Knee surgery couldn’t keep Peter Rocco from attending the unveiling of the 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame Inductee Park on Sunday morning. Pete got to see his name and photo displayed with 300 other inductees at the new monument. Four giant bats surround the panels showcasing stellar softball careers, while an oversized clincher mounted on a black pedestal replicates the trophies received by hall members.
Hundreds turned out for speeches and songs at the ceremony. Members of the Hall of Fame board gave heartfelt talks about how it couldn’t have happened without the help of the park district. They also spoke of how appropriate it was to place the hall in the town that has hosted the national no-glove tournament for more than 40 years.
Politicians also spoke and read proclamations, with the biggest applause coming during State Sen. Rickey Hendon’s speech. He announced that the state of Illinois is providing a $500,000 grant for the completion of the Hall of Fame building. The softballers were seeking $400,000 in donations to renovate a small building, so this made the project infinitely more feasible.
After the ribbons were cut and displays unveiled, the crowd surged forward to find the photo of the player they were honoring.
“Here you are, grandpa,” said one attendee.
In our case, it was, “Here you are, uncle,” because Pete Rocco is married to my wife’s aunt.
Pete’s smiling face was found on the display honoring players from the 1950 to 1970 era. Pete first played softball on “The Island,” an Italian-American enclave near Austin and Roosevelt. After high school, he went to work at Victor Gasket, a line drive east of his back door. There he met his future wife and the manager of one of the best softball teams in the city.
Pete was recruited to play for Triner’s Hall. His team did not lose a game from 1952 to ’54 and Pete made the all-star team two years running. He left Triner’s to play for Comfy Tap. After a stint in the Army, hall of famer Moose Camillo signed up Pete to play for his team at Kell’s Park. Pete hit the longest homer ever seen at that park. It landed on the roof of a CTA building in dead center. The opposing centerfielder suffered a career-ending injury trying to catch it. During his three-decade career, Pete’s battle-scarred bats clouted more than 800 home runs and 4,000 RBI, while he played every position on the field.
After the ceremony, Pete hobbled over to watch the celebrity North Side vs. South Side game and reminisce with his buddies. He was in softball heaven and, walker or not, will be back this weekend for the tournament. If you see him, ask him about his legendary 1963 game against the Bobcats. Was there really a $25,000 bet on the outcome?