When viewed from the Schuylkill Expressway In Philadelphia, Pa., heading west toward the Manayunk exit, St. John’s Church presents a magnificent picture of dignity and grace. This gray-stoned high-steepled beauty surrounded by a park made a wonderful setting for the wedding my wife and I attended in Manayunk. The ever-present swirling winds around the church only added to its mystique and beauty.
Once inside we were overwhelmed with the magnitude of the enormous high-ceiling design. The sound of the organ rang to the heavens as the bridal party proceeded to walk toward the altar.
At the church, I ran into an old friend, Casper Barrata, who happened to be the Deacon assigned to the Mass. Now 73, Casper was a brilliant and talented fastball softball pitcher back in the Men’s Leagues of Philadelphia in the mid-60s. I did not recognize the now silver-haired fellow until my brother-in-law John Kay mentioned his name to me! After a very pleasant greeting and praising each other on how good the other was at playing the game back then, Casper asked if I remembered a letter of encouragement I had written to him back in 1964. It appeared Casper fell on hard times pitching, as pitchers sometimes do, and he wasn’t pitching too well for a period of time. I did not recall the letter, but he said, “Yes, I still have it, and I continue to read it anytime things aren’t going too well.” He went on to say that he has read the letter many times over during the past 40 some years, and the situation always seemed to improve. I was humbled and speechless!
He continued, “You don’t remember?” I said, “Sadly, no, I don’t.” But I did ask if I could have a copy of the letter. He said he would email it to me. After Casper served communion at the Murphy wedding, we met on the steps of the church. Casper came up to me and presented the letter. He lived a block from the church and ran home to get it after the Mass. The envelope was faded and turning yellow, and so was the letter inside. That letter had to be nearly 50 years old.
In simple terms, the letter read:
These hard times are temporary! Maintain your passion for the game. Never quit and you’ll be back on top again shortly. Hang in there!
Bottom line: Casper Barrata once again became the best pitcher in the League. He also remained to be a thorn in our team’s side every time he pitched against us, and at the end of his great career, he was inducted into our community’s Sports Hall of Fame.
by Jack Bottinger