No ancient ballplayers stepped out of a cornfield, but Father Michael McLoughlin probably would not have been too surprised if they had. The quintessentially American scene he contentedly surveyed on an almost incandescent early summer evening bordered on magical. The idea for “Home Run for Catholic Schools Night” had been his, and the little jewel box of a ballpark nestled in the bucolic hills of Wappingers Falls was jammed to capacity for the June 30 New York Penn League game between the Hudson Valley Renegades and the Brooklyn Cyclones.
For the record, the city kids defeated their country cousins, 16-5. But that didn’t put a damper on the evening, which celebrated Catholic education with more than 1,500 Hudson Valley Catholic school youngsters and their families in attendance at Dutchess Stadium for what can now probably officially be called the “First Home Run for Catholic Schools Night.” Each school received $3 per ticket sold and each of the kids in attendance received a Renegades cap. Also in attendance were Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools in the archdiocese, and Mary Jane Daley, district superintendent of schools in the Hudson Valley, as well as area clergy and seminarians, principals and teachers.
“Absolutely, we already have a few more ideas for next year,” Father McLoughlin, pastor of St. Stephen’s parish in Warwick, responded with evident satisfaction when asked by CNY if he could see this becoming an annual event. “For a weekday night to have sold out is tremendous! And this gives our families a chance to come together and just have a fun night and support Catholic schools. We have students here from all of the Catholic schools in the upper counties.
“It’s a family atmosphere, a relaxing night, great entertainment, and the teams play a surprisingly high level of baseball,” he continued. “I just think baseball and Catholic schools are perfect together, two great American institutions.”
The evening formally began with a parade of the more than 1,500 children on to the field for the playing of the national anthem. Earlier, students from St. Denis-St. Columba School in Hopewell Junction were invited on the field with their gloves to play a little catch, their reward for selling the most tickets, 218. Jimmy Ruvituso, a third-grade student at St. Patrick’s School in Bedford Village, and a Little Leaguer himself, tossed out the first pitch. He earned that opportunity by writing the winning essay in the “Home Run for Catholic Schools” contest in which children were asked to write on why a Catholic education is important to them. His essay appeared on the front page of Catholic New York’s June 2 edition.
Despite his obvious talent for writing and the prominent placement of his very first byline, Jimmy quickly responded, “I’d rather be a pitcher,” when asked if he saw a career for himself as a journalist.
During the seventh-inning stretch, another student, 9-year-old Devin Storch, a fourth-grader at Most Precious Blood School in Walden who was dressed in her school uniform, sang “God Bless America.” She got the gig by winning a singing contest among Hudson Valley Catholic school students. She admitted to a few butterflies before her performance but hit all the right notes when her turn came. When asked if she saw this appearance as a stepping-stone to a bigger stage, she stated a preference for Yankee Stadium.
“I definitely would most want to do it for the Yankees,” she said emphatically. Then, perhaps sensing disappointment from some present, quickly and diplomatically added, “or for the Mets.”
Auxiliary Bishop Dominick J. Lagonegro, episcopal vicar for Dutchess, Orange, Sullivan, Ulster and Northern Westchester and Putnam Counties, who was proudly wearing his Renegades cap, said the timing could not have been better and gave full credit for the success of the evening to Father McLoughlin. “School is out but it’s that week before they go off for vacation,” the bishop pointed out. “Once the Fourth of July comes around they’ll be away for vacation, so it was a great time to do it. Mike had the idea and carried it through and he did an incredible job of putting it together and made a great night.”
Just as happy as Catholic school officials with the announced 5,049-fan turnout was Renegades general manager Eben Yager.
“I got to be honest with you, I was a little (surprised),” he acknowledged. “We didn’t know what to expect. But it’s a big success! We have a packed house and it was great to have the Catholic schools out. We look forward to continuing it and building on it. It’s good for the kids and good for the Renegades. We’re creating new fans, reaching out to a whole new group of families, and we’re all about families.”