2nd annual Rhode Island Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame
By John Cardullo, sports writer, RINewsToday.com
This past week this writer had
an opportunity to sit down and have a candid discussion with three men’s
softball legends and soon to be Rhode Island Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame
inductees. Tom Delaney (78) of Taylor Construction and Taylor Brothers, Anthony
Calabro (71) of Taylor Construction and Barneys Shoeshine and Jim Foster (74)
of Taylor Construction and The Backstop. Each of these gentlemen played in the
“Golden Age” of softball back in the 1960’s. All played sports in their youth
and fell into slow pitch softball virtually by accident. Considering it is
traditionally a “girls” game, each one of them began by playing with friends
from their neighborhood and each became hooked.
They all came from the era of
wooden bats, flannel uniforms (imagine that in the heat of summer?), and barn
storming the region to play the best men’s softball team available and playing
for a single state championship. There were no B, C, D or E levels there was
only “A” and only one team would go to the Nationals to play.
Tom Delaney was an Army veteran
and served in Korea, where he began playing the slow pitch game. When he
returned home, he became a teacher at Warwick Vets as a history teacher and
baseball coach. “I wasn’t overly in love with the game, I learned to love it as
I began playing it over the years,” Delaney said. “it became a chance to get
some exercise, get competitive again and have fun with friends”.
Jim Foster was known as the
sponsor of the Backstop in Warwick, but what most people don’t know is that
Jimmy was considered one of the best defensive first base men in the state, and
playing and starting for Taylor Construction you better have brought your bat.
“Playing for Taylor Construction was like playing with family. Every time we
played, the place would be packed, and mostly with the wives and children of
the players. So, everyone got to know their teammates and the kids. I brought
the same atmosphere to the Backstop in the early 1980’s and that formula worked
as well.” The Backstop went on to win the 1981 “A” State Championship in 1981
Anthony “Cal” Calabro is a
walking encyclopedia on men’s softball. Cal played with all the big teams at
one time or another back then – Taylor Construction, Conti Brothers, Parisault
Construction and with Rebel. “Rebel was a true character of the game, but
everyone loved playing for him, and the names of his teams were truly classic.
There was Rebel’s, Barney’s Shoeshine, and Mama Chello’s”. Toward the end of
his career Cal, who was known as a power hitter at the time, began to slow down
and play with his friends. “For me the fire burnt out fairly quickly, I would
play here and play there, but not like I did in the late 1960’s early 1970’s”.
They all agreed that that was
the best era of softball, every player could play. Every at bat was a battle
and playing for pride meant everything. “You played for your teammates and the
sponsors (who paid for everything- the players never went into their pocket for
anything), you came to the field, warmed up, played the game in front of
several hundred people, shook hands after the game, and had a couple of
beverages, and did it all again the next night”. Delaney added.
then, there were local town leagues, but nothing like the Rhode Island Travel
league. One night you would play at Gano Street in Providence, the next at
Clegg field in Warwick, and there was Atwood Ave. in Cranston, but nothing beat
playing at Neutaconkanut Field in Providence,” Foster said. Calabro added “the place was always jammed! Everyone was
there to watch or to bet on the games (yes, they did gamble back then as well –
there was no Foxwoods or Twin River – so this was a common practice all over
the country). It was fun and electric to be part of it”.
The conversation became quiet as all
three men got lost in thoughts of a time when they were young and playing
softball was all that mattered to them. It was Calabro who broke the silence and
said, “the players today go out and play with juiced bats and juiced balls and
hit balls out of the park by mistake. Defense is not a factor in today’s game,
and that is sad. Back when we played there
were no home run restrictions like today. If you hit one it was with a wooden bat
and earned”. The conversation went quiet and soon we broke up only to meet again
in November at the 2nd annual Rhode Island Slow Pitch Softball Hall
of Fame induction dinner at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. It is certain that the
conversations in that room on that evening will be filled with war stories of
days gone by as well.