By John Rice
Frank Lentine is one of softball's all-time greats. That's not hyperbole, either.
For its 50th Anniversary, the American Softball Association named Lentine one of the Top 22 players of the last half-century.
During his stellar softball career, Lentine played in the No Glove National Tournament from 1965-1981. He won two championships with the Bobcats and one with the Stompers.
It's only fitting that Lentine has won the Forest Park tournament multiple times since his family has a long history with the village.
His grandfather, Frank Lentine, moved to Forest Park, after contracting black lung disease working in coal mines. The family was already established in Forest Park, with the Vito Lentine Barber Shop on Madison Street. Another family member, Eugene Lentine, was on the fire department. After Joe Lentine was killed in the Philippines, in 1945, he was eulogized at the Forest Park VFW.
When Frank played softball at the No Glove National, his whole family would come out for the games.
Lentine, however, didn't grow up in Forest Park. His childhood home was close to another softball mecca, the park at Chicago & Kedzie.
"I used to shag balls in the outfield before the games," Lentine recalled.
He started his softball career, at St. Philip's High School, alongside future great, Moose Camillo.
Lentine went on to De Paul University, before landing a construction company. He played for a team called the Rogues during that time.
The heyday of his career, though, was playing on the Bobcats for seven years.
"We won the nationals six times. I was named MVP in 1972." Lentine said. "I batted left-handed and was a line drive hitter, cutting the ball down the line.
"I really liked playing in the No Gloves, because right field had trees that were in play."
The trees turned fly ball outs into triples for the speedy left fielder.
"I could run like a deer, until I tore my Achilles playing basketball."
Lentine worked hard to heal the injury. He didn't suffer any injuries playing softball, other than crooked fingers.
He did have one embarrassing episode, though.
"My teammate engineered a softball bat, with a fiberglass rod inside," Lentine said. "During a game, it broke and exposed the fiber glass. It was my 'Sammy Sosa' moment."
During this time, Lentine started a family and ended up with six boys and two adopted daughters. To support the eight children, he landed a job as a pharmaceutical rep.
He also went to work for the Chicago Park District, serving as the weekend supervisor at Amundsen Park for 35 years. Lentine ran softball leagues, baseball games and a basketball league, while also serving as an umpire and referee. Amundsen Park even had a football program and boxing.
Still officiating at 77-years-old, Lentine's only regret is that the district replaced the baseball fields at Amundsen Park, with a football field.
While juggling two jobs, Lentine continued his softball career.
He was 35 when he left the Bobcats. He retired in 1982 but made a comeback in 1995, playing on the Senior Softball Circuit.
"I won 29 national championships with the seniors," Lentine proudly declared, "I'm still playing."
Though he is proud of his career, Lentine takes special satisfaction from having his six sons play softball.
Sons, Tom and Christopher, will be playing in the No Glove National this year, for Impact. Tom Lentine is also the Athletic Director at Montini High School.
Lentine was inducted into the 16" Softball Hall of Fame in 1999. He currently serves on the HOF board and offers nothing but praise for the sustained success and appeal of the No Glove National tourney.
"The crowds are always big and the fields are n perfect condition," Lentine said. "It's the "coup d etat" of softball. And they still play it with no gloves."