Cleveland sandlot baseball reunion set for this weekend at League Park

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Those affiliated with sandlot baseball from years ago are invited to attend a reunion at League Park this weekend.

The reunion is slated for noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, at League Park. The event will include a program from 1 to 1:30 p.m., then move into a get-together. Food and drink will be available, said Al Drews, who is helping organize it.

“It’s basically a reunion of the sandlot guys who have played for many years and a chance to get together and talk about those stories of yesteryear,” he said.

John Nagy, who spent 40 years as recreation commissioner during the golden era of sandlot baseball, will be honored with a plaque made for the Baseball Heritage Museum at League Park, Drews said, and former sportswriter and television personality Dan Coughlin will speak.

A sandlot gathering was held in 2018, when former players actually played at League Park. That ignited reunions on a regular basis. Frank Petruno, a former player and manager, has been spearheading the reunions, Drews said. As such, future annual gatherings will be known formally as the Frank Petruno Old Timer Sandlot Baseball Reunion.

Also, the museum’s Bob Zimmer and Ricardo Rodriguez will discuss future programs regarding sandlot ball.

Drews said the museum has been gracious enough to pencil in the reunion for the last week of August every year, which keeps alive memories of the era but also helps those interested plan to attend.

“That’s going to be big for us,” Drews said. “It helps with getting the word out. It’s a nice gesture on their part.”

Sandlot ball’s origins go back decades, though it “took off in the war years in the early ‘40s when (Major League) baseball took a back seat because of the war effort,” Drews said.

During World War II, rosters were depleted with players going overseas. Baseball Encyclopedia lines on players’ stats at the time often have “did not play – military service” or similar notation, denoting players serving their country during World War II or Korea.

“Cleveland became one of the top-flight sandlot cities in the country,” Drews said.

If you think sandlot ball was just a bunch of kids showing up and knobbing up a bat to determine who hits first, you’d be wrong. Sandlot was tied in with the city’s parks and recreation departments. Fields throughout the city were prepped, lines were dragged, and statistics were kept. “Contract cards” were on file so ringers weren’t allowed, Drews said.

“It was really amazing,” he said. “In the ‘40s and ‘50s it was a key form of entertainment.”

And on Mondays, Drews added, everyone would get The Plain Dealer to read results from Sunday’s games.

“It was a big deal,” Drews said.

(For the record, the bat-knobbing routine is an old-fashioned pregame ritual for pickup games. A player from each team would grip a bat, alternating hand over hand from fat end up to the handle. Whoever finished as the top hand covering the bat’s knob would determine if his team was “home” or “away.”)

If you go

League Park is at 6601 Lexington Ave., Cleveland. The event is free. Street parking lines the ballpark. Amidst its displays and exhibits, the Baseball Heritage Museum has a section devoted to sandlot ball.

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I am on cleveland.com’s life and culture team and cover food, beer, wine and sports-related topics. If you want to see my stories, here’s a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I talk food and drink usually at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. Twitter: @mbona30.

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