Pat Green has one more batter to face. At least that’s what he hopes. If he can get this guy out, his school, the St. Xavier Academy for Boys, wins the game and wins back the Bishop’s Cup.
It doesn’t matter that their regular season was mediocre at best… why not just call it what it is… their season sucked. They have a seven and sixteen record and this is their last game. But, any season they beat their arch-rivals, St. Agnes High School, is a good season. Besides, this is Pat’s last game in high school. He’s going to Fordham in the Fall, the Engineering Program. Still, he’d like to end his high school baseball career on a high note, a win over St. Agnes.
Traditionally, there always has been bad blood between the schools… why not just call it what it is… the schools hate each other.
The St. Francis Xavier Academy for Boys is a Jesuit school on the upper west-side of Manhattan that’s strictly college prep; a student has to have at least a B average just to get in. Tuition’s high, fifty dollars a month, and mandatory. Most of its grads go on to college, hopefully, to a good Catholic University like St. John’s in Queens or Fordham up in the Bronx. Even a city college would do in a pinch. Every year, one or two of their more gifted boys actually achieve Irish-Catholic, academic nirvana and is accepted to Notre Dame, way out in some distant and mysterious place west of New Jersey, called South Bend, Indiana. Such a wondrous occurrence is always mentioned by Father Rector during his graduation remarks.
Of course, there is always the fond hope that one, or maybe two, should Jesus be so kind, of St. Xavier’s graduates will decide to enter the priesthood, and go on to the seminary, preferably a Jesuit one. In order to nurture the vocations of the chosen few, and good academics for the rest of the boys because the good fathers know that teenage girls make teenage boys stupid, the school does not encourage their charges to socialize with members of the opposite sex. Being caught in a “public display of affection” with a girl within two blocks of the school gets a student a week of detention. Of course, then, there are no school dances, and, during the summer, the boys are encouraged to avoid mixed company, as well as other occasions of sin, and to attend mass every morning.
St. Agnes is a more “working class” institution. It’s a Marist Brothers school in mid-town near Grand Central whose goal is to give any Catholic boy, who desires it, a good, Catholic education despite any disadvantages, financially and academically. Their goals are as modest as the clay with which they work. The good brothers prepare their students to go on to one of the better jobs open to Catholics in New York City: the cops, fire department, sanitation, the subway, the buses, the trades or, for a lucky few, a white-collar with the city. In recent years, some of St. Agnes’ more promising grads actually got jobs with the phone company as messengers and frame men, demonstrating how liberal the city had become since the war. The school happily takes boys whose academic disabilities prevent them from getting into any of the better Catholic schools, even the recently arrived Puerto Ricans from the West Side and the Cubans from over in Corona, good traditional, Catholic cultures both, whose conduct and English are, shall we say, challenging. Tuition is nominally set at twenty-five a month, or whatever a family can afford.
The good brothers of St. Agnes have no delusions concerning the academic and social potential of their graduates. They assume that their boys’ most hopeful contribution to the future of Holy Mother Church is the begetting and nurturing of the next generation of Catholics. This, of course, requires an early marriage with a good Catholic girl, before the boys can become distracted by the alluring wiles of sinfully unfecund and extra-marital sexuality with some non-Catholic or, even worse, non-Christian. In order to facilitate this holy mission, the school organizes frequent mixers with the Catholic girls’ schools around the diocese, even going as far afield at times as the Diocese of Brooklyn, just across the river. A student can of course bring a date, as long as the girl is Catholic and is in good standing at some high school, even a public one; calls have been known to be made concerning this. Of course, these dances are carefully chaperoned and the behavior of the children carefully scrutinized by the brothers of St. Agnes and the teaching sisters of the guest school. Although the good brothers look forward to the next generation of Catholics, there’s no hurry to get it started. Slow dancing too closely merits a warning; a second offense means being thrown out of the dance, boy and girl separately of course, and one week of detention for the boy. Being caught making out with a girl on school premises is good for four weeks of the “Big D” and being banned from dances for a semester.
So, the boys of St. Agnes consider the boys of St. Xavier a bunch of spoiled, lace-curtain pansies, while the boys at St. Xavier consider St. Agnes boys a bunch of ignorant, shanty-Irish losers. That is the polite way of expressing the rivalry. If one were to ask one of the boys what they thought about their opposite numbers, out of the hearing of any of the Marist brothers or Jesuit priests of course, the most common answer heard would be, “They’re a bunch of assholes!”
To make matters worse, sometime back in the early forties, some Marists and Jesuits got together, probably over a sacramental bottle or two of twelve-year-old Irish, good Catholic stuff, not that Prot swill from the north. After a prodigious sharing out of the water of life amongst themselves, and a long, heated argument over which baseball team truly represented the spirit of New York, Irish Catholicism, the Yankees, Giants or even the lowly Brooklyn Dodgers, they came up with the grand idea for an annual baseball competition between the two schools. Although most ideas are “grand” after a few belts of the gargle, the Archbishop of New York, Francis Joseph Cardinal Spellman himself, may His Excellency be loved for as long as he lives and live as long as he’s loved, liked the idea so much that he donated a large sterling-silver cup, which forever after would be called the “Bishop’s Cup.” The winner of each year’s game was awarded the cup at their graduation ceremony in June by the Cardinal himself, may His Excellency be loved for as long as he lives and live as long as he’s loved, and got to display it in the center of their trophy cabinet. It was also rumored, at least among the boys, that the Cardinal himself, may His Excellency be loved for as long as he lives and live as long as he’s loved, gave the faculty of the winning school enough of the sacramental, twelve-year-old Irish, good Catholic stuff, not that Prot swill from the north, to fill the cup to the brim. Up the Republic!
So, boys, priests and brothers all took the game seriously. On the day of the game, all classes were of course cancelled. The entire congregation of each school, students and faculty, even the alumni, attended a special mass at nine a.m., St. Xavier in its auditorium, St Agnes in the parish church next to the school. There, each school asked Jesus, the Blessed Virgin and all the saints, especially Saints Patrick and Michael the Archangel, to intercede for them, to give them victory, and to smite their cross-town, cross-cultural rivals, who on that day were no better than a bunch of snotty-nosed, shifty-eyed Prots and heretics. After mass, faculty, students and alumni en masse got on the subway, the Eastside IRT for St. Agnes, the Independent Line for St. Xavier, and traveled to a ball field up in the Bronx for the annual game between the two Manhattan schools. The Bishop’s Cup itself was carried up by the previous year’s winner, and prominently displayed behind home plate on a table, covered in rich, shining, red fabric, bordered in gold, for that year’s winners to take back to their school in triumph after the game. The crowd, after a few nips of the sacramental water of life from silver flasks on the St. Xavier side, and pint bottles in brown paper bags on the St. Agnes side, got quite vociferously involved in the game. Even a few fights were known to break out, now and again. But, with a crowd full of cops, firemen, city politicians, and clergy, the fights never lasted long or amounted to much of anything more than some mussed hair, a rug or two askew, a torn shirt or an occasional bloody-nose. After all, the day was for the boys, baseball and the greater glory of God.