1940s teen softball team reassembles for a weekend
Some former players came from as far away as Florida and California.
BOARDMAN -- Not a one of them remembers how the team got its name.
But members of the Pirates, a teen fast-pitch softball team that played all challengers -- and by their account beat most -- on Youngstown's East Side in the late 1940s, remembered plenty else when they got together for their first reunion over the weekend.
"Nobody could stop us, that's for sure," said Bob Janesh of Struthers at a Sunday morning breakfast at Eat 'n Park. "We played everybody, even teams with guys in their 20s."
Eleven surviving members, all in their 60s or early 70s, came for the full weekend of activities. Most are still residents of the Youngstown area, but some came from as far as Florida and California. Some hadn't seen one another "since we played our last game," said Ron Mandoline of Boardman.
From noon Saturday to Sunday evening they swapped stories -- about softball and otherwise -- looked around their old neighborhoods and even spent a couple of hours practicing at their old ball field at the Lincoln School playground on North Truesdale Avenue.
"We can't catch the ball or run as good as we used to, but we can still swing the bats," said John Mazzella of Lancaster, Calif.
The Pirates had invited members of a rival team from the East Side, the Arrow Club, to the reunion activities including the practice session that was supposed to be a three-inning game.
"Afraid they would get beat," one team member chimed in. But others quickly added that it was probably all for the best.
The Pirates' reminiscences recalled another era in the history of Youngstown.
"We were mostly blue-collar, working class guys," said Alan DePetro of Bonita Springs, Fla., recalling the occupations of team members' fathers -- steel mill workers, police officers, firefighters, house painters.
But when it came time to play ball, the boys were on their own.
"There weren't any parents around to bother us," Mandoline said. "We ran our own games and never had any trouble. Today it's all too organized for the kids."
True enough, but the Pirates, made up of boys ages 11 to 16, were a pretty thriving enterprise themselves back in the day. They had local business sponsors and their own "minor league" team, the Jets. They were even coached by a teammate, team captain Ray Saulino, now of Boardman.
"Everybody respected him," said Bob Hannis of Boardman. "He was the first one of us to have a car."
As for the team's name, all the players know is that it didn't come from the major league Pittsburgh Pirates, who were abysmal during that era.
When they weren't playing ball, they did what young boys did on the city's East Side in those days. (Seven even said they delivered The Vindicator.)
They recalled looking through the window of the Sunnyside Tavern to see Cleveland Indians games on one of the neighborhood's few televisions, pitching pennies and playing other games on the sidewalks and walking or taking the bus everywhere.
"That was back when you didn't have to worry about someone stealing your kid," Mazzella said.
After their Pirates' days were over, the team members went on to graduate from East High School, where some of them played baseball.
Other members of the team who attended the reunion were Sam Bezzarro of Austintown; Kenny Saunders of Youngstown; Pete Vitucci of Rootstown; George Kinnick of Austintown; Corky Parm of Orlando, Fla.; and Bill DiPietro of Lady Lake, Fla. Eight team members have died.
The Pirates, in a newsletter, have made a tongue-in-cheek promise to have another reunion in 2055 -- "Be there," the newsletter says.
But the consensus was that they need to do this again soon. "It's kind of sad that we waited so long to have this," DePetro said.