McKeesport Nun Has Long Been A Diamond On The Infield
The Opening Day commotion was building. Every spring, PNC Park on Pittsburgh’s North Shore is alive with optimism and hope for the upcoming baseball season. Despite the team’s nearly two decades of below-par winning percentages, patrons still flock with excitement. Pirates baseball fans are just as tough and loyal as any team’s anywhere.
On a picture-perfect, mid-50’s, blue-skied day, just between the home team’s dugout and home plate a unique gathering grew. Half a dozen silver-haired ladies excitedly converged near a concrete camera pit near the field. More joined in on the festivities. On the crisp, freshly-shorn grass, well-dressed baseball executives, on-field entertainers and others crowded ever so close. Something was a buzz. Was a world-class, A-List celebrity making a surprise appearance? A closer peek revealed a lively, energetic, lovely older lady in a wheelchair. She smiled and waved at what was becoming a rock star’s entrance.
Some of her fans started talking loud enough for observers to hear. It turns out that Sister Mary Bride Diamond, 80, was the Pirates’ Opening Day “Fan of the Game” and endless throngs were elated to be there for the honor.
When she was a child, Mary Bride played baseball with her brothers and other kids in her McKeesport neighborhood. The sport became her first passion. Mary Bride became so talented that she became a catcher for a Pittsburgh-area fast-pitch softball team. While she protected the plate with pride, she also played almost every other position during her vaunted career. Pitching, it seemed, was the only position she hadn’t mastered.
Last December, a National Catholic News article detailed how Ms. Diamond once had a tryout for the famed “All American Girls Professional Baseball League.” That organization was forever celebrated in the delightful Tom Hanks/Gina Davis vehicle “A League of Their Own.” More than half a century ago, not only did Ms. Diamond swing, run and field well for scouts, she was one of only three women from the region chosen from a lot of 125.
Ms. Diamond, a teenager in the late 1940’s, faced a quandary that really doesn’t happen much today. Since both of her parents had passed away, the youngest of eight’s future endeavors were left in the hands of her oldest brother, Jack. She asked if she could join the barnstormers. Her brother would change her life forever by saying no.
“He said that she had to finish high school,” said Janet Lahlou, who beamed as she talked about her great-aunt. Lahou dashed around, smiling from ear-to-ear snapping photos of the occasion.
As it oftentimes happens, fate dashes one dream and opens the door for another. After graduating high school, Ms. Diamond got a job with the G.C. Murphy Company. A former high school teacher believed Mary Bride possessed great personal integrity and should look into something more rewarding. The teacher encouraged her to visit the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Pittsburgh. Soon, the catcher who was used to getting spiked in the leg or slicing game-winning hits from the dish became a Nun.
For the past 59 years, Mary Bride Diamond has served Pittsburgh’s Sisters of Charity infirmary, but she has never forgotten her first love: baseball.
Lahou said it was that newspaper article from last year that led to this moment. The story indicated how Diamond secretly wished to throw out the first pitch at a Pirate game. Not only did a telephone call from the Pirates happen, they asked about her availability for Opening Day.
Unfortunately, Diamond was unable to toss out the first pitch from her wheelchair, but she was able to visit with the team while on the field and receive several signed baseballs from stars such as Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutcheon and Pittsburgh’s own Neil Walker.
“She’s blessing each of them,” said Lahlou with a chuckle. Indeed, Diamond, mere feet from her namesake, was casting God’s good wishes on a team that many fans would agree could use them.
“This is a great day,” said one of the Sisters of Charity Nuns who couldn’t be more grateful for their colleague. When Mary Bride was introduced, the standing-room-only crowd of 39,585 erupted in joyful applause. She waved graciously, a smile as bright as the brand new home plate behind her.
In the article from last December, Mary Bride said, “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.”
And on Opening Day 2012, God led off the game with Mary Bride Diamond.