I simply cannot drive past Wilcox Park or North Street Field without thinking of all of the fastball games that I watched there over so many years. It began for me as a grade school kid when my family lived right across from Wilcox Park on Maple Street.
During the day — as in all day — the neighbourhood kids played outside. Then at night, for guys like me and Keith Lefave, it was heading from our side by side houses on Maple Street to Wilcox Park to watch fastball games in what was called the Industrial Commercial League.
My favourite fastball team was Bert’s Auto and star players such as pitchers Babe Dowding and Ching Johnston, first baseman Harry Scott, second baseman Eddie Pettenuzzo, shortstop Bobby Gowans and infielder/outfielder Vince Vernelli.
But I had favourite players on other teams as well. One of my “non Bert’s Auto” favourites — who many years later became a friend of mine as a fellow sports fan — was a slick fielding, first baseman and outfielder who could hit to all fields. If the old Industrial Commercial League had a true five-tool player it was none other than Ronnie Bedford, who could do it all in the field and at the plate. More importantly, Ronnie is just a good, good person.
Many years later, in the mid-1970s, when I first became a part-time sportscaster and reporter at CKCY Radio, I actually got paid to cover what was then called the International Fastball League at North Street Field. Games were played four nights a week and I would walk to North Street Field from CKCY. The station was downtown just across from Sault Memorial Gardens. On a given night I would watch a game, take notes, and then head back to the radio station to record a 45-to-60 second recap that would be used on the next day’s sportscasts. After watching games as a spectator as a young kid, getting paid a few bucks to actually cover a game as a 22-year-old sports reporter was a thrill of all thrills.
Beginning in the mid-70s, I loved covering the International Fastball League with teams such as the Alpha Bar Americans, Armando’s Giants, K.S. Dool Realty and Rollie Lemay Furniture Kings. Notable players that, for whatever reason, stood out to me from the various teams were catcher Johnny Dorrance, pitchers Jerry Lortie, Harold Barton, Donnie Newman, John Slobodecki, Tony Bergamin, Jake DeRosario, Dave (Whitey) Horka and Paul Allen, infielders Brian Seccereccia, Neil Kirkpatrick and Steve Romiti and outfielders Max DeRosario, Ken Deluca and Bill Crawford. Of those players, the hard-boiled, tough as nails Dorrance and the right-hand power hitting Romiti were my favourites.
But of course, the absolute best players that I ever saw — either as a young kid or fledgling sportscaster — were the superstar likes of catcher Danny Smith, pitchers Reno Pettenuzzo and Darren Zack and first baseman Reno Lato.
Ah, the above mentioned CKCY Radio. My media alma mater was in its golden age prime when I started there as a wide-eyed youngster back in 1975. As mentioned above, I began as a part-time sportscaster and sports reporter. The pay was only $3 an hour but the experience was absolutely priceless.
CKCY was live 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a full-time staff of more than 20 and several part-timers. I got to work for or alongside the likes of legendary Open Mike host and Soo Greyhounds play by play announcer Harry Wolfe, sports director Paul Leonard, newscasters Russ Hilderely, Sam Kaplan, David Gazer and Joe Petrolo, disc jockeys Tony Chipman, Dave Carter, B.W. Martin, Robert E. Lee, Phil Parks, Frank Kennedy, Tony Deresti, Don Wayne, Larry Jay and Tony Marziale. Then there were office staffers such as Louise O’Neill, Judy Brescacin, Evelyn Fullerton, Helen LaBrash and Allan Armstrong, sales people such as John Baird and Wilf Belec and engineers Ray Rylatt, Crash Craddock and Ron Flint. And the managing owner of the radio station was Carmen Greco, who was a nice, nice, nice man.
I always thought to work in radio you had to have the love of it in your veins because we sure didn’t do what we loved for the money. The thrill of being on the air live and working for a radio station like CKCY that just everyone in the Sault listened to was an unbelievable rush.
And the characters! One of the zaniest was the above mentioned Robert E. Lee, who hosted the 7 p.m. to midnight show. Lee was wild with a wacko side that included long hair that was dyed black and gold, which were the station colours. He also drove a big, old white car with his name painted on the hood and CKCY in big letters on the doors. He had a huge following of teenage girls who would light up all four telephone lines — 254-7111 — to ask “General Lee” to play their favourite songs.
Doing Saturday and Sunday sportscasts alongside weekend newscaster Joe Petrolo was really cool, mostly because Big J.P. and I were classmates together in the Journalism program at Sault College and became friends. Needless to say, Joe and I both moved on from the stuffy classrooms and campus radio station CJSL of Sault College to happily and giddily take part-time work at CKCY for the lure of local fame — and $3 an hour.