Eighteen active Philadelphia Police Officers are huddled together in front of the dugout at LaSalle High School’s state-of-the-art Ward Field on a humid Sunday afternoon in August. Most of the players are hunched over with their hands on their knees and listening intently as their manager below them, resting on one knee in the dirt, looks up at his team with his circular-framed eye glasses and reminds them that they were good enough to reach the championship game, and are good enough to win it.
Meet the Philadelphia Police Blue Sox: an amateur baseball team composed entirely of Philly’s finest, ranging in age from 22 to 50. The team is preparing to take the field against the Cherry Hill Phillies in the championship game of an 18-and-older, New Jersey-based, independent baseball league for working class heroes with a hobby. A league full of weekend warriors.
“Where’s Cappy?” The Team Manager Bill Stephan, celebrating his 30th year as a cop, asks while scanning the players faces. From the back of the group, along the protective fence on the dugouts rim, a wide man with a sweat-stain halo forming around the crown of his cap speaks clearly, slowly and in a low tone.
“Same things he just said,” Joe Gillespie, 42, the ace starting pitcher begins. “Make this guy throw pitches… lay off the umpires… you know, just stay in the game. The whole game. No clowning around, no talking in here about work. We have the rest of the afternoon to talk about that. We can hit this guy, we proved it last time we played them. Let’s just give it everything.”
“Nine innings, 27 outs,” added PAL officer and three-hole hitter Tony D’Aulerio, 50, clapping his hands together.
“Let’s go play hard fellas,” Timmy Stephan, 24, says with black war paint outlining his high cheekbones.
“Alright guys,” the skipper regains the group’s attention with a direct tone, then lowers it. “We dedicate this year to all the fallen cops, OK? Dedicate the playoffs to everybody, OK? We play this game for them…do it for yourselves, and do it for them…Let’s get it in.”
Both players and coaches, in their matching gray and blue uniforms, all join hands at the middle of the huddle.
“Listen to me, and repeat after me, OK?”
Repeating after the skipper, the team shouts in unison.
“SKERSKI! CASSIDY! MCDONALD! NAZARIO! LICZBINSKI! SIMPSON! PAWLOWSKI! HEROES!”