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by John Cardullo, sportswriter
Softball, any way you put it, Men’s, Women’s, Girl’s, league play, travel teams, high school has had strong roots in Rhode Island. The game itself was created in the 1930’s as a way for our troops during World War II to do some recreational activities. The slow pitch game exploded when the troops returned home and was a way to come together after working full day work shifts. In the 1960’s organizational affiliations began to form and softball the way we know it today was born. The game expanded from men to women’s leagues, becoming just as popular and youth leagues began to expand the sport.
As the game expanded so did the history of softball, legendary teams created legendary players. Adult teams were becoming a big business for suppliers of the sport. In 1997 a publication was created to report and publish stories based on the players of the game, both current and for those who came before. An article was written that it was time to consider creating a softball Hall of Fame, and 20 years later, in the late autumn of 2018, the first induction dinner was held at the Cranston Country Club for the Rhode Island Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame. The dinner was sold out and on that evening 33 Coaches, Sponsors, Directors, Umpires and both Men and Women players were inducted in the first class to what would become an annual tradition.
Since that first year, the Rhode Island Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame has moved to the larger facility of the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. It has become a weekend softball celebration with the induction dinner being the highlight of the weekend. Now on its 6th induction, the dinner has become more of a softball event and reunion. It is not uncommon for inductees of the past 5 years to come to the dinner just to support the organization and welcome the new members.
Joining the 133 current members in the Hall of Fame will be 18 newly inducted members, as well as the first Men’s Team and Women’s Team of Excellence. The Men’s Team that will be the first of this annual award will be the Conti Brothers team, that was very successful in the early 1960’s until the late 1970’s.
The Women’s Team will be Kohler’s Fair Warning, a team that ruled the regional women’s softball scene from the mid 1990’s until as recently as 2015. When you look back on the history of the sport, both teams are the first that many think about when the talk goes onto the “Good Ole Days”.
Being inducted as Sponsors will be the late Jim McCarthy of Floor Concepts, his teams played from 1990 until 2010 and won several state championships, played in National tournaments throughout the country. Robert “Bobby” Stravato who sponsored the Stravato’s/DAG team from 1980 until 2012, however the Stravato softball roots go back into the 1960’s when his father sponsored the Stravato’s A’s. They won league championships, tournament championships, State championships and played on both the regional and National stage. Rounding out the sponsors is Casali’s Liquors whose teams played in the Atwood Ave League in Cranston, when all the upper-level teams left or broke up. Casali’s liquors invested in a young team that became one of the best teams the state had seen. They won the Atwood League championship for 10 consecutive years. Winning the Class “E” National championship in 2012 then followed that up with the Class “D” National Runner up in the ASA.
Umpires Paul Pereira and George Moyle took similar but different paths to the Hall of Fame. Both were encouraged to become umpires by mentors, both became umpires after successful careers as players, both men worked up the ladder in their respective local leagues and both ended up becoming leaders of their respective organizations. Both worked the finals of many tournaments on the local and national stage.
The 2023 Class of Women players has Jeannine “JJ” Fritsche, Brenna Elliott and Lori Franchina who played together on several teams in their careers as well as against each other.
The Men’s induction class will span players from the 1960’s, Jim Hopkins, Anthony Lato and the late Mario “Mackie” Pagano. The 1970’s Bill Labree and the late Richard Falcone, the 1980’s with Mark Moniz and John Brosnahan and the 1990’s Stanley “Ski” Zab and Brad Yankee. Each player dominated softball for each of their team during the era that they played in. In many cases some of the players are still competing for national championships in the senior softball level.
Adult softball continues to be a strong participation sport throughout Rhode Island. Affiliations such as USA Softball, USSSA Softball, National Softball Association and Freedom Softball continue to offer participants different levels of competition. The Rhode Island Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame is confident with the local history of softball to its current state in the game, there will be induction dinners for the foreseeable future.
CONGRATS TO ALL THE INDUCTEES
Well said as always John
Dear John, it saddens me that I am not able to attend. I am in Maryland for my grandson’s first birthday.
If you could say something on my behalf it would be greatly appreciated.
A little history on Jim McCarthy. I knew Jim since kindergarten, we were best friends, best men at each others weddings & I worked for Floor Concepts until Jim-was forced to close due till Illness.
Growing up Jim was the organizer. He would set up games against other neighborhoods. We rarely lost. In the late 1980’s my older brother was playing on a team in the Cranston Twilight league. He asked me if I wanted to play. I agreed and they stuck me in right field. A few games latter I brought Jim. We stuck him in right field. By the end of the season we were playing left & left center respectively. After a few seasons Jim & I were running the show. We brought in a few close friends we grew up with ( who should all be in the audience). We did well in are time in the league eventually moving to The Johnston Men’s League. Keeping our 5 man neighborhood friend nucleus ( which was key to success) and building around it. The rest is history of which I am very proud to have been part of. To know my life long friend is being honored with an induction into the RISHOF is also something I am very proud of. I’m very proud of you Jimmy!
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