My Fairfield Years

In the fall of 1978, when I arrived at Fairfield University – a small Jesuit school in Connecticut – wanting to learn how to write I joined the staff of the school newspaper “The Fairfield Mirror.”

Interviewing Head Baseball Coach and Athletic Director C. Donald Cook about the upcoming baseball season was my first assignment.

Unproven and unqualified, having been on campus two weeks, I went to meet one of the more influential persons there. But, in Cook’s modest office in the Fairfield gym, an obscure freshman and the Athletic Director were on equal footing.

After years of playing their “home” games off campus, Cook’s enthusiasm furthermore for the baseball team’s new on campus home field taught me the first Ignatian lesson I learned at Fairfield: always cultivate gratitude.

Confident yet grateful after my experience with Cook, I covered the baseball, soccer, and rugby teams, and after a month, Sports Editor Steve Motta ‘79 gave me my own column, “Athlete of the Week.”

While writing for “The Mirror” was an education, I also appreciated the formal education I received.

Walter Petry’s Western Civilization classes my freshman year were my most memorable academic experiences at Fairfield.

His legendary quizzes were learning crucibles, unlike anything we had ever experienced. My heart sank when I received a 63 on the first quiz, but my mark was stellar compared to another classmate’s 29.

Mr. Petry paced the floor, pleading with us for a good answer, with his left hand scrunched up as if to snatch up the first decent one, which came his way.

His ardor for knowledge impressed my increasingly restless soul. One spring night freshman year, unable to concentrate on the books assigned to me, I walked to Nyselius Library and took out Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

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Thomas Wolfe.

Wolfe’s writing about a young writer establishing himself in Manhattan fueled my desire to take advantage of Fairfield’s proximity to the city. I visited my brother Jim and sister-in-law Susan there a couple times a year.

Accompanying them to art galleries, museums, movie theaters, bars, and restaurants dramatically enlarged my world. I wanted to absorb the visual, gustatory, and auditory sensations I experienced even if they almost overwhelmed me.

I studied Jim’s practical lessons. When you hail a cab, step off the curb and shoot your arm straight in the air. And he taught me how to handle cabbies to get where I was going without being taken for a ride. Jim finally taught me one last memorable lesson: never eat at a Needick’s.

Better equipped to live in the “real” world, I didn’t feel like an adult until I was the “Mirror” Sports Editor my senior year.

Striving to achieve the high standards “Mirror” Editor-in-Chief, the estimable Michael “Doc” Dougherty ‘79 established our freshman year, my good friend Carl Gustafson ’82 nonetheless carved his own trail as Editor-in-Chief.

Brimming over with enthusiasm, always running at full speed and volume, challenging us to reach higher, Carl brought out the best in us.

Encouraging us to play softball, go to dinner, support fundraising efforts, enter group academic and athletic contests together, Carl fostered a camaraderie, which brought us closer to each other than we had been to any other group of people.

That camaraderie informing us, and doughnuts, pizza, and Coke fueling us, each Sunday we worked into Monday morning and put out one of the best college papers nationally.

My time as a “Mirror” Editor finally prepared me to live in the world, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Although journalism seemed a natural progression, I sensed I wanted to do something else with my life.

What that could be began to emerge during my senior year when I rediscovered my profound appreciation for what I took for granted; Fairfield is a Jesuit school. Its Jesuitness drew this Georgetown Prep graduate to it.

And the Jesuit Volunteer Corps’ (JVC) Jesuitness encouraged me to apply to the JVC: to do a year of service living and working alongside poor people.

But I believed going into the JVC was buying me time until I figured out what I wanted to do.

However, after a year working at a Latino parish in San Antonio and second year working at a homeless shelter in New Orleans, I was on a journey I couldn’t have anticipated taking as a white male, who grew up in relatively affluent circumstances.

This journey has taken me from the St. Thomas Housing Projects in New Orleans to lean-to shacks in Pickens County, AL, from marching from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to protest the death penalty alongside Sister Helen Prejean to working to overcome racism in Birmingham, AL with people, who marched with Dr. King, from working with undocumented immigrants in Houston to working with African Americans in Washington, DC’s storefront churches.

If Campus Minister, the late Kim McElaney, herself a JVC alumna, hadn’t invited a JVC recruiter to campus in the fall of 1981, none of this would have happened.

But when you promote justice in the service of faith, you encounter more opposition than support, more defeats than victories, and you rely upon your steadfast friends’ unconditional love to remain faithful.

In my case, I rely upon my “Mirror” family. We’ve celebrated weddings and births. We’re happy when our friends’ children do well, but listen compassionately when our friends’ children struggle. We comfort each other as our parents’ health declines, and consoled each other when these parents finally gave up the ghost.

Numerous reunions have strengthened our bonds, and our Fairfield experience just gets better. At our most recent reunion in October 2015, something magical happened when I re-connected with Mary- Margaret Walsh ’84. A past Alumni Association President, she was a “Mirror” Arts and Entertainment and Executive Editor.

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Mary- Margaret and I in a Cleveland Hotel, en route to Chicago for Jim and Susan’s oldest son Ian’s July 2016 wedding.

We took a chance. And traveling between Connecticut and Washington, DC, 35 years after we met, we fell in love, and are engaged to marry.

In the end then, after all these years, Fairfield gave me love and companionship. Who could ask for more?


My Uncle, Blue Moon Odom, and The ’69 All- Star Game


Uncle Bill stands with my Aunt Peg and his daughters at a photo taken at my cousin John’s wedding. A wonderful woman, Aunt Peg was often a baseball widow.

News Washington will host the 2018 Major League Baseball All- Star game recalls July 1969, the last time the game was played here. My Uncle Bill, cousin Chris and I had box seats at RFK for that game, still one of my life’s great thrills.

I was 9 then and devoted to the Washington Senators. Ted Williams managed the ’69 Senators, which largely explains why they went 86-76 that season, enjoying their best record in their all-too-brief- 11 year run here.

Roughly coinciding with my first 11 years, the Senators’ run here ended September 30, 1971. When the Senators left to become the Texas Rangers, it was one of the toughest blows I endured during my childhood.

I listened to each Senators game on a transistor radio, typically nodding off somewhere around the 6th inning. The next morning I retrieved THE WASHINGTON POST from our porch and, and kneeling in our hallway, I read the recap of the previous night’s game.

Going to any Senators’ game was thrilling, but going to an All- Star game elevated my enthusiasm to another level. It was the first and so far the last time I sat in box seats. They were by far the coolest things that 9 year old ever experienced.

The game was scheduled for a Tuesday night, but it rained buckets, and all we could do was watch it rain. The game postponed, we were back Wednesday for the last All- Star game played during the day.

Sitting in those seats and watching players in the blindingly full sunshine, it felt almost as if we were in a balcony watching a movie. There was something surreal and dreamlike about the experience because watching a game from box seats was novel to me.

I recall some things: my hero from the Senators Frank Howard hit a homer and so did Johnny Bench. I remember the National League won, but I went on line to learn the final score: 9-3. One moment from watching the game stands out, however.

Uncle Bill nudged and directed me to look at the right field bullpen where Blue Moon Odom warmed. He pitched on three ‘70’s A’s championship teams, and going into the break that season, Blue Moon was 14 -3 with a 2.41 era.

You don’t want to miss him, my Uncle’s gesture said. He knew any kid wanted to be able tell their friends they saw a guy named Blue Moon, and the A’s garish green shirts, yellow pants, and white shoes would make a lasting impression. But Uncle Bill also wanted me to know about the numbers behind the colorful nickname and uniform.

I had forgotten how Blue Moon fared that day, and discovered on line he gave up 5 runs in 1/3 of an inning. Recalling that doesn’t diminish the connection I felt to my Uncle at that moment or the warm memory of it that abides.

Although I was grateful to my Uncle for taking me to the game then, I appreciate more now how special and rare and appropriate it was Uncle Bill took me to the game. He was my dad’s older brother, and spent his career with the state department. We only saw him and his family sporadically in between postings overseas.

It was especially fortuitous Uncle Bill was here that summer because he was perfect guide and companion with whom to go to any baseball game, but especially an All- Star game. In the 30’s and 40’s, Uncle Bill was an outstanding middle infielder, who was the Captain of the Georgetown Prep Varsity and played Varsity baseball at Georgetown and semi-professionally.

As a fan, he appreciated good players, teams, and plays across generations. What he saw on the ball field he recalled 30, 40, 50 years later as if in the moment. No one loved going to a ball game more than Uncle Bill.

He remained astonished at a great throw, amazing catch, disputed call and a blown chance, and grateful to be among the crowds that witnessed them. I have happily inherited these capacities from Uncle Bill.

If I’m lucky enough to be a Nats Park for the 2018 All- Star game, I’ll recall a man, who got me the best seats in town for a once in a Blue Moon game.