This 60th Anniversary Is Actually “Diamond”

Sixty years ago this spring, Westport Little League was born.

Four teams — the Bombers, Hornets, Jets and Rockets — competed in that inaugural season.

And if you think I had to do scholarly research to unearth that fact, think again.  I talked to half a dozen men who played Westport Little League in 1951.  All are now in their 70s — but all reeled off those 4 teams’ names as if they were back at Green’s Farms Elementary School field, hitting and fielding and yelling “heybatterbatter!” and having the time of their lives.

In an era of Little League baseball and softball, Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax, PAL football and cheerleading, WSA soccer, youth lacrosse, rowing clubs, and just about every other sport for kids except Australian Rules football, it’s easy to forget the impact of that initial Little League season.

It was the 1st youth sports league of any kind in Westport.

“We had real uniforms, umpires, coaches, base paths and a pitcher’s mound,” AJ “Red” Izzo recalls.  “Before that, we just played in the back yard.”

Playing “real” baseball made quite an impact.  Six decades later the players remember not just the team names, but plenty of other ridiculous random relevant details.

“Jeff Strauss hit the 1st home run,” Jack Mitchell notes.

“The coaches all lived on Old Hill Road, for some reason” Bud Frey adds.  He reels off 3 of their names:  Henry Dietrich, Harrison Schevelson, Bob Getty.

Bud was just 10 years old that 1st season.  He played on the Rockets, and got 3 hits in one game.  They were his only hits all year, though — and they came in the final game of the season.

Bud spent the next 2 years with the Jets.  “I never knew why I was traded,” he says.

A team from the early years: the 1956 Bombers. Front row (from left): Doug Jacobs, Bob Entigar, Buddy Matthews, Jerry Williams, Bill Deegan, David Ohanian, Bob Rogers. Middle row: Jim Stewart, Jerry Melillo, Dick Sutphen, Bob Rowlands, Ted See, Carl Gajdosik, George Karfiol. Rear: Bill Deegan, Jack Rogers, Vern Matthews. (Photo courtesy of Bill Deegan)

Geoff Lavaty was new to Westport — and baseball.  “I’d come from the Bronx,” he says.  “I played stickball.  I wasn’t sure if I could adapt.”

He did.  Like nearly every other 10-, 11- or 12-year-old boy in town, he leaped at the chance to play real baseball, with real (parent) coaches.

Little League drew boys from the 3 elementary schools —  Bedford, Green’s Farms and Saugatuck — together for the 1st time.  It created lifelong friendships, and lasting memories.  It set Jack Mitchell and Red Izzo on a path to become baseball captains at Staples, 6 years later.

Tomorrow, Westport Little League — in 2011 a much larger organization with majors, minors, other divisions, girls and its very own fields — hosts championship games.  No special events will mark the 60th anniversary.

But league officials are quietly proud to have outlasted other cultural icons, including Davy Crockett caps, hula hoops, the frug, disco, 8-tracks and Pong.

“Parents who played Westport Little League now watch their own kids — and grandchildren — play,” says baseball official Carl McNair.

“They still love to talk about the championship game, the home runs, the victories and beat-downs.

“But whatever the subject, they all have smiles on their faces.   The overall wins and losses fade into the distant past, while the joy of playing America’s pastime is timeless.”

Play ball!

20 responses to “This 60th Anniversary Is Actually “Diamond”

  1. I moved to town in Jan. of ’56’ from Oak Ridge, TN. at the age of 10 & played on the Hornets that year. The next year I changed to the NEW Westport American League when it opened at Coleytown School. Great stuff. I’ll never forget the Little League years.

  2. I played in the Westport LL ’57-’60. I recall pedaling my bike on weekend mornings, in uniform with glove hanging from the handlebars, across the Cribari Bridge, along Bridge St. and then down Imperial Ave. to Gault Field where I’d play my game and then spend the rest of the day watching the other games. I remember the early Bombers, pictured above, who ruled the majors and then Jack Scott’s marvelous Hornets teams with the Gerstle brothers, Tommy Dublin, Warren Smith and Murray Rosenberg. I remember my Jaguars teams coached by Bob Jones and assisted by Helen Lupton. I remember Jack Rogers Field, where the library stands now, built on a smelly landfill where we were divebombed by seagulls during games. I remember never seeing American League teams or players except in all-star and championship games, when we finally got the opportunity to see guys like Bobby Kyle, Tim Honey, Rick Multhaup, Jeff Mullin and others, and teams like the Commandos and Marauders. I remember that nearly every major and minor league team name in both leagues had a WWII or Korean War tinge: Hornets, Jets, Rockets, Bombers, Mustangs, Spitfires, Corsairs, Sabres, etc. Most of all I remember the friendships forged in the Westport LL, many of which have lasted a lifetime.

    • Tom … Thanks, I’ve been struggling to remember the minor league teams. I had the Mustangs, the Corsairs, the Spitfires,and the Lightnings … but Sabres also sounds right and the Hawks come to mind, remember the other two? Jaguars?
      Bill Deegan — Mustangs ’54 & ’55, Bombers ’56 & ’57.

      • Bill: Jaguars and Yankees. Jags became a major league team in ’60. I think Bob Jones and Helen Lupton Jones managed the Jags until the late 70s, many years after sons Bobby Lupton and Peter Jones had left the team. I remember your Bombers teams well. Bobby Rogers was my Treadwell Avenue neighbor and my mother’s tree surgeon until the end of her life in ’04.. Another neighbor, Jimmy Gilbertie, played for the Bombers after your time and his dad, Lester, coached them. Your Bombers ruled Gault Field before the era of the Hornets. Speaking of Gault Field, when was it built?

        • Bill, “Anonymous” was me.

          • Thanks, Tom. I’m stuck on Yankees, only because the rest were all fighter planes. Just now, the name Ramblers came to mind.

            Must be obvious that I don’t have enought to do in life, but this does bring back vivid memories. My first year in 1954 we were still playing some games at Bedford El, but we also played at Gault — maybe they were just finishing it up around then.

            • Another anonymous me

            • The Yankees were an odd fit in that warlike group. Uniform piping and hats were green — no pinstripes. My guess is that back then, after the Giants and Dodgers moved west, the Yankees were the only NY team left and all of us followed them, whether or not we liked them. Bill, were you in elementary school when each school had its own baseball team? I think LL put an end to that. At the Saugatuck El field the “283 Feet” marker is still barely visible on what was then the left field wall when the school had a team. Lou Dorsey was the coach. In a fraternity softball game circa spring ’64 Staples qb Matt MacVane hit a softball off that wall.

              • Bill Deegan

                We did, but we must have played Saugatuck at Bedford El — don’t really remember the field there at all. Played my last baseball at Staples and then Slow Pitch all through college at Doubleday and Greens Farms.

  3. Fred Cantor

    I first played Little League in the spring of 1964–in fifth grade–roughly a year after I had moved here from Queens. I played on the Dodgers, and I was not thrilled with the team name because I was a huge SF Giants/Willie Mays/Juan Marichal fan. I did really like wearing “big league”-type uniforms, similar to what can be seen in the photo above. Playing on that team was the first time or opportunity that I got to meet and become friendly with kids from other elementary schools in town (and I have remained close friends with Tracy McIntosh all these years).

    We finished in first place but I missed our World Series games because I went to summer camp. And, since there was limited contact at camp with the outside world, I only discovered that we had won the World Series 1-2 weeks after the fact when I received a Town Crier or Westport News clipping that my parents had mailed me. I can still remember how excited I was reading that.

    Finally, I want to thank all the volunteer coaches–ours was Lou Hammond–who generously donated their time and expertise.

  4. The Dude Abides

    Nine years later, in the summer of 1960, Little League remained king of all sports for anyone 8-12 years old like myself. Football was limited to Pop Warner (which was free) and certain YMCA basketball games. No other organized sports existed.
    That summer, my American League team, the Marauders, won the pennant and faced the mighty Hornets of the National League in a best of three series. Behind the superior pitching of Murray Rosenberg of the Hornets versus our Mike Stephenson, the Hornets easily won the first game. In the second, played at our home field of Coleytown, with the score 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning, I came to the plate with two outs against Rosenberg with “men” on second/third. Considering that I was diminutive 3 feet-something in height, I was fortunate I could pick up a bat let alone swing it. But on this day, I hit the second pitch for a line drive single over the short stop’s head and the Marauders won 3-2. It was the first time the upstart American League had beaten the Nationals. It was also one of the best days of my life.

    Great memories of the Westport Wonder Years in Little League baseball.

  5. and Wreckers baseball still rules! Go Little League!

  6. In 1953 or 54 I was Sports Editor of the old Westporter Herald, and covered LL. The only player’s names I remember are David Jacobson and Bobby Denham, both Hornets, I think. One of the managers ( or coaches) was Max Shulman (“Rally Around the Flag, Boys!” and others.) who was meticulous in getting his box scores in after the game.
    And a true gentlemen.

    • The Dude Abides

      Indeed, Max Shulman was one of the characters of ole Westport. Also, the author of “Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver,” Shulman had two sons, one being of my age. I attended a birthay party at his house in the early 60’s and he had filled the swimming pool with red dye telling every one that it was shark infested. This was well before the days of “Jaws.” Needless to say, few swam which I think was his intention.

      • Speaking of Max Shulman, in the movie version of his book, “Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys!”, the character played by Paul Newman complains about “little Dickie Sutphen” who is pictured in the above photo, second row. Little Dickie Sutphen went on to became a high school All-American quarterback at Staples (class of ’61, I think) and won a scholarship to Syracuse. Doug Jacobs, in the first row, became a Staples football captain in 1962, Paul Lane’s inaugural season.

  7. Peter Hannan

    What great memories, “you can take the boy out of the game, but you can’t take the game out of the boy”. I have two twin grandsons who played little league baseball. One was a pitcher and boosted about his three strikeouts in one game. I could not resist in telling them about a feat in the 1954 all star game featuring the major league B team VS the minor league all stars (an annual event). The teams were certainly equally matched and a real pitcher’s duel followed. My grandmother had kept a scrapbook to verify the tale. When I told them that I had struck out 16 batters in a 6 inning game, I thought it might provoke a positive reaction, a high five possibly or at the very least a “cool” all kids their age always answer questions in one word . They looked puzzled and then asked “what happened to the other two batters”. This was the hard part of the story to answer as one kid had a single and the other somehow managed to get his bat in the way of a great fastball and hit the longest home run ever recorded at Gault field. It not only cleared the fence, it cleared Imperial avenue and landed somewhere deep in the trees on the hillside across the street. His name was Michael Del Vecchio and he got equal headlines on July 24, 1954 in the Town Crier newspaper coverage. The score was 3 to 1 our favor with their last at bats coming up. Michael came up again in the sixth inning with men on base, I walked him (although I am sure not intentionally, control was an issue). The game ended with bases loaded, 2 outs and the final strike out of the day clinched the game. While it was an unforgettable time for me I guess based on my grandsons reaction’s you just had to be there…

  8. The Dude Abides

    Being there was enough, Peter. Keep telling those stories. I bet they will repeat them someday to their kids. “You know, Grandpa pitched a two hitter way back when . . ..”
    BTW, Dale Hopkins would break Del Vecchio’s blast in ’60 with a home run that went half way up the Gault Mountain. In the same year, Tommy Thompson of the Marauders hit a shot that broke Ms. Small’s (later Coach Paul Lane’s wife) classroom window at the Coleytown school-field. Thanks for sharing. Good times. I hope they are having half the fun these days as we did back then.

  9. The summer of 1960 my mother Sally was a very young, attractive widow with 4 kids. My brother Brad Kellogg played Little League and every Saturday we got dragged to Gault Field down on Riverside Ave to watch the ball game. I was in Junior High and had much more important things on my agenda than to watch my brother play Little League. Mr. Deegan, the coach of The Bombers, admired her from afar. (Go back to the pix above.)

    Mr. Deegan married my mom approximately 18 months later. They were the love of each other’s life…and Mr. Deegan “Bill” was a blessing to 4 kids.

  10. Alex Deegan

    Pretty amazing to see my grandfather and father back in the day. Had to be a great team – too bad I couldn’t keep up the Bomber legacy – it was the Rockets for me. Thanks, Dan for a great article.