For the next decade John and Linda lived in the caretaker's cottage on the campus. They raised five children, all of whom attended Clairbourn. Linda died of breast cancer in 1987, and two years later John married Karen Purdy, whom he had met when she brought her two children to Clairbourn. Together they had a daughter, Kimmy.
Two of Paciorek's sons, Pete and Mack, played professional baseball, and though neither made the majors, it was while watching Pete in Dodgers camp in 1998 that John discovered his next passion. Appalled by what he considered the improper instruction being given to Pete and his teammates, John began writing about what he considered the correct ways to play the game, with an emphasis on simple mechanics. The result was a series of essays he has since had published in a book called The Principle of Baseball
and All There Is to Know About Hitting.
Where once he had shunned education, Paciorek now consumed it. He bought 24 hours' worth of books on tape about Albert Einstein and went through them. Twice. He began studying Greek philosophers and found that their teachings applied to baseball. That spurred him to write another book, this one unpublished, called Plato and Socrates: Baseball's Wisest Fans. He suddenly had a voracious appetite for knowledge, but the manner in which he applied it was familiar. "The endeavor I think about more than anything," he says, "is baseball."
In his den, with the world still dark outside, Paciorek's mind is stimulated anew every morning. After musing over Baker Eddy's Science and Health, he turns to writing, sometimes about baseball and sometimes not. He makes notes and then sits quietly for a while. "I try to get myself in the right frame of mind to cope with what the world has to offer," he says. By 7:30 a.m. he is off to school.
The spacious Clairbourn athletic facilities include a baseball field where, one day in late May, Coach P is acting as pitcher in a game with two dozen fourth-graders. The instruction he offers is as gentle as the pitches he lobs toward the plate. Afterward he heads to an office tacked wall-to-wall with family photos, baseball cards of his brother Tom and, above a filing cabinet, a picture of himself in his Colt .45s uniform that his eldest son recently gave him.
He is still trim, though his workouts are mostly limited to 45 minutes a day of stretching. Even his once vaunted appetite is gone. It takes him more than an hour to eat a salad at a nearby restaurant while he traces his journey from superstar athlete and devout Catholic in Michigan to doting grandfather and Christian Scientist in Southern California.
Paciorek leaves the restaurant and drives five minutes for one of his frequent visits to San Marino High School, where Mack is the baseball coach. Next fall Jack, one of John's 11 grandchildren, will be a kindergartner at Clairbourn, and John will be there to teach him, just as he has been for all eight of his own kids and stepchildren.
Then it's back to the house on Hidden Pine Drive. It is his wife's childhood home, which they bought in 2004 from her parents. John thinks they might get twice what they paid for it, but he is in no hurry to leave. Kimmy will be a senior in the fall at nearby La Salle High, and John and Karen, an administrator at Clairbourn, can walk to work if they want.
He is 67, with a tan and an air of contentment. Where once he felt he belonged in the majors, he now believes that missing out on the long career that his younger brother enjoyed was "a blessing beyond compare," he says. "If I'd kept playing, I never would have gotten married or had kids. If I didn't have a bad back, I might have gone to Vietnam. I might [have died there]. If I'd become a good player and gotten a lot of money, I probably would not have been wise with it. Because of everything that happened, I was forced to go searching for better things, higher things, which I found in a spiritual inclination."
Karen agrees. "He's never said to me, 'Goshdarnit, I wish I had that,'" she says. "He's grateful for the experience."