The 2016 21U NEAA Dodgers season has come to a close and I took my much needed vacation at Cape Cod and had lots of time to sit back and reflect on the end of another baseball season.
As much as I tried to think about the huge victories, the clutch hits, the great plays and the overall camaraderie my mind just kept slipping back to one unavoidable fact. With the end of the season we have seen the last of Vincent Lopriore in a Dodger’s uniform. Vin will no longer be age eligible next season as he will be 22 years old. His leaving the program really got me thinking about the impact he has made to North End Baseball since he first put on a uniform as a child.
He was surely one of the best players of his generation as he always played a huge role in the Dodger’s success and won championships at all levels. Vin started out winning a Little League Championship in North End program. Then in the summer he was a driving force in the Suburban League team which finished in first each year Vin played on it.
As he entered his teens, he won championships with the Dodgers in the RBI League, BASE League, Lou Tompkins All-Star Baseball League, and The Wood Bat League. He also led the team to victory in the annual North Adams tournament. Vin was not only a top of the rotation pitcher on those teams but he was also a top of the order batter and a gold glove outfielder. He did his neighborhood proud and certainly left his stamp on the program.
So as I reflected on Vin’s “retirement” I started wondering to myself; is he the greatest baseball player that the North End ever produced? My first comparative thought went to the players of his generation. In his peer group players like Peter Renda, Michael Martignetti and Frank Iudiciani certainly rivaled him as youngsters and could be said to be in his class, couldn’t they?
What about when you turn the clock back? Could Vin’s greatness stand up to the North End baseball greats of yesteryear? As a 50 year old man my little league days were in the 70s. Back then we had stud players like Steven Spada, Anthony Rosati, Angelo Carini and Dante Cirignaro. A little before that Robert DiTulio, Eric LaColla, Sal DiGirolamo and Robert Agrripino were the flag bearers for North End baseball excellence.
These players were all great in their time but I felt comfortable that Lopriore was at least in their class and perhaps a notch above. Still, my knowledge of North End baseball is limited to the 70s forward. I have heard stories about ballplayers in the 50s and 60s who were fantastic at their craft. So I took a walk to talk to some old-time North End legends and get their opinions on who was the greatest North End baseball player of all-time. In my interviews I heard about the greatness of Harry Magicom and Eddie Ardolino. I heard stories of Jerry MiChichi, Joe Humphrey and Joe Freni. The Joe Freni stories particularly caught my ear since I ended up coaching his grandson on my little league and Dodger teams. Also I remembered that when Mr. Freni passed they had a copy of the contract he signed with the NY Yankees next to his coffin. A contract with the Yankees certainly qualifies one to be in the conversation of greatest North End ballplayer ever!
Then I heard stories of Tony Luongo, Phil Orlandella and Jack Ferullo. Yes the same Jack Ferullo that you can find down the baseball field working with kids today and watching the ballgames at night. Then I was told a story about the talent of Jimmy Gannon and how if his name ended in a vowel he might have gone on to have a major league career. I was blown away with the stories of all these talented men and the type of baseball players that the North End has produced throughout the generations.
The names went on and on and the stories went on and on. I’m sure as you are reading this story there are several names popping into your head as players I have obviously missed. I decided that trying to figure out if Vin Lopriore was the greatest to ever come out of our community was like trying to compare Ted Williams to Tony Gwynn. It’s never really possible to compare cross-generation because the game, the equipment and the players keep
So I just sat back and smiled not knowing who the greatest ball player in North End history was but only knowing that I had the privilege to coach one of them and he certainly is in the conversation.