WEST ORANGE, NJ — Softball and baseball players congregated at Colgate Park field in Fink’s Wine and Liquors and Quigley’s Barbershop jerseys as a new group of “old timers” was inducted into the Colgate Park Hall of Fame at the 43rd annual Old Timer’s Day, honoring the adults who played in the park as children. Among the newest members of the Hall of Fame were: Pat Cassidy, Jackie Cassidy, Vinny Dellorto, Gary Fittin, Mary Huber Miele, Herman Shauger, Rich Strowe, Jeff “Buzzy” Thatcher and Elizabeth Huber Zaleskie. Also recognized were the members of the Ben’s Lunch softball team, a group of athletes who played in a recreation league for the Orange deli in 1972 and never lost a game.
“We played softball in the ’60s through the ’80s,” Joe Freda, who was on the Ben’s Lunch team, said at the event. “We won both the A and the B categories. We especially remember this field because we had a triple play here. The best thing that came from playing ball was that we remain friends today.”
Husband-and-wife duo Pat and Jackie Cassidy were honored together. Jackie Cassidy reminisced about days spent in the park when she thanked the West Orange Recreation Department for the award.
“We’d come to the park at nine in the morning, go home for lunch and come back,” she said. “If you grew up down the hill, Colgate was your backyard. It’s where we made a lot of friends.”
The Cassidys don’t live in West Orange anymore, but Pat Cassidy said they try to return as often as they can to visit.
“We come here as often as we can,” he said. “It was the greatest town to grow up in.”
Dellorto was also honored and, after thanking the recreation department, joked that he was known for being one of the slowest players on the field.
“I was known for being slow,” Dellorto said. “I’d hit it up the back hill and only get a double. It should have been a home run.”
Fittin talked about his time playing in the fields at Colgate, but also his memories of the Fourth of July celebration that used to be held in the park before it was moved to West Orange High School.
“My first memory is up on that hill watching fireworks and covering my ears,” Fittin said. “If Colgate could talk, it would say good things about us all.”
Township Clerk Karen Carnevale gave Miele her Old Timer’s Award, and described 1974, the first year girls were allowed to participate in Little League baseball. Miele was one of the first girls on a Little League team in West Orange.
“There wasn’t much opportunity for girls to play sports then, and thankfully we think nothing of it now,” Carnevale said.
In her speech, Miele said she had been excited as a child to to pick up a bat while wearing an official uniform instead of just playing in the park on her own.
“I had watched my brothers play on this field, so I was thrilled when my sister and I could play as well,” she said. “The opportunity to play Little League was special. I was fortunate to be on a team with support from everyone. Most of my memories revolved around Colgate Park. It was a great place to meet up with friends.”
Introduced by his brothers Donald, Tom and John, Herman Shauger was the next honoree to receive his award.
“It was a lot of fun at this park,” he said. “It was a tight-knit community; a lot of friendships developed here. The best part is remembering the relationships we had.”
Strowe thanked his parents for moving to West Orange so he could grow up going to Colgate Park every day.
“I spent many days and many nights here,” Strowe said. “This place made a lot of memories and friendships.”
Debbie Thatcher introduced her brother, Buzzy Thatcher, and described a football game he had played in when someone ran into him and tripped him.
“He flipped over, landed on his feet and kept running,” she said. “This was a guy who could run.”
Buzzy Thatcher joked that he was wondering when he would be getting an Old Timer’s Day plaque with his name on it, since his mother, father and brother all already have them.
“This was the place to go and have fun,” Buzzy Thatcher said. “This field and this town bring back so many wonderful memories.”
Zaleskie was the last Old Timer to get her award, introduced by Mike Shannon.
“I have a lot of wonderful memories here,” Zaleskie said in her speech. “It’s so cool to be honored just for having a great time as a kid.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic