The nun, the nurse, and the Wises

These are trying times all over the world. I hope this light-hearted stroll down memory lane with the 1967 Philadelphia Phillies will have a positive effect on your day. 

My assignment was a simple one. I figured it would take probably five minutes and then I could concentrate on the Phillies game at hand. 

Mother Helen Matthew, our principal at St. Peter Celestine grade school just a Dick Allen blast off of Kings Highway in Cherry Hill, asked me to visit the nurse at Connie Mack Stadium. Mother Helen knew I was going to the game and was a huge Phillies fan and said it would be fun.

Visiting the nurse? Fun? I’ll bite.

Sure, whatever Mother Helen Matthew asks. I knew she had a network of spies everywhere. And the last thing you want to do is fib to a nun. You don’t want to upset Mother Helen. Her face turned into a raging molten lava of brilliant red when she was upset. I’ve seen it once before and I never wanted to experience it again. 

I made my way down to the stadium nurse’s office. What would I find? Was this a trap?  Am I being setup?

After walking through a labyrinth of rooms at 21st & Lehigh, I met my intended subject. Her name was Joan Rosney. And what happened with the visit remains with me forever. It was exciting, exhilarating and certainly different. Keep in mind, I’m an eighth grader, for Pete’s sake. 

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Sr. Helen Matthew Keough

Joan greeted me and said Mother Helen had called to warn her I was coming. She chuckled, and then the ice was broken.

Another woman was in the office reading The Daily News, with the Inky on deck at the desk. She was a beautiful brunette with a few freckles dotting her porcelain skin. She was wearing a gray-print dress.

Joan asked me about the game. I told her I was disappointed that my favorite Phillies player, Rick Wise, wasn’t on the mound. She said that’s a shame. Isn’t he pitching on Sunday? I said yes, but I didn’t know if I could make it.

The newspaper reader – the beautiful brunette – blurted out, rather rudely I might add,  that Wise was overrated. That there were other players I could pick as a favorite.

Then I went into my 13-year-old petulant rant.

Rick Wise is the future of this franchise. He has outstanding stuff and after Jim Bunning, Chris Short, he’s the most reliable young pitcher we have. You know he won his first start after Bunning perfect-gamed the Mets. He was 18.

She replied with a wry smile, “I’m still not sold on him. He gives up too many hits per inning and his control is sometimes shaky.

I was stunned, like 1964 stunned, almost not believing what I was hearing. Impressed that she was talking baseball, but upset that she was trashing Rick Wise, of all people.

Enter my never-surrender mode.

He’s still a young pitcher for God’s sake. He’s 21 and yes, there’s room for improvement, but I just think he’s the best we’ve got. He’s got a great fastball and his strikeouts are high. And there isn’t anything you’re gonna say or do to change my mind.

Joan tried to referee the situation with a smile. I asked her under my breath if that lady (the brunette) was general manager John Quinn‘s daughter or something.

Trying to suppress a laugh, she said no she’s not.

I told both Joan and the mystery woman that I wrote a letter to the Phillies beat writer for the Daily News, Bill Conlin, blasting him for calling Wise a hippie.”What does that have to do in today’s game?” I asked. “I think he’s fine just the way he is. The best is yet to come.” 

The brunette heard me and smiled.

Joan passed me an envelope and said that I could open it when I left the office. Two steps outside the office, I ran back to hug her and show my gratitude, thanking her for the gift of a lifetime. She left me tax passes to go to Phillies games for the rest of the 1967 season. You paid a quarter to sit anywhere in the upper deck or in certain areas of the lower deck.

Oh, my God this is heaven. I can never thank you enough, Joan.

While back in the office, Joan had one more request. Come back to visit after the 8th inning. “Sure.” At that point, I would have mowed Joan Rosney’s lawn for life if she asked. 

Wait a minute, I have one question for you, Joan. How do you know Mother Helen Matthew?

She’s my sister.

I stuttered, stammered, gasped and thanked her again. I felt like the luckiest person on the face of the earth. Little did I know what was waiting for me around the corner.

I headed back to Ms. Rosney’s office for what I termed the nightcap of the day. When I got there I noticed that the beautiful brunette woman in the gray-print dress also owned a million-dollar smile.

 Joan encouraged her to tell me. 

Tell me what! Oh my God, has Rick Wise been traded?

No Frank, I’m Susan. I want you to know how much I appreciate your support for my husband. And so does he.”

Rick Wise popped out from behind an office door with a signed ball, a handshake and a thank you.

Flushed with emotion and tongue-tied, I could only apologize to Mrs. Wise. “I am so sorry that I spoke to you that way, acting like a jerk. Please accept my apology. I would have never spoken that way to you if…

Susan Wise smiled, and hugged me and passed me a card. She said if I ever needed tickets, to please call her. She said she would be offended if I didn’t call.

That season, I called on occasion. Geez, the first time I asked for six tickets. I thought that was too many. She said don’t worry about it.

I would bring flowers or candy for her when Rick pitched, hopefully as a good luck gesture. She always smiled, thanked me and told me to save my money. 

One Saturday night, Wise was the star of the game. Susan pushed me from the Phillies locker door to accompany Rick to the dugout. So, down the long walkway to the field we went. I got to sit down next to him while he was on the air. I could barely hear the questions or answers, but Wise was a good speaker and chose his words carefully.

The following Monday at school, I was mobbed by my friends. “You were on the Phillies star of the game. I heard it. How did you do that?” 

I don’t know. All I know that I was lucky enough to be surrounded by caring people like Susan and Rick Wise and Joan Rosney and her sister Mother Helen Matthew. I felt blessed as I do now when thinking about that glorious day and the season of 1967. I think about it every season the Phillies play baseball.

I’m thinking about it today.

Frank Corsoe retired as sports editor of the Blade of Toledo after a 42-year career in journalism.