Sunday, August 15, 2010

Blast from the past - Sons of Italy shine at Albany Twilight League's Old-Timer celebration

Albany's Bleecker Stadium was the site of the Albany Twilight League's 80th anniversary Old-Timers game Sunday afternoon. (Photos by  John Whipple - The Record).

ALBANY -- For 60 rainy and windy minutes Sunday afternoon, the Sons of Italy were once again the pride of the Albany Twilight League.

In a celebration of the league’s 80th anniversary – it is the oldest continually operating semi-pro baseball league in the nation – a collection of former players converged for an old timers game, something the league hosts only once every five years.

Jimmy Belgiano, at age 84, played in the old-timers game. He pinch-ran late in the game. 

A group of former Sons of Italy players posted a three-inning, 7-1 victory over a crew of assorted Twilight League legends at Bleecker Stadium, but having fun was the name of the game.

Fred Pidgeon, who played for the Sons from 1968 to 1981, winning four Twilight League batting titles and three Most Valuable Player awards, smacked the hit of the day, a sharp two-run double down the left field line. What was going through his mind as he hustled around first base?

Don Berti, Fred Pidgeon, Bob Murphy, Mark Massaroni and Tom McGuire (left to right) pose with some old jerseys prior to the start of Sunday's game.

"Please go foul so I don’t have to run," laughed Pidgeon. "I’ve always been a pretty good hitter and he threw me a fastball down the middle. I can still hit the ball. I just can’t run anymore."

The Schenectady Sons of Italy, then managed by current Siena College head coach Tony Rossi, won three league titles in the first five years of the 1970s. In the second half of that decade, Oppenheim Post VFW 1019, managed by Tim Lane, won four of five titles.

Former Sons of Italy player Glenn Kinns warms up prior to the start of Sunday's Albany Twilight League old-timers game.

"That used to be the rivalry, Sons of Italy and Oppenheim Post, VFW," Lane said Sunday. "That was the big rivalry in the ‘70s and 80s. It went back and forth and back and forth."

Lane, who was there to watch the game, was one of a few who were around in the league’s formative years. Converted from a reservoir for Albany’s public water system, Bleecker Stadium opened for business on Thanksgiving Day 1934. The Twilight League has been its first and longest-tenured tenant.

"I started in 1954 with the Albany Elks, I went away, played pro ball, went into the Service and then came back to the league again," Lane said. "I went to Buffalo and came back here. Then I managed in here for about 19 years. It was a good run."

Former Twilight League legends Bill Levy, Ed Delehanty and Eddie Plew (left to right) take a break prior to the start of Sunday's old-timers game.

The defensive player of the game was Bill Levy, who won the league’s MVP award in 1976 for Culligan’s. Levy, playing first base, scooped everything thrown his way. Levy also led off the top of the first inning with a single up the middle.

"A lot of good players have come through this league and they continue to come through this league," said Levy, who competed in the league from 1969 to 1982. "It’s a very good league."

Billy Harrell, Glen Barker, Gary Holle and Mickey Brantley are among the local players that went from the Twilight League to the majors.

Gene Madaio and George Rafferty (left to right) lean up against the third base dugout railing prior to the start of Sunday's old-timers game.

The Twilight League is still fielding successful teams, as the Albany Athletics advanced to the American Amateur Baseball Congress World Series this past week in Houston, becoming just the third team in league history to do so. Apex Printing (1989) and the Sons of Italy (1973) also reached the World Series.

In recent years, college-age players have been offered more opportunities to play in leagues such as the New York Collegiate Baseball League. The NYCBL’s Albany Dutchmen have shared Bleecker Stadium with the Twilight teams the past two summers.

Still, with a dedicated alumni group, many at Sunday’s game believe nothing is stopping the Twilight League from another 80 years of baseball at Bleecker Stadium.

"I’m part of the hall of fame committee and part of the old-timers and we have meetings throughout the year and we are the ones that make sure that this league continues," Pidgeon said. "I come down to support the younger players in the summertime. It’s fun. As long as baseball is being played in Albany, it has to be played at Bleecker Stadium."

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