For nearly 40 years, summer meant men’s softball in Revere, and the mecca for the game was Hill Park – a diamond that is soon slated to be demolished for the new Hill School.
While everyone agrees the school is of utmost importance, there is no denying amongst a good many residents that a lot of memories of diving catches and massive homes runs will disappear over the fence once the old Park is taken down.
“I’m 61 now and I started playing softball here at Hill Park when I was in my 20s,” said Peter DiGiulio. “That was 41 years ago. Softball was the thing to do in the summer and Hill Park was the mecca of softball for the whole area. There was softball in Everett and in Winthrop, but we supported two, 10-team leagues with 15 or 20 guys on each team. That’s about 300 people who participated just in our league.”
Lenny Orlandello, a long-time Over-40 softball league player, added, “The Over-40 league was when we really hit our peak. There were so many guys who wanted to play. If you had a date the night of a game, you went to the game and then the date. It was a great league and a game-night was the highlight of the week. The stands would be full – four deep. It was on cable TV and they even kept statistics. If you weren’t at Hill Park playing, you were there watching.”
There were leagues for those 18 and over, and also the over-40 league on Friday nights, but there was also the Sunday morning Police Officer’s League and the Revere Fire league as well.
Both Orlandello and DiGiulio said they were recently thinking about old times playing softball, prompted by the announcement of Hill Park’s demise, when they decided that they couldn’t just let Hill Park go without a proper good-bye.
“We were all saying they need the school more than we need the field, but we agreed we should have one last game before it’s all over,” said DiGiulio. “We’re old, but we figured we could go out one last time and pull a few muscles and then reminisce with friends. As we began talking about it, a lot of other people wanted to join in. Then we just decided to make it bigger and bring in anyone who wanted to say goodbye. We have something like 70 teams now that we can recall.”
The ‘One Last At Bat’ event will kick off on June 22nd at the old diamond around 10:30 a.m. and will last until no one is left.
“We’ll have people sign up when they come and I’ll have a bull horn and I’ll announce the person’s name and the era in which they played and what team they played for,” said DiGiulio. “Then, we’ll have some pitchers who will give each player one last at bat, and they’ll get to stay up there until they get a good shot. People are welcome to shag flies and talk over old times as well.”
Softball in Revere got its start through the Revere Recreation Department when former director Roger Naples instituted a men’s league in the late 1950s that really took off. Along with Ace McCarrick and Lee Rizzo, Naples guided the league to absolute prominence in the area – an event that coincided with the growing popularity of men’s summer softball all over the country.
“They started the league and it just became a craze in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s,” said Orlandello. “I’ve already gotten an e-mail from a popular umpire of the league from the late 1950s who said he and his wife plan on attending. There were a lot of celebrity all-star games too, and guys like Bobby Orr, Derek Sanderson, and Doug Flutie played here. Eddie Paladino – the current voice of the Celtics – was a regular umpire here on Friday nights.”
But no men’s softball league would be compete without the faulty lighting that produced “dark spots” in centerfield, or the colorful characters who could talk trash up to the point of near fisticuffs, and the ball boys and score keepers like Richie Scannelli. Of course, all that goes into the memory bank as well.
“The league we were in included so many different personalities,” said DiGiulio. “There were great friends and great enemies – rivalries formed that went on for years. When the JC Senators played Victor’s, you had to have a police detail.”
Added Orlandello, “It was the same thing when Victor’s played the Dublin or Hurricane Fence too. The competitive spirit was really alive here. There were friendships made and friendships broken.”
DiGiulio added that there were times when fights did break out, but everyone was able to make up afterward.
“It was another era,” he said. “You had verbal fights and occasionally a real fight just like Major League Baseball, but at the end of the game everybody could come together and share a beer. It was pretty serious business.”
The advent of the men’s over-40 league in Revere came from Charlie Henry, who got together a bunch of older men from the regular league to play in 1985. Both said that Henry was also one of the more colorful characters in the league.
“He was definitely one of the more illustrious players,” said DiGiulio. “He was colorful and was a lefthander, so he could poke it into the houses on Fernwood Place quite a bit. He even started his own team, Hurricane Fence, and they were very good.”
Unfortunately, like a lot of good things from the 1980s and before, men’s softball has seen a rapid decline in participation.
The last time a men’s league went off from Hill Park was four years ago, in 2009, and even then there were only a couple of teams.
But Orlandello reminded that it wasn’t just softball they were remembering; it was Hill Park in general, which served as the City’s greatest recreational asset for decades.
“There were so many memories of this park and so many things that went on here,” he said. “You had a great tag-football league. On a summer night 30 years ago, you would have us playing softball, and there would be two games going on in the top-flight summer basketball league, and people would be playing tennis and then the old guys would be arguing about their Bocce game. This was the place to be in the summer for years and years. Those were the days.”
Peter DiGiulio and Lenny Orlandello are shown here holding several old jerseys from the men’s Over-40 softball league – which was a staple institution at Hill Park for decades during the summer months. Both men have organized an event called ‘The Last At Bat: A Tribute to Hill Park’ this Saturday to give the park a proper good-bye before it is demolished to make way for a new school.