Father Larry Swink, pastor of Jesus the Divine Word Parish in Huntingtown, pitches for the DC Padres during a game last September against the Bowie All-Stars.
Father Larry Swink, pastor of Jesus the Divine Word Parish in Huntingtown, pitches for the DC Padres during a game last September against the Bowie All-Stars.
High school coach and former Major League Baseball pitcher Doug Creek has faced a variety of different teams but none quite like the one his varsity team from St. Mary's Ryken High School will play this Sunday, April 29 in Southern Maryland.

"I've played a lot of teams in my time - never a group of priests," Creek said. The Ryken Knights will face the DC Padres - priests and seminarians who formed a team last year to play baseball and raise awareness for vocations.

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Martin Holley is scheduled to lead the opening prayer and throw out the first pitch when the Padres take the field at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, home of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.

The Padres' game -- one of ten "Faith and Family" nights at the stadium -- will begin immediately following the Blue Crabs' 2 p.m. match up against the Lancaster Barnstormers.

"I can't believe we're getting the chance to get out there," said Father Larry Young, pastor of Our Lady's Church in Medley's Neck and co-chaplain of St. Mary's Ryken.

The priest said he can't wait to play ball against his students and in some cases his own parishioners. "I think it's going to be really fun."

Sharing the joy of the vocation to the priesthood and having fun motivated Father Young along with Father Larry Swink, pastor of Jesus the Divine Word in Huntingtown to form a baseball team last fall.

"God uses everything in your life," agreed Father Andrew Fisher, pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in Annadale, Va. Father Fisher played four years of Division I baseball at Mt. St. Mary's College after playing for Gonzaga College High School, N.W. The pastor also served as director of liturgy at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, N.E., for six years where he came to work with many of the seminarians and priests of the Archdiocese of Washington.

The DC Padres "is a blessing for us, offering friendship and the chance to play baseball," said Father Fisher, who really didn't think he would get a chance to lace up his cleats again after entering the seminary.

"A lot of things I was doing in baseball, I put to use in my life and spiritual life," the pitcher said. Many lessons in sports can apply to life and vocations, he added, such as perseverance, hard work, sacrifice, teamwork, the ability to focus, having a good game plan and taking time to reflect. Additionally Father Fisher said he considers St. Paul the "first sportswriter" who likened faith to marathon runners who "never lose sight of the finish line."

Father Fisher said the DC Padres "opened up a new avenue" for priests to meet people and talk about faith. "Baseball is more than a game," the priest said. "It is a sensory moment -- a thread for pulling together a lot of memories" whether you collected baseball cards, played Little League or still rooted for the home team.

Last September, more than 800 tickets were sold for the Padres' inaugural game, which featured a brief talk about vocations after the third inning. The DC Padres defeated the Bowie All-Stars, a team of high school and college players 5-4 and in their second game the priests tied the varsity team from Avalon High School, 10 -10.

Hoping to build on their success, Father Young said the goal remains to raise awareness and interest in priestly vocations and show priests in a different context. "There's never been a team quite like this," Father Young explained.

Back for a second season, the pastor said the priests and seminarians have brand new black jerseys reading "DC Padres" across the front donated by a parishioner and a three game schedule. After Sunday's game, the Padres will face the varsity team from St. Vincent Pallotti High School on Sunday, Aug. 26 at Prince George's Stadium in Bowie following a Bay Sox game at 2 p.m. And on Sunday, Sept. 23, the Padres will play the Seton All-Stars, a group of players and alumni from Seton High School at the G. Richard Pfitzer Stadium, in Woodbridge, Va., home of the Potomac Nationals at 4 p.m.

Discounted tickets are still available for Sunday's game against St. Mary's Ryken High School. Fans who are interested should print off the coupon on the DC Padres web site, www.dcpadres.com and bring it to the stadium any time prior to the seventh inning of the Blue Crabs game. The cost is $5 and includes the first game as well as the DC Padres.