by Ron Kuboski
South Plainfield in the 1950’s reflected small town America … our version of The Wonder Years. Walk or ride your bike anywhere. Get together with friends—stick ball, hide and seek at night, ice skating in winter.
And, like much of America, sports were part of our daily activities, and during the summer that meant baseball. We played wherever and whenever we could. Unfortunately, trying to play often presented some difficulties because it was rare we could muster 9 players for each side. Several other factors were out of our control too. A regulation field. Bats and a ball (forget balls). While we always found a way, it wasn’t easy.
Then in 1955, the notice went out. A Little League was starting in town. Even though South Plainfield was geographically small, from the perspective of an 11-year-old, it still had sections where we never got to go. So, kids played in their own neighborhoods on whatever fields they found, even backyards. Now, that was about to change.
Being a part of the South Plainfield Little League in its first years (1955–56) is something upon which I look back with pride and fond memories. The Dodgers were my team. Being a Yankee fan, that was hard. (Later in the Pony League, my team was the Red Sox—even harder.)
Like most individuals who play sports, I can remember specific games, plays, and scores. However, what brings me the greatest pleasure is thinking about all of the players with whom I played. Some remained life-time friends; some I never saw again after little league.
Franklin Field with its picket fence and dirt infield wouldn’t compare to many of the fields on which kids play today. But for us, it was our Stadium. We walked or rode our bikes to the games. No bat bags … fancy spikes … or training camps. Just a glove, if we were lucky.
So many good players … such competition. Yes, we had fun in our pick-up games, and we continued to have fun even after the Little League officially started. But now. Umpires! Bases! Helmets! New balls! Bats! Uniforms! Someone keeping score.
Today, I look at the team pictures and remember the names of most of the faces that smile back at me. In many instances, I can remember specific moments with them, like when I hit my good friend Lou Calderone in the side with a pitch the one and only time I would ever face him in a competitive game. Lenny Schiavi, my catcher in the little league. Bill Anderson, our coach, and his wife who kept score. Billy, their son, a year younger than I was, was an outstanding player, and his younger brother, Jim was our batboy. Too young to play, he eventually became one of the best baseball players to come out of South Plainfield.
By the second year, the league was big in town and it seemed everyone was involved. The parade through town to Boro Park marked opening day with Mr. Joe Farrell, a pioneer in starting the program, announcing the game from behind the backstop. The Dodgers (my team) lost that game to Terry Slater, an eventual teammate in high school and good friend, when Bob DeSesso hit a home run. I can remember being very emotional afterwards. But maybe we had the last laugh so to speak. We won the second half of the league and then beat the Braves in a best of three playoff.
The season was always divided into two halves with the winners playing each other for the championship. If one team won both halves, as the Giants did the first year of the league, then they played an all star team in a game.
I was lucky enough to throw the first no hitter in the South Plainfield Little League, and, Paul Phillips hit the first home run. Where are those young men today? I calculate that they would be between 68 and 72 years old. Nick Muzzilo, Fred Eckert, Reese Kirchoffer, Gordon Lynn, Wally VanFleet, Rich Capraro, Bill Delayo. Some are no longer with us, but when I think of them, I remember them from that time, 11- and 12-year-olds running the bases, catching flies, scoring runs … smiling and having a good time as we were sure that time would last forever as would our youth.
Memories give life meaning and bring a sense of happiness and satisfaction to our lives, especially when they are positive memories. Playing in the South Plainfield Little League those two years was certainly a positive experience. Skills were developed; friendships were formed; character traits were molded.
Today, occasionally the horror story emerges about outrageous little league behaviors, especially, it seems from the adults. We had disagreements, I’m sure, but I can’t remember behavior that was rude or hostile, and when the game was over we were still all friends. And those adults, Steve Timko, Joe Farrell, Tom Orlando, Bob Gilbert, Bill Anderson devoted their time because they loved the kids and baseball.
What a wonderful time in our lives. What wonderful memories.
Ron Kuboski graduated from South Plainfield High School in 1962, lettering in both baseball and basketball. Ron moved on to King’s College for undergrad and Fairleigh Dickinson where he earned his master’s degree. He eventually came back to South Plainfield High to teach English and coach both the varsity baseball and basketball teams.
His 1974 baseball team won the Mid-state Conference championship and had the most victories (18) of any SP team up to that time. His 1975 team won the Group II Central Jersey Championship and finished 21 – 9. Ron won both the Middlesex County and Daily News Coach of the Year awards in 1975.
Ron was one of the original Small Fry League players in 1955. He played for the Small Fry League Dodgers, winning the championship in 1956 and for the Red Sox in the Pony League winning the championship in 1957, ’58, and ’59, a record of success any of our alums would be hard pressed to match!