With the advent of the 53rd Charlestown Little League season, I can’t help but reminisce about my years as a Little Leaguer. My dad spent an inordinate amount of time with me and my older brother Denny (and as many kids that could fit into his red Dodge Dart) helping us improve our hitting and fielding skills, as well as increase our baseball knowledge. It was quality time I’ve grown to treasure.
When I played Little League in the 1960’s, there was an American League and a National League and the games were played at Barry Playground (the “Oily”) and Ryan Playground (the “Neck”). The chalked homerun line at the “Oily” allowed players to discretely take away would-be homers and the small hill in left field, more often than not, would induce a calamitous spill of anyone chasing a fly ball. The “Neck” alternately featured a variety of outfield boundaries (including the same chalked line), such as orange mesh netting and green wooden slats (held together with chicken wire) before eventually settling on a typical chain link fence.
For the players, itchy wool uniforms and well-worn stirrup socks were standard issue, as were a set of sliding pads (which were fastened around each thigh with a lace). There was no aluminum bat, wrist band, eye black, batting glove, elbow and ankle pad, clip-on sunglasses or other accessory that today’s Little Leaguers take for granted. The only “new” item a player received each year was a colorful baseball hat donated by the team’s sponsor. It was also left up to a parent to provide their child with a pair of cleats (optional) and a baseball glove.
My dad coached the Cronin Club and always included a nephew as one of his annual draft picks. A few of my dismayed cousins took extreme measures (e.g. hiding behind a cellar boiler, shimmying up a utility pole) whenever my dad stopped by to pick them up for practice or a game. For consecutive years, however, the Cronin Club batting lineup began with some variation of Kellys and Garvins.
During this era, the large families of the “greatest generation” kept the Little League program stocked with plenty of talented players. Most rosters included names such as LaPointe, Devlin, McLaughlin, Walsh, Allen, Doherty, Vraibel, Chisholm, Fidler, Reardon, O’Neil, Coleman, Rodriguez, O’Brien, Collins, Garceau, Yandle, Codair, Burke, Powers, McCann, O’Donnell, Washeba, Sullivan, Murphy, Fratalia, Celata, Killoran, McDonald, Gill, Collier, Carr, Gallagher, Morrissey, Tucker, Brennan, Jackson, McGonagle, Fabiano, Cullity, Martell, Skinner, Whelan, Smith, O’Callahan, Leonard and Todd (the list is endless). In particular, the powerful Teamsters teams always had more than their share of the Frank Howard (Ezekiel) and Harmon Killebrew (DeJesus) types.
Today’s Charlestown Little League includes a Major League, Triple AAA and Minor League level with more than 250 players. All of the games are played at Ryan Playground, widely considered one of the finest baseball facilities in the region, and the talent the program continues to develop has led to a rebirth in “Townie” baseball. This year promises to be one of the most exciting seasons ever; the Teamsters (who else!) are seeking their third straight championship and the competition for selection to the District All Star team is expected to be fierce.