Sister could have been pro ballplayer but 'caught' religious vocation
PITTSBURGH — She was the youngest of eight children growing up in McKeesport. Her brother Bill, closest to her in age, invited her to play baseball with the neighborhood kids in a nearby field -- and she was hooked.
Ironic how her last name -- Diamond -- would be associated with the baseball "diamond" for most of her formative years.
Now 80, Mercy Sister Mary Bride Diamond recounted her years as a ballplayer -- one good enough to go professional.
Pictured above: Sister Mary Bride Diamond is pictured in this combination photo as a young woman striking a bunting pose and as an 80-year-old Mercy sister. Sister Mary Bride was part of an eight-team girls' fastpitch softball league in McKeesport, Pa., and was good eno ugh to have gone pro in the late 1940s with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. But she chose to enter religious life in 1953. (CNS photo/Sisters of Mercy of the Americas)
During an interview in the convent parlor, she explained that her ball-playing skills developed on sandlot fields. When an eight-team girls' fast-pitch softball league started in McKeesport, she was natural at catcher. A coach selected young Mary Bride and other star players from those teams to form one to play girls' softball squads in the Pittsburgh area. In high school, she was chosen for a traveling team to play across Pennsylvania.
"I could play outfield, infield -- everything but pitch," she said proudly. She recalled a game in which a "big-game" batter from an opposing team hit a potentially game-winning line drive to her when she played shortstop. She made a diving catch.
Her career batting average was around .290, she said, but sometimes her average was over .300. And she hit a "lot of" home runs, one of which won the game.
"I had a lot of key hits," she recalled. As a catcher, she stood her ground when runners tried to cross the plate as fielders threw her the ball.
"They never got past me. I blocked the plate well," she said.
She played through injuries -- being occasionally spiked in the legs, hit with a ball in the facemask several times as she squatted behind the plate, and once hit by a bat.
During World War II, Philip Wrigley, owner of Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs, formed the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. With many men fighting overseas, Wrigley thought an all girls' baseball league would be an attraction. In the late 1940s, league teams, the Chicago Colleens and Springfield Sallies, visited New Castle, Pa., for area tryouts.
One of Mary Bride's coaches suggested she should demonstrate her skills. Out of 125 girls who showed their skills on the field that day, only three were chosen to go professional. Mary Bride was one.
"I was excited to say the least," she said. She explained that the teams would travel to major U.S. cities, stay in the best hotels, be chaperoned and, of course, play ball. Still a senior in high school, she had to ask her oldest brother, Jack, for permission to play professional baseball as her parents were deceased.
Jack's answer: no. She had to graduate.
"Of course, I was disappointed," Sister Mary Bride recalled. After graduation, she worked at G.C. Murphy's home office in the silk-screening department. But Mercy Sister Kathleen Heavill, who taught her at St. Peter High School, would help change her life.
"She thought I had good character, could stand on my own two feet and make good decisions," said Sister Mary Bride. Sister Kathleen told her that she likely had a religious vocation.
"I didn't think so," Sister Mary Bride said, but Sister Kathleen kept in touch and one day called to say she had made an appointment for her to see the Sisters of Mercy mother superior in Pittsburgh.
That meeting led Mary Bride to enter the community -- on Feb. 22, 1953.
"It was the best thing I ever did in my life. I am as happy as I can be," she said.
She has been a teacher and program director at Mercy Hall, the Sisters of Mercy infirmary. She credited sports with helping her develop discipline, sportsmanship and getting along with others.
Even as a Mercy sister, her interest in sports never waned. Over the years she sat in the stands, cheering on the Steelers and Pirates.
She never got to toss a first pitch from the mound at the start of a Pirates' home game, a secret wish she has harbored.
Sister Mary Bride now uses a walker to get around and no longer attends games in person. But she still watches, in between prayer, working in the convent mailroom, making sandwiches for the homeless and visiting sisters in Mercy Hall to help them laugh a little.
As much as she loved to play ball, she never regretted becoming a sister.
"When God calls you, he calls you no matter what; that's it," she said. "I have had an interesting life, thanks be to God."
— Catholic News Service
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