The pedophile-priest scandal embroiling Queens has now infected its favorite team: Two men say Roman Catholic priest James Smith molested them in an otherwise unused press box at Shea Stadium during Met games in the early ’70s, says Michael G. Dowd, an attorney representing a growing number of alleged victims of the reverend.
“I’ve had reports he’d take children to Shea Stadium and molest them in a press box he had access to at the time,” Dowd tells the Voice. “I can’t tell you if it happened regularly, but it happened more than one time.”
The Brooklyn Diocese has relieved Smith of his duties at St. Kevin’s Church in Flushing, where he had served as pastor since 1989. It’s been reported that a bishop read a letter to parishioners saying that Smith denies the allegations. Smith is currently receiving “counseling and treatment for depression” at an out-of-state facility, according to statements released by the diocese. Last week, prosecutors in Brooklyn finally convinced diocese officials to hand over all recorded allegations of sex abuse made against its priests, dating back decades, for possible criminal prosecution.
It is unclear how the priest allegedly gained access to private media seating at Shea, and stadium officials weren’t available for comment. Dowd wouldn’t elaborate on the allegations, but he said they were from two independent accounts. He declined to release the names of the men.
If the allegations prove to be true, Shea officials weren’t the only ones fooled by the priest’s supposedly good intentions. Starting in the late 1980s, Smith worked for Queens County, first being appointed to an advisory panel formed to help young nonviolent offenders, then hired by the district attorney to counsel domestic-violence victims. He was on the payroll until late March, when the first allegations of abuse surfaced.
“One thing you can say about these pedophiles,” says Dowd, “is that they are very, very, very good at deceiving people, particularly their victims. I’m not so shocked he’d be able to do this.”
DIE, EVIL MITT, DIE!
We all know how superstitious baseball players can be, but it would seem hard to top our eyewitness view of Met shortstop Rey Ordoñez‘s physical dismemberment of his infielder’s glove last Saturday after his three errors helped the Montreal Expos sink the Mets 9-8. There we were, trying to explain to John Valentin that perhaps his difficulties at first base were a result of Todd Zeile‘s karma still hanging around the infield, when Ordoñez stormed through the near-empty clubhouse and flung his offending piece of leather at the wall, hard, as he went past us on the way to the trainer’s room. A minute later, he returned with a pair of scissors, picked up the glove, threw it down on a table and went into emergency surgery. Dr. Zorba would have admired his technique, too: First went the laces, then the webbing, then the fingers, and finally the strap in the back. “Bad glove,” said Ordoñez, stuffing the pieces into the clubhouse trash can.
In trying to figure out how a guy who made just 22 errors in 342 games over the past three years could suddenly accumulate seven in the first two weeks of 2002, let’s just say that maybe the Mets should have tried to discourage Ordoñez’s off-season bulk-up program, which has made him, yes, more muscular (great, now he’ll fly out to the warning track instead of the middle of the outfield), but perhaps also less flexible in the bending and stretching departments so vital to a shortstop’s game. “Cut my hands off, too—get new ones at Kmart,” joked Ordoñez.
If that’s where he got the weights that may have caused all this, here’s hoping the bankrupt chain closes all its New York stores before he can get there.
GOING, GOING, GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
With five home runs in his first fortnight as a Yankee, Robin Ventura was slugging better than ballyhooed behemoth Jason Giambi. Though we realize it’s a fluke, the third baseman does possess some timely pop—he leads the majors with 15 career grand slams. On the plus side, “Baseball’s Forgotten Man” (as one fan site would have it) owns six Gold Gloves; on the negative side, his hitting evaporated in 2000 and 2001, and he’s slower on the base paths than a gimpy Don Zimmer. “If I’m walking, all I have to do is lean forward to simulate [running],” jokes Ventura. The droll ex-Met was so easygoing in spring training that Willie Randolph dubbed him “Cool Breeze,” while Lee Mazzilli nicknamed him “Flatline” (not, we trust, in reference to his .237 batting average last season).
Yet despite his placid demeanor, Robby V. attracts violence like David Wells attracts fat jokes. In 1993 he charged the mound after a Nolan Ryan beanball, only to be put in a headlock by the 46-year-old hurler and repeatedly punched in the face. And during a 1996 game, his own teammate, Frank “the Big Hurt” Thomas, socked him following a heated exchange. These days, Ventura keeps a lower profile: As he says of testy tosser El Duque, “I’m not going to argue with him. I’ve never escaped from a country.” Ventura will have to escape from a two-year slump, however, if he wants to play anywhere next season.
CONTRIBUTORS: Joe Pappalardo, Billy Altman, J. Yeh
SPORTS EDITOR: Ward Harkavy