clothes, Father Matt and his dad, meandered the city from bus stop to El stop to Subway arriving at Veterans Stadium, a now bygone icon of Philadelphia sports. They found themselves among 63,000 other committed fans on this beautiful autumn afternoon for the three o’clock opening pitch. The game was an edge-of-your-seat drama between the Phillies and the Dodgers. “I recall vividly how my dad and I were jumping up and down and screaming like two lunatics, having the time of our lives.” He continues:

The Phillies were leading, 5-3, in the ninth inning. We were planning on celebrating by getting Philly cheesesteaks on the way home. As it turned out, we wouldn’t have much of an appetite. There was no one on base for the Dodgers. There were two outs. With just one out needed a batter got on base. No problem. But then another batter got on base. Then another. And another. And, well, I think you get the point. The Phillies rescued defeat from the jaws of victory.

I remember that subway ride home. It was packed, but eerily quiet. It was as if we were in a funeral procession. In fact, in Phillies history it has become known as “Black Friday” though it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving.  

As for me and my personal history, I look back on that memory and I am so grateful. I’m grateful for that afternoon I got to spend with my dad. He passed on to me his love for baseball not by teaching me about “the infield fly rule” but rather by modeling joyful behavior and inviting me into such joy.

I’m grateful my parents had the wisdom to show me that family time is oftentimes more important than time spent in school (or anywhere else for that matter). I am absolutely certain that I am the only student from Saint Tim’s who can tell you EXACTLY where he was and what he learned that afternoon of October 7, 1977.

I am grateful for having been taught by my dad the true value of sports – to draw us together into community. I’m grateful for having learned that true happiness is found in ordinary events that gather us and lead us to joy. I’m grateful that “Black Friday” gave me such a precious memory of thrills and that I could see the little child in my dad.

And I’m grateful to realize that you can lose at baseball but win at life.

As Father Matt continues to reflect on this moment in time, he is acutely aware of the profound impact of this experience in his life and the tangible awareness of his father’s love for him. So much so, that he has kept the ticket stub for over 4 decades, always sitting on his nightstand protected in a little plastic bag. 

Father Matt’s father returned to his eternal home on May 24, 1997; twenty years after their magical day. It is an event that helped the Philadelphia priest to know the true meaning of home: a heart to heart connection that offers a glimpse of our eternal destination and the joyful love of a Father. He remains grateful for this love poured out by his earthly father, captured poignantly in being taken to that baseball game. 

And for that ticket stub, Father Matt plans on having it tucked into his coffin when he returns safely to his own home base.

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