Growing up in the West End of the city, there was only one thing to do, play sports.
Back in the 50’s and 60’s you were either a Tiger fan or a Yankee fan and when we congregated at the James St. ball field, there was no picking of teams. We already knew which team we were on. Yankee fans or Tiger fans, that’s the only two teams that existed in the West End. There was a Baltimore or White Sox fan but they would have to choose which team they had to play on.
We had a lot of fun but we played to win. We didn’t want to embarrass Al Kaline or Mickey Mantle by losing to that “other” team. Almost all of us were Catholics and as such, we went to church every Sunday morning. Some of us were altar boys and we had to take turns serving Mass. We used to take our ball gloves and balls and bats to church so that we could scamper off to the ball field as soon as Mass was done. I could remember Father Valerosi getting so upset that we wouldn’t clean up when it was over. We would be grabbing our ball stuff at the same time we were taking off our altar boy clothes, so that we wouldn’t be late getting to the field.
Then we would start playing a nine inning ball game with, usually, Carman Caputo pitching for the Yanks. He was a miserable pitcher. He had a million mile an hour fastball and if you got hit with one, the bruise would be there for weeks. If you managed to hit the ball and get on, the aim was to get to second base and in scoring position so that if he had a couple of wild pitches, we could score at least a few runs.
When they came up, we had to put up with guys like Len Fera, who could knock the ball out of the park at will. He was the only guy to ever hit the rocks in right field and they were right beside the train tracks, a long way out. For the right handed hitters, we had a high fence that we had to cope with. Being a short fence, most of us were able to put it over by the time we hit grade six, and that was only if we could make contact with a Caputo fastball.
Throughout all those years I think that our records were pretty even and we all went on to play Little League against the East End, Korah, and other areas of the city. Down home baseball eventually faded out and we went on to play fastball, and as the years caught up to us, slow pitch.
Back then we didn’t have organizers, we didn’t have parents making sure that their kid got equal playing time, or even yearend banquets to give out trophies. We played the game because we loved it and we took every chance we could to play it. No squabbles and the odd fight but we stayed friends and we still live and breathe baseball to this day.