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The People

Chapter 6: The People (culture, tradition, diversity!!!)

The Central Park Softball LeaguesA BLOG SERIES BY ALEC RILL

Jeffrey Lyons

We continue our journey showing how individuals with a common goal create cohesive groups which coalesce together to create close-nit communities. 

The Heckscher softball fields in Central Park are the living proof of all the elements coming together.

But the most important ingredient in this delicious soup are the players.   Like any recipe, you can have the best tools but without top ingredients, your soup would end up…. salty?

But first, meet Jeffrey Lyons who in addition to  co-hosting the PBS movie review show Sneak Previews from 1982 to 1996, played over 735 games in the leagues from 1966 to 2018.  Jeffrey with his friend Danny Aiello created the Show Biz league where Broadway starts still play today.

Jeffrey Lyons:

When Teddy Roosevelt went off to be a cowboy in 1883, he was 25. Asked what drove him to leave his comfortable, sedentary life, he said: “Everyone should do at least one thing as an adult that you did as a child.” Wise words. I was about that age when I played my first games in the Broadway Show League in 1966. I played on The Downey’s team, sponsored by the late Jim Downey, represented the popular theatrical hangout restaurant and bar on 8th Avenue. It was where Richard Burton and his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor came to unwind after his performances in and as “Hamlet” at the nearby Lunt-Fontaine Theater. (During an interview I did with Burton in 1977 when he was starring in “Equus”, he reminded me that years before in Central Park, I’d taught him how and when to bunt!)

I’d been the starting center fielder on my high school team, the Fieldston Eagles in 1962 and still had the yen for the game. The same is surely true with most of the players in the league, long past their “prime.” Indeed, Hank Greenberg, the greatest Jewish position player (Detroit Tigers, 1930-41, 1946, Pittsburgh Pirates 1947 with three seasons away at WW II) saw me play against Poly Prep where his son was playing. I threw a runner out at the plate on a no-hop throw. Then, after seeing me try to hit said “Too bad baseball doesn’t have offensive and defensive teams.”

I’d known about the Broadway Show League. My father, Leonard Lyons, had written about the regular softball games played as far back as 1944 with Paul Robeson starring on the “Othello” team, and Milton Berle getting injured in a game. But the Broadway Show Softball League didn’t become official until 1947 or so. In the late ‘Sixties, the WCBS-TV team, one of several non-show teams was a powerhouse, with star news anchor Jim Jensen pitching in front of several former major league “ringers” behind him in the field.

That Downey’s team had several notable members; Conrad Janis, the actor and art gallery co-owner and jazz trombone player, (Mindy’s father on TV’s “Mork and Mindy”) became a close friend with whom I traveled in Spain following the bullfights for several summers. Yaphet Koto succeeded James Earl Jones in “The Great White Hope.” And in our outfield, the great Monte Irvin, the former Negro Leagues and N.Y. Giant outfielder played. He’d mentored rookie Willie Mays in 1951 and still had baseball skills. Irvin was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973. I remember Conrad taking a throw from Monte “which looked like an aspirin gaining speed as it landed right in my glove! I’d never caught any throw so hard and right on the money,” Conrad once told me. Others on the team included Ken Howard, star of TV’s “The White Shadow” and who played Thomas Jefferson in “1776”, Bill DeVane, and lanky Fritz Weaver who had a long career in movies, TV and narration work.

Fran Lewin was the commissioner during those Thursday games, riding around the Heckscher ballfields on her small white bicycle. The late actor William McHugh took over as Commissioner along with Ted Liebowitz and put in many hours securing the licenses for the fields every off-season. 

There is the story, perhaps a Central Park legend, that a few years after he retired, Joe DiMaggio visited the Heckscher ball fields and standing at the field closest to the 66th street transverse, hit a fly ball clear across the diamonds. I knew Joe, and I wish I had confirmed that. But I think it’s true. 

Then in 1970, word came from the Broadway Show League that they wanted to make the games less competitive and more inclusive. I’d always thought the word “softball” was a bit embarrassing. There was nothing “soft” about how we played: no lob pitch, nor windmill. Instead, it is a fast pitch game. No bunting (sorry, Mr. Burton), no leads, no stolen bases, but we did allow pinch runners with the batter allowed to remain in the seven-inning games. But the Broadway Show League wanted slow pitch! So, Danny Aiello, the actor memorable for movies like Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”, “The Godfather, Part Two” and on Broadway in “Knockout!”, was a slick-fielding first baseman. His baseball role model was Vic Power, who won seven consecutive Gold Glove Awards in his 12 seasons on various teams. Danny could flash some leather! We went to the Parks Dept. and obtained the license (or “per-MIT” as it’s called in New York,) for the Heckscher reserving Tuesday afternoons from noon to 4pm, The New York Showbusiness Softball (there’s that word again!) was born!

Every Tuesday, I managed the team and played the outfield and later some first base then became a full-time DH. I hold the unofficial NYSBL record of longest at bat: I fouled off 17 pitches before drawing a walk. It drove umpire Butch crazy!

I miss seeing my teammates every Tuesday from mid-April through August. Ira Resnick, our sponsor, and a good friend away from the diamonds, played out of position in left field at my behest all those years, since he was a natural first baseman, Yankee cap and all. He is a true friend and a special guy. Michael Griffith, who played first base all those years, put to good use the training he’d received as a boy at Dodger Town, at the hands of his hero, Gil Hodges. Michael is a well-known attorney who specializes getting imprisoned Americans out of foreign jails. (“Stay in the game!” he’d say loudly whenever a passerby caught our interest!) The late Rod Friedman, who edited a respected medical journal, manned third base, arriving just before the first pitch on his bicycle, ready for any sport, it seemed. Michael Mann, now a Hollywood agent, played in the early days. So did Josh Cruze, aka “Cookie” and Marty Mann who were treasured teammates in the early years. So was Elliot Cukor, a dealer of antique cars. Paul Yee was a slick-fielding shortstop and leadoff batter. Wayne Fisk, a powerful infielder, shed his business suit for 2 hours and dashed over to the park to play, then returned to his other “identity” when he returned to work at a nearby TV station. John Newhouse, a talented graphic artist, was and is a passionate St. Louis Cardinal fan and one of our best players. Steve Duffypainted the corners of the strike zone with the same skill with which he fills a canvas. 

Bill Evans, the pride of Meridian Mississippi, was the longtime TV weatherman on the WABC early news show and played with us for 15 seasons. The steel bat he gave me led to many hits over the year.  Richard Curtis, the literary agent and longtime catcher, author David (“Keep it in front of you!”) Fisher, retired teacher Artie Schwartz, a courageous catcher, would occasionally join me chatting with passing tourists, some of whom had never seen any form of baseball. Dave Foster was an excellent hitter early on. Todd Montgomery, who I recruited in the last year I played, was and still is a slick-fielding first baseman. Howard Friedman was a wonderful teammate and a helluva pitcher who always kept us in games. There was Ross Weiner who never used both hands catching fly balls, and “Moose,” best remembered for calling me at 11:59pm one New Year’s Eve to tell me he would be joining another team next season!

Jim V. Hart, who wrote the screenplay for the huge hit “Hook” played second base with fierce determination. Seneca Black was an excellent hitter and a respected musician. I never did know his last name, nor the last name of Hooter, a reliable outfielder. The same goes for Seneca Black, a respected trumpet player and Mark, who could hardly run but who banged out lots of hits. Joey,another “first name only character”, was a personal trainer and 2010 census taker, who wore one of the last mullet haircuts of that era, and who recorded a DVD called “Central Park in the Summer.” George Colucci was my go-to DH. Kevin O’Hara trekked in from New Jersey and played with great passion. I once introduced him to the Red Sox’ Jackie Bradley, Jr., the finest defensive outfielder since Ken Griffey Jr. and told him that Kevin would gladly move to LF if Bradley didn’t make the Red Sox that year! And speaking of the Griffies, one of my biggest thrills was playing in the same outfield alongside my son Ben Lyons, a former star first baseman for the Collegiate school’s “Dutchmen.” We were the Griffies of Central Park!

Louis Crocco, a musician, must play on a dozen teams and was a welcome addition to mine in recent years. Bill Daughtrey and Todd Ant, radio sports reporters, played with us briefly but left a lasting impression.

And then there is Jeremy Spear, who deserves his own paragraph. For he was the best player I ever saw in the park. He is a native Hawaiian, who was a teammate of Met immortal Ron Darling, and who made a fascinating documentary called “Fast Pitch” about his year playing professional fast pitch (windmill speed) softball. He moved around a diamond exactly the right way and was a marvel with the bat. He kept his hands back until the pitch broke, then hit tremendous shots to all fields, many of which are probably still flying.

Twice each season, we faced the perennial champs, McHale’s restaurant. If memory serves, we only beat them once, when I got a game-winning “wall-off” single off Murphy, their scowling pitcher who, once the game ended, turned out to be a nice guy. Memorable opponents included pitcher Bobby Fishman, Jimmy Meyers, pitcher Tom Hudson, who continued pitching after being hit in the face with a line drive but wearing a catcher’s mask. Other worthy opponents included Jack Mulcahy, one of the title players of the movie “The Brothers McMulen.” Actor Richard Schiff, he of “The West Wing” and currently “The Good Doctor”; Jimmy McHale, Bradley Soloman, a fierce infielder, Joel Goldman, the friendly pitcher, Larry Doby Jr., son of the first African American in the American League and a Hall of Famer, and Jim Jensen, the top-rated New York anchor of that eraThe late Mike Siporin was a pitcher who made short films and was a teammate for one season.  Curt Chaplin ran teams in both divisions if memory serves and Jack Oppenheim was and still is an ageless wonder, still playing well at 91!  I miss Morty Gilbert, a fixture in our league.

I loved my Brooks Robinson glove, broken in so well that occasionally teammates or even opponents would borrow it. And the lineups of the teams at the end of the game for high fives!

Then there were the three umpires I knew best: Angelo Abbate, to whom I gave weekly readouts from The Society of Baseball Research, Bobby Torres and of course “Butch” Krichman, who must have worked a thousand games. They have a prominent place in my happy memories.

I miss arriving around 1 pm Tuesdays to begin stretching and getting a sense of the terrain; checking the angle of the sun; of taking a half-crouch stance in the outfield shagging fly balls in batting practice and of making sure everyone has shown up! I loved explaining the game to strolling tourists, especially those from Spain, where I spent so many summers growing up.

One of my most cherished memories came quite unimpededly. On a warm September afternoon, nearly a month after the end of the NYSBL season, I was walking our dog alongside the diamonds on the path between diamond 4 and 5. A couple approached and we began talking, eventually sitting down at a nearby bench to watch games being played by teams from another league. We watched a part of the world go by, peacefully. The games in the background added to the tranquility. The couple was old friends Kay and Bobby Murcer

What I miss most of all is the camaraderie; talking baseball with my teammates, none of whom were Red Sox fans like me and of greeting the outfielders from overlapping games.  My teammates are my “Field of Dreams” players. They are imbedded in my memory of the best Tuesday afternoons of my life. We were holding on to the last vestige of our youth for two precious hours under the sun.

Teddy Roosevelt was right.

Jeffrey Lyons.

Meet some of the players who go back year after year and decade after decade to their “family”. Read their stories, in their own words:

Carol A. Sullivan:
Born in midtown NYC to parents also born in NY of Irish decent. My stay-at-home mom knew early on her daughter was a very active, curious, athletic, and independent youngster possessed by boundless energy.

Years later she shared with me as an adult: “I never worried about you; always knew you’d land on your feet.”

The family moved from NYC to Long Island then New Jersey, I attended college in Pennsylvania. I was lucky to find sports; they grounded me and gave me goals and challenges and more importantly the opportunity to PLAY! If there was a sport I didn’t know (like lacrosse) I learned it, if I knew the sport, I played it, and I was good.

I discovered that I had a talent for sports when I played with other kids, (the boys). At first, they ‘let’ me play; then they invited me to play because I was good, I was one of them, not just a “girl” trying to play. I was treated with respect for my skills and team play.

Thanks to a high school gym teacher’s guidance, I chose a small PA state college with a recognized PE program to study Health and Physical Education. My high school had no competitive teams for girls at the time so more than a few PA high school sports champions were surprised when I made 3 collegiate teams my freshman year, JV field hockey & lacrosse, and Varsity basketball, as a starter.

Also, during high school another gym teacher saw my potential and invited me to join a women’s fast pitch traveling softball team. I was reliable, could hit, run, and field but additionally I could “read” people and learned to anticipate moves on the field in play. That team was where my continuing joy of softball began.

Thanks to sports this understanding of team and the human spirit helped me be successful in each of my several careers and have a happy life. I play softball at the park and will keep doing it as long as possible, as a teammate said as we sat on the bleachers Hechsher Field 4 one summer evening pre-game “playing in this park on a summer evening – “this is paradise.”

David Bergman:
Although I consider myself a native New Yorker, born in Queens, I spent most of my formative years out in the Long Island suburbs. When the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, my father, a lifelong fan, left both the City and baseball. I remember watching football on Sunday afternoons with my dad, but I came to baseball on my own. Many happy hours were spent playing stickball in the street and chasing flyballs at the nearby high school.

After making my way listlessly through college, switching majors from biology to English literature, I found myself at a loss as to where my future path lay. I traveled cross country by bicycle and then worked a series of odd jobs here in New York, none of which held any interest for me. I was always a reader and there was a series of small used bookshops (back when NY had lots of ’em) that I would scour for bargains. One day I came across a set of the Coues editing of Lewis & Clark’s Journals. It was $ 75, far more than I had ever spent for a book before, but I had to have it. I saved my pennies for a few weeks, and when I waltzed into the store with enough cash to buy the 4 volumes, the owner offered me a part-time then and there. I became the essential ( and only) employee. When the shop closed 6 years later, I had learned enough about the trade to set off on my own.

I didn’t play much softball for a while,  but sometime in the early 1980’s I discovered the ” Peggy Game”, run by, surprise, surprise, a big blonde woman named Peggy. I had broken up with a girlfriend and my Sunday afternoons were free. I thought to myself that they must play ball somewhere in Central Park, maybe I can find a game. I grabbed my dusty glove and headed out to the Great Lawn, where I discovered that, yes indeed, they do play ball in the Park. I talked my way into a coed game on Field 3 and haven’t left the Park since.

So now, 40 years down the line, having my own book business affords me the luxury of playing ball almost every day. I always say, at age 68,  that I can still do almost everything I did on the field 20 years ago, but it hurts more when I’m done. Baseball is, of course, the finest game ever conceived by mankind, but the Central Park softball scene, with its camaraderie and fellowship, is something that I think cannot be matched anywhere else.

Edward Delarosa:

Eddie: “When you put on your softball uniform, the color of your skin disappears

Born in the Dominican Republic and brought to NYC when I was a young child, I consider myself a New Yorker.

My father worked hotel security and mother worked at a factory. From early on, they recognized that I was spirited and driven. They instilled in me the belief that in this country, hard work pays, and they knew that playing sports was a good way to instill those values from a young age.

Initially, I played all kinds of sports with the kids in the streets of my neighborhood in Washington Heights, and my favorites were baseball, football, and basketball. 

Sports were not only what I loved to do, but were also how I made friends. For me, ball games were what made me who I am—a competitive and social creature. I love not only the activity and athleticism of the games, but especially the friendships I have developed over the years.

I began my career as a teacher in the South Bronx, teaching elementary school and nutrition. I transitioned to sports medicine, as came to realize that I wanted to use my love of sports to help people enrich their lives. I became certified from the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a personal trainer and nutrition counselor. That’s how I make my living today and I very much enjoy my life, my family, and the many friends I made over the years playing on various teams and training clients. I love working with people, individually and as part of a team, to push themselves and be the healthiest and happiest they can be.

One of my greatest joys is playing softball in Central Park. I discovered the Central Park softball leagues 25 years ago and have been hooked ever since. I became a commissioner of the league and I am the Captain of the Lion’s Head softball team, which plays on Tuesdays at the Heckscher fields in Central Park.

We play every summer, with 6-8 teams representing everyone in NYC, from the preforming arts, to the park police, waiters, bankers, etc. that make NYC the inclusive city we all love.

It hasn’t been easy, but I have gone from an immigrant child with no friends to a man with a thriving career, a community of friends and a family who love me, and a healthy outlook on life. Sports and fitness have been the key to this evolution. 

Gayle Scott:

I was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Rutherford, NJ.  I’ve been playing softball since I was 9 years old. I started playing competitively at 13, when I tried out for a Bi-County girls softball team that had a winning record of 54-0 over 4 years. 

I was lucky to have an amazing coach Danny Gaselberti who taught all the girls the fundamentals in the winter in a gym and continued when we could play outside. This was the late 60’s when organized sports were not so prevalent for girls/woman at this time. I played high school and college ball (Softball and Volleyball at Rutgers). 

I came to Central Park softball in 1987 when I was working at the Nederlander office for a Broadway composer.  They had a team in the Broadway Show League run by Nederlander executive – Hershel Waxman.  His two sons Rick and Eddie played on the team who were in the league before me and have their own stories to tell (we are still friends today).  

Two women had to play on a team of mostly men or the team would forfeit.  I played left field for them (unheard of then) but I held my own. I even played early on in my pregnancy not to disappoint my team.  I felt an amazing camaraderie with the Broadway community since I was also an actress, so this all made sense – my 2 favorite things in the world coming together Softball & the acting community.  

The BSL women all support each other no matter what team you are on, they make a difference and are valued by their fellow team mates. I have met some of my best friends on these fields and feel so fortunate to still have them in my life.  I have been a board member of the show league for over 20 years (the only female for many of them) and help arrange our celebration day that hosts the legends (past players), woman’s and all-star games.

It is a JOY to be in Central Park playing softball with this community and will hopefully be here for years to come.

Jack Oppenheim:

Around July of 1958 I first played at the Central Park Heckscher softball fields. Somebody told me there was a pickup softball game there every Sunday. At eleven, teams were picked for the first game. Winners stay on and the next team went in. Sunday games were the most competitive and feisty with many good players. I fit right in.

For the next 65 years Heckscher has been my happy place, a place to compete in a game I love and where I made lifelong friendships.

That I am still playing, coaching, and managing softball in 2023 at the age of 91 is attributable to a partially misspent childhood and arrested development adulthood. By “partially misspent childhood” I mean that the time I was allowed to play, listen to radio, and read about sports far exceeded what might be called a well-balanced blend of schoolwork and the arts.

The arrested development in adulthood is because, like many of the top ballplayers I competed with when no longer could play at a high level and moved on to more age-appropriate interests. I simply never found anything I liked doing more than going to play, coach and commune with the diverse mix that gave Heckscher its special vibe.

Don’t I get tired of the “same old, same old”? Well, this year in the highly competitive Big Apple Sunday league, the league with the most talented players at Heckscher, my team (The Kings) went 24-0 to win the championship. Being part of that run (I was the coach), was more gratifying than any of the many championships I have been part of in many years. Certainly not “same old same old.”

I am looking forward to 2024 to see what we can do for an encore.

Jack Steiman:

Born in the Bronx but grew up in Manhattan. My grandparents were from Europe and eventually escaped from Germany and Hitler and ended up in America. My parents were born in NY. I went to High School in Flushing and Lehman College in the Bronx.  I am 64 today and I remember vividly the impression the Central Park ballfields made on me 35 years ago.  

I played ball with the kids in my neighborhood since I was 5 years old. I was good, very good at sports and my mother encouraged me.  This happy aspect of my childhood life helped me deal with some difficulties at home – and Central Park reminded me of those happy days. I loved the place, the camaraderie I saw among the softball players, their enthusiasm and I was hooked. I played pickup games and soon people saw that I had talent and asked me to play with them. 

I played in many leagues over the years, I’m still playing and plan to play until I can’t play anymore, in my case it means until I won’t feel that I’m good enough. I don’t want to wait till my team doesn’t want me anymore. The last thing I want to do is be a disappointment to my teammates; I will know – in my mind and body – when to quit.

A challenging home environment can make a person retreat from the world and strive for a very controlled life to help him cope. In my case, it made me fearless.  From early on I exhibit an enormous appetite for risk. Excessive risk taking is a risky proposition. In my case, I was blessed with the wherewithal of taking the necessary risk without jeopardizing my life.  In business I started giving financial advice to friends and family without a formal education in Finance! I started advising small clients and eventually high worth individuals, which is what I do today.

I am my own boss and can take any risk I deem necessary; I feel like I am a fortress. but playing ball is a team sport. The wonder of the softball leagues is that I take risks, always did, and my teammates encourage me. We play together and know how to get the best of each of us. I am known in the park as the “fortress”.  At the beginning I liked playing for the competition of it, now I still do but more important to me is the camaraderie and friendships softball in the park offers.

Leroy Watson:
Born in the Bronx, home of the Yankees stadium. As the subway where I was commuting with my father passed thru the stadium – I was 9 – I asked my father what was happening there (lots of people outside the stadium).  My father got us out of the train and got us to the stadium on time to see the game. That experience clinched it for me, I had been playing baseball in the streets since I was 6, now I was going to the Big Leagues!

I played at the Police Athletic League but was told I was too young and should go to the little league, which I did, for three years. We won championships and I met the great Felix Martinez who coached me. 

I was in heaven but life in the Bronx was tough, gangs, violence, danger in the streets where I played. I decided that life was (or could be) too short. Went to college (finished a business degree in two years) and didn’t play for 10 years.  

I missed the game terribly and at 32 I discovered softball at the Heckscher fields in Central Park and my passion came back:

I realized that what I missed was much more than playing, it was the competition, the team’s camaraderie, the banter, and most importantly “the hard task of working toward a common goal”

I have been playing ever since (going now to 15 years) and as I grow old, I realized that what I enjoy most of all is to show to the young people what it takes to be a good player. Not just the technical aspects of softball, the rules, the mental equilibrium to deal with temporary defeats etc. but what it means to respect the others, as people, as players and as individuals.

I discovered that these “soft skills” not only help the young play better but they learn to enjoy the moment and become more emphatic human beings

I love being an example to young people emulate to have a better, happier life.

Matthew Duemesi:
Born in the summer of 1966 in Brooklyn, N.Y into a blue-collar middle income Italian family. Raised by a single mother and my grandparents. Moved to Staten Island in the 7th grade and went on to graduate from Tottenville H.S and St. Johns University with a B.S. in Finance. Moved to Manhattan with my wife and kids in 1999. Growing up I loved playing baseball or any form of it (stickball, punchball, wiffle ball) on the fields, school yards or the streets.

All through my childhood my mother encouraged me to play. She saw how important baseball and the friends I developed through it were to me. Especially when things at home were not optimal.
I grew up playing a lot of competitive ball and believing there was no doubt I was going to be a professional baseball player someday. Life however took me in a different direction and I decided to stop playing towards that goal after high school for various reasons. After college I began a career on Wall Street. I also went on to marry my high school sweetheart. The future looked clear. 

Then 9/11 happened. The events of that day and the loss of friends and colleagues affected me and made me reconsider my future. I was fortunate to be able to stop working and I became a stay-at-home dad to our daughters who were 2 and 5 at the time. (At the time of this writing I’m happy to report that my daughters are doing well and are now 24 and 27. I will also be celebrating my 35th wedding anniversary in June of 2024.)
Although it was not part of the original plan; being able to spend those years with them at home is priceless to me considering I never had a father growing up. I was introduced to the Heckscher softball leagues in Central Park as a 50 year old rookie in 2016 and played in the most competitive of the leagues, The Big Apple League. I wish I would’ve discovered these leagues at a younger age but I’ve still been fortunate enough to be a part of at least one championship team in each of the 5 leagues I’ve played in at the park. 

At Heckscher you immediately get a sense that you’re part of a community. It’s a place to put the real world on pause. It’s a privilege to be able to play on these picturesque fields, nestled amongst the trees and high-rise buildings of Central Park South. A place where tourists, locals, family, and friends become the spectators to our show. I appreciate that. I also appreciate all of the friends I’ve made in the short time I’ve been playing. This connection has bonded us for life. The history of these leagues transcends me and I’m humbled to be a part of it. I still love this game, the competitiveness, and the camaraderie.

It’s important for the longevity of these leagues/community to keep things in perspective. Respect for each other as teammates or opponents should be paramount. And when the final out of our battle has been recorded…and before we step out of this sanctuary and back into our individual lives…we as a community must demonstrate that respect by winning with humility and losing with dignity.

Michael Lane:
Born in Sumter, South Carolina. I grew up loving baseball; my cousin played for the San Francisco 49;ers. I met Joe Montana in 1984. I wanted to be a baseball player but mostly I wanted to leave Sumter and see the world. South Carolina was not the same after my cousin left. 

I went to New York in 1969 and apply to ROTC, which I did but at a tender age of 18 my blood pressure was deemed to high and I was rejected. 

I was a determined baseball in North Carolina, played ball in college with my brother and the kids in my neighborhood.  I was very driven and learned to play every position and I was good at everything because I loved the game and wanted to show my teammates that I could do it all. With my brother, who also played and was very good, we had dreams of playing in the big leagues, but our mother got sick and I decided to leave my dream for another day and be there for her.  For us, family is the most important thing and if someone from my family needs me, I’m there.  

I didn’t play for many years until in New York someone told me about the softball leagues at Central Park. I went to a couple of pickup games and I loved it.  The camaraderie, the competitive but team spirit, the feeling of family that I missed, I found it all in the softball leagues.  I played in various teams and I played again, every position, and again, I was good and people kept asking me to play in their team.

At one point I realized that I will get old and that I needed something safe to keep playing. A manager told me to try to be an umpire because he saw in me qualities that I didn’t see in myself. I knew every position and every rule and when I spoke, people listen. It was and still is hard to keep up with the new rules, but I did and do and this knowledge gives me the moral authority to be the umpire. I have been an umpire at the softball leagues for 44 years and when I rule, people respect my ruling.  I plan to keep doing it till my body tells me no more! Till then…. Play ball and listen to what I say!

Michael Peckins:
Born in Manhattan and lived in Queens and the Bronx where mom was a teacher and dad worked for the City. I attended public schools and played in the streets of NYC with my brother and the other kids.

So far a very New York story; I loved my neighborhood, loved my family and had a happy childhood, and then…… trouble began – good trouble that is! (as John Lewis said “…and I’ve been getting in trouble ever since, Rosa Parks inspired us to find a way, to get in what I call good trouble”

I discovered baseball and oh boy did I get in trouble: I had dreams of becoming a professional player, I went to Yankee Stadium as often as I could, I watched games on TV, I played in every game I was able to find and then I went to Collage.

What did you graduate on? 

“Baseball, major in Baseball and minor in…. can’t remember what……”

I found a job at a restaurant so I could schedule my work hours around the ball games.  A colleague talked about softball games at Central Park and I became hooked.  I found my community, my friends. I was still super competitive and a perfectionist, so I decided to become a team manager “to make sure everything goes well”. I chose the best players and build wining teams; I was up in the clouds. I also had the wherewithal to teach myself to pitch so I can extend my career.  I am very proud of the pragmatism that got me to just enjoy the game and learn to pitch.

And that’s when I realized that I was good but will never make it the major leagues. My ambition to be a professional players morphed into my ambition to enjoy life.  If I had a bad day, I didn’t get all stressed out because I didn’t play great that day, instead, I enjoyed the game, the camaraderie and my friends. I quit my job and I’m in the best place in my life: I help my disabled brother whom I love, we laugh all the time. I help my elderly parents and I can’t imagine a better life than going to Central Park and play ball.

Rudolph Robinson:
My name is Rudy Robinson.  I started playing in the Central Park Softball League in 1984.  The Saturday League at one time was the premier league in the country.  WCBS was the major modified national champs for a few years and there were other great teams such as Power Drives, Cafe Central and the PBA. 

The pitching was considered ‘open’ or (less restrictive) and featured great pitchers such as John “JJ” Jemison, Sonny Cortez and Kenny Snyder during the 80’s.  

The speed and movement that the pitchers exhibited at that time made it no crime to strike out and most games were low scoring. One mistake could determine the outcome of a game.  

In 1993 I began my own team named Hired Guns.  I ran it with Lowell Hill who had been a great player in the league beginning in the 70’s.  We took over a last place team and reached the championship in three years.  We won our first championship in 1996 defeat our rivals The Raiders, The Lounge and Tj’s on the way to victory.  These were some of the best teams during the 90’s particularly The Lounge who won multiple championships during the decade.  We won a second championship in 2000 defeating Gemini in the finals.  We retired from the league with a 137-67 record and two championship wins.

The Saturday league is unmatched I believe in the history of softball.  You will never see that many premier players and especially pitchers again.  I played for 17 years and rarely missed a Saturday.  If you speak to other people who played in the league, they will let you know that it was an honor to play there.  The memories of that league will last forever, and I just wish more people had an opportunity to see what took place.  It was magical!

Alec Rill

I am a street photographer documenting the world as I see it through my camera. I try to show the range of human emotions wherever I go, whether it is to far away places or across the street.

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