Friday, May 15, 2009

Intertown Baseball League Celebrates 80th Birthday
By Dom Nicastro

Hamilton -

Terry Poste sees her grandfather, Angie Fucillo, on the bench coaching the Hamilton Generals at Patton Park in the early 70s.

Chris Lane recalls Monday nights during the summer at the ballfield in Ipswich, with Hall of Famer Mike Singer in his usual third baseline lawn chair with friends cheering on the town team and heckling umpires.

Jeremy Spittle can see Bruce Emerson play the hill in right field at Evans Field in Rockport just right and shortstop John Parisi going all out for a routine groundball.

The images that compose the memories of the Intertown Baseball League over the last 80 years are different for everybody.

Most agree, however, the ITL is as special and vibrant today as it was in Year No. 1, 1929, simply because it hasn’t changed all that much.

Today, as the North Shore-based ITL gears up for its 81st season, camaraderie, civic pride and good old-fashioned competitive town baseball still make the ITL the ITL, a league like no other in the area, players and league officials say.

“The ITL was started 80 years ago on the premise of, ‘I bet our town’s baseball players can beat your town’s players in a game of baseball,’” said Essex’s Cal Grimes, a retired Essex policeman and the league’s single-season home run record holder who’s been involved in the ITL for 43 years as a player, coach, vice president, president and umpire. “Thus, town team baseball started, and after a hard fought game, you shake hands and call your competition a friend. This is why I think the Intertown league has endured and prospered. God loves town team baseball. Baseball at its purist.”

One undeniable distinction from other leagues is age. According to ITL officials it’s the nation’s oldest active amateur baseball league, a fact they say is confirmed by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

However, the Boston Park League also claims that fact (Wikipedia supports it); it began in 1929, same as the ITL. Leading some to wonder if it’s a tie.

It does not matter, according to Poste, who began as scorekeeper 23 years ago and is now the league’s president. The concept of town team, she said, makes the league truly unique from its North Shore and Boston-area counterparts.

The teams — Rockport, Ipswich, Manchester Essex, Beverly, Hamilton, Topsfield and Rowley – can have rosters of up to no more than 25 percent outsiders, or those not living in the town in which they play.

For most of its existence, the league was steadfast that only town players could play for the town team.

But it has had its troubles with numbers more recently. Essex folded after a 70-year-plus history after the 2000 season because of what ITL officials saw as a lack of leadership and interest of Essex natives to play summer adult baseball.

It combined with Manchester, which also had low numbers of town players. The league approved Beverly’s entrance into the league in 2004.

Poste, the league president, said there have not been any forfeits in the past three seasons because of lack of players.

“Over the past 23 years that I’ve been a member of the executive committee we’ve seen leagues fold and some even re-group and start again just to fold again,” said Poste, a Hamilton native. “Yes, we’ve had to add 25 percent of the roster from outside of the area to keep some teams alive, but we have not lost the town vs. town mentality. We all remember stories of when our grandfathers, fathers, uncles played against your grandfathers, fathers, uncles.”

Jeff Barricelli, Beverly’s player/coach, has played since 1997. He began in Topsfield and moved on to Hamilton. He also made cameos in Boston leagues but found a lack of camaraderie.

“After five years we have not won a championship, but we have provided Beverly ballplayers a place they can continue their playing careers while still having fun,” Barricelli, 33, said. “All of our players are Beverly natives and/or residents, and we take pride in representing our city. Each year we look to add a few young players to mix with the veterans.”

Ryan Montecalvo, a 32-year-old Ipswich player who is expecting his second child, said he has the blessing of his wife to play for the team he remembers watching on Monday nights. (Each team has a designated home-game night).

“There are not many men's leagues around that I am aware of that can compare,” said Montecalvo, who started playing in 1994. “It is able to blend a friendly, local vibe with some great rivalries and fierce competition. I think that one of the things that makes the league so great is that it does not take it self too seriously. Most of the players understand that we are not, and were never going to be, pros, but we still really have that competitive drive and passion for playing the game.”

Recanting old tales with ITL alumni in town makes it special for Tom Jones, Hamilton’s player/manager. ITL alumni seem to be everywhere, said the 29-year-old, 12-year ITL veteran.

“People love the North Shore and tend to stay for their whole lives, which is great for the league,” Jones said. “It's been around so long because there is such a great group of alumni that are still around and still involved in many ways. Guys go out of their way to keep in touch with former teammates and even on-the-field rivals.”

And as long as there is summer and ballfields on which to play, players see the ITL going for even another 80 years, strengthened each year by town pride and creating more memories like Poste’s as a little girl in Hamilton.

“Some of my best memories of summer were right at Patton Park,” Poste said. “I wouldn’t miss a Thursday game. After all someone had to pass the hat. I learned all I need to know about baseball sitting side by side with (my grandfather) all summer. As I learned to read and write, I learned to keep score and figure batting averages. Life can’t get much better than that, can it?”


What: The ITL is celebrating its 80th season

When: Saturday, May 16

Who: Induction of new members to the Hall of Fame and a first alumni baseball game.

Alumni game: Saturday, May 16, 3 p.m. Open to all former ITL players to play. Players are asked to contribute $10 (to cover uniform shirt, baseballs, etc. Everything else is up to player). If you are interested in playing, please e-mail Game held at Essex Memorial Field

HOF/Kick Off Party: Saturday, May 16, 7 p.m., Lobster Trap in Essex. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased from team managers, or from the league office. Night will include 2009 HOF inductions, 2008 season awards, cash bar, & appetizers.

2009 Hall of Fame Class:

Jeff Milks - Topsfield
Bruce Emerson - Rockport
Justin Brown - Manchester
Donnie Burnham - Essex