When Thomas Kearney III was a young boy, he accidentally hit a nun in the head with an errant throw while playing catch in the St. Bernadette schoolyard.
"My father said when he found out about it, 'There's no absolution for this!' " Kearney said.
Kearney figured he would soon be in hell. He ended up at a ball game.
The annual Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) national convention is in Philadelphia this week. Most picture SABR members as stat-heads and mathematicians. Really, most are like Kearney, baseball devotees with a remarkable memory for the game.
When Kearney, now 73, was a boy in Drexel Hill, tickets to the Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium) grandstand cost a quarter. There, he stood silent witness to eight decades of Phillies history. He was there when that stadium closed and Veterans Stadium opened. When the Vet closed, he was there for that, too, and when Citizens Bank Park opened.
He listened to away games, when old radio announcers would read play-by-play from teletype. He can name the Phillies' old sponsors: Ballantine beer, Tastykake, and Atlantic Richfield. He can recall at-bats from decades ago.
He saw two no-hitters. The longest home run hit in Veterans Stadium sailed right over his head. When Game 5 of the 2008 World Series was suspended, Kearney got the "Bud Selig flu." But, though he had a fever of 102 and "looked like a dead mallard," he came back to see the Phillies win.
Kearney, a union pipe fitter for 44 years, has been to games with all five Thomas Kearneys now, Phillies fans all. In his lifetime, the Phillies have 5,617 wins and 6,003 losses. He doesn't mind.
"You were at a game," he said. "To me, it's going to church. And sometimes better than going to church."