ST. JOHN — Sister Mary Jo Sobieck did it with her signature flare, bouncing the ball off her bicep before throwing a perfect strike to 11-year-old Sylas Pollack.
The Marian Catholic high school theology teacher and sports fan threw out the first pitch for St. John Youth Baseball’s opening day Saturday. Before, after and between warm up pitches in the bullpen and after the pitch, Sobieck signed autographs and took pictures with players, coaches and parents.
“Sports teaches so much character,” she said. “It’s made me who I am and made me part of a bigger team, which is religious life. It’s wonderful. Anything I can do to encourage that is fantastic.”
She became a celebrity after her first pitch at Guaranteed Rate Field for the White Sox’s “Marian Catholic Night” last season. Video of that bicep bounce and glove pop went viral and led to a Topps baseball card and a bobblehead.
“The bigger the story gets, the smaller I become because it’s much bigger than me. God works in mysterious ways,” Sobieck said. “It’s surreal. I’m just taking it all in stride and trying to integrate all of it and allowing it to be a platform to speak about what real matters.
“The bobblehead is me. The baseball card is me. But it’s not me. We want God to work through me to point to something bigger. We’re all here to engage the human family and to help the next person in line.”
Also, Hanover Central fifth-grader Dorothy Leep sang the national anthem.
Mike Gavin, who’s in charge of fundraising for St. John Youth Baseball, is a 2001 Marian graduate and former baseball player. He reached out to the school and Sobieck agreed to throw the pitch.
It’s one of many requests she’s been getting over the past year.
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“(My students) are like ‘Sister, you’re out being famous, again. We miss when you’re gone,’” Sobieck said. “The fact that I threw a strike and it went viral, kids who graduated before said ‘It’s about time the world knows what we’ve known.’”
St. John Youth Baseball president Joe Bonato said opening day is an annual mile marker for a league that’s grown exponentially over the last few seasons. The organization has 550 players this year spread over six divisions. The league just donated over $4,500 to Jesse Hernandez, a Lynwood police officer and league dad who was diagnosed non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
The league is selling tickets to a White Sox game on May 17 to raise funds for other projects.
“Everyone likes to say we’re just town ball but we’re not,” Bonato said. “Our numbers continue to rise. Our travel program has grown tremendously. We started off with two teams and now we’re up to 11. I wanted to change the culture. I wanted to keep kids playing in St. John.”
Sponsors for the five fields were given plaques. League commissioners and coaches were recognized. A new brick entryway is being constructed and league’s Babe Ruth field got a new scoreboard.
Pollack, the catcher for the 11u Tomahawks traveling team, caught Sobieck’s pregame bullpen session, as well. He said Sobieck was a better pitcher than some of his teammates.
“It hurt my hand a couple times,” he said. “It was awesome.”
Sobieck played sports growing up and coached boys volleyball at Marian. She said the chance to travel and throw out the first pitch at events like Saturdays has been a welcome reminder of her athletic past.
“I never imagined that God would integrate this gift of mine now, when I’m 50-years-old,” she said. “Every opportunity I have to come to a complex like this, it’s wonderful. It’s just another way of preaching.”