Thursday, June 19, 2008

Field Dedication Tonight....

From the Salem News

Hamilton field to honor longtime sports booster Richie Vitale
By Steve Landwehr

Staff writer

HAMILTON — It's the kind of story that sounds too good to be true, but it is true. It's about a guy who wasn't tall in stature yet was bigger than life.

Just ask any of the kids who came up through the Hamilton-Wenham Recreation Department when he was around.

Or the seniors he hauled on trips to the Mohawk Trail in a school bus later in life. Or the high school senior footballers whose caricatures will forever adorn the Wall of Fame at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School. Or the congregants at St. Paul Church, which Vitale tended to in his retirement.

Tonight, a grateful town will give thanks to Richard "Richie" Vitale, who, though born in Beverly, adopted the children of Hamilton and Wenham as his own after he moved to Hamilton in 1961.

The major league baseball field at Patton Park is being dedicated in Vitale's name in a 5 p.m. ceremony that is probably long overdue. It is a place where Vitale, who died last summer at 70, was known to do everything from raking the field to umpiring.

"He just rolled up his sleeves and did whatever needed to be done," said Hamilton Town Clerk Jane Wetson, who got to know Vitale when her sons were playing football.

It started when he was the town's recreation director and continued after he became the director of Hamilton's Department of Public Works. Along the way, he coached junior high football, mentored his Little League team to 33 consecutive wins, started girls softball in the Hamilton Rec League and gymnastics at the Iron Rail in Wenham. He also worked as a baseball umpire and football official.

Vitale founded the high school football boosters' Touchdown Club, and while newcomers may think the Thanksgiving Day football game with Ipswich is a long-standing tradition, it was Vitale who proposed it in 1975.

Hamilton parks foreman Paul Rigol and fellow town employee Jeff Mazzetta came up with the idea for the memorial. Rigol worked with Vitale when he was the recreation director and got to know him even better after Vitale stepped down as DPW director and the town hired him to help with maintenance of the town's playing fields.

"In his mind, every child should have the opportunity to play a sport if they wanted to," Rigol said.

Vitale settled into full retirement several years ago, but Rigol says he still feels his influence.

"It carries on in how I work," Rigol said. "He instilled in me that you make the field the best you can and the kids will play better."

Rigol recalls that years ago kids were encouraged to skate on Weaver Pond in Patton Park after it froze over in the winter and Vitale helped to flood it. Because of liability concerns, today's kids are discouraged from using the pond.

Vitale's wife, Sandy, recalls him bringing Little Leaguers' uniforms home and washing them if parents turned them in dirty.

"There was no such word as 'no' to Richie," she said.

She said Vitale never looked for any shows of appreciation, but Wetson thinks this little ceremony is the right thing to do.

"I think he did a little bit of everything," she said. "Richie gave a lot to the town."