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Ruth was sometimes allowed to rejoin his family or was placed at St. James's Home, a supervised residence with work in the community, but he was always returned to St. Mary's. He was rarely visited by his family; his mother died when he was 12 and, by some accounts, he was permitted to leave St. Mary's only to attend the funeral. How Ruth came to play baseball there is uncertain: according to one account, his placement at St. Mary's was due in part to repeatedly breaking Baltimore's windows with long hits while playing street ball; by another, he was told to join a team on his first day at St. Mary's by the school's athletic director, Brother Herman, becoming a catcher even though left-handers rarely play that position. During his time there he also played third base and shortstop, again unusual for a left-hander, and was forced to wear mitts and gloves made for right-handers. He was encouraged in his pursuits by the school's Prefect of Discipline, Brother Matthias Boutlier, a native of Nova Scotia. A large man, Brother Matthias was greatly respected by the boys both for his strength and for his fairness. For the rest of his life, Ruth would praise Brother Matthias, and his running and hitting styles closely resembled his teacher's. Ruth stated, "I think I was born as a hitter the first day I ever saw him hit a baseball. " The older man became a mentor and role model to Ruth; biographer Robert W. Creamer commented on the closeness between the two:

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