In his more active days, Gary Spano played adult softball five nights a week at Capitolo Playground. The South Philly native now stays in the game by umpiring for the Amateur Softball Association.
He makes the calls both for local teams and South Jersey squads. One night, while driving over the bridge after a game, Spano started thinking it was time to organize an all-star game involving players from both areas. The contest would be even better if it were for a good cause, he figured.
On Sept. 11, the first Southside All-Star Charity Softball Game will take place at Capitolo, Ninth and Federal streets.
"What better way to put people together than play America’s pastime?" posed Spano, originally from 22nd and McKean streets.
Originally, proceeds from the event were to benefit victims of the Sept. 11 tragedies, but Spano and other organizers decided on a local charity instead.
The South Jersey All-Stars hail from Gloucester County, the site of a devastating July 4 fire that killed three firefighters and three young children. Therefore, the "Three Firefighters Fund of Gloucester City, N.J." seemed a fitting cause. The charity helps the families of the men who died.
"The [9-11] cause is flooded with money," Spano said. "We would rather keep it in our own backyard."
The game also will benefit the Philadelphia Firemen’s Fund.
Each roster for the all-star game will include 20-25 players age 18 and up. The South Philadelphia team is comprised of players from the two squads that competed in the championship game of the Capitolo Playground adult league; the South Jersey team’s players are from Glendora, N.J.
Frank DiTillio, originally from 20th Street and Snyder Avenue, will coach the South Jersey team, along with Bill Sampolski. DiTillio is temporarily overlooking his South Philly roots to predict a win for his squad.
"I think South Jersey is going to kick South Philly’s butt," he said. "South Philly is going to have to prove they are as good as South Jersey when we finally meet."
Coaches Frank Narducci and Scott Franklin, meanwhile, are ready to have their South Philly All-Stars answer the challenge.
"We are going to let them know we can still play the game," Narducci said. "We are coming to win."
Planning for the much-anticipated event began in July. Capitolo recreation leader Louise Marchetti, summertime play leader Donnie Pizzi and Spano worked to line up sponsorships and also planned a home-run hitting contest.
Participants must pay a $25 entry fee for the contest, which will kick off the festivities at 6:30 p.m. Batters will get 10 pitches to swing at, with two passes allowed. The Glendora-based Sports Outlet is donating a $300 baseball bat as a prize for the winner.
Drivers and pedestrians won’t have to duck any 300-foot home-run balls, thanks to a 315-foot fence being erected in the outfield. Another special addition to the field will be a giant banner with the names of all the donors that will stretch from first base to third.
The event already has raised $2,800 in sponsorships. Geno’s Steaks, Cannuli Bros. House of Pork, Mancuso Cheese Co. and Maglio Sausage are among the local businesses involved. Councilmen Frank DiCicco and Jim Kenney, along with state Sen. Vincent Fumo, have donated $200 apiece. DiCicco will throw out the first pitch at 7:45 p.m. with ASA District 10 commissioner Richard Luongo.
The night also promises entertainment. Phil Mancuso of Mancuso Cheese Co. will sing the national anthem, while King Arthur of 1360 AM will handle the DJ duties.
Special South Philly and South Jersey all-star T-shirts will be on sale to help raise additional money. Kids get in free, but adult spectators will be asked for a $5 donation.
In the interest of fairness, each athlete will play at least two innings. The two South Philly and South Jersey umpires, who will wear black shirts with American flags, also will keep things on the level.
Aside from the bragging rights, fielders also will compete for the Gold Glove Award, which Sports Outlet is donating.
Organizers hope the game will grow into a yearly fundraising event. South Philly’s Narducci said he is proud to be involved.
"Whatever little we can do for those people, it’s definitely an honor to help out," he said.
Fellow coach Franklin, who has played softball at Capitolo for 15 years, said he is looking forward to the competition.
"I think this is going to be very special," he said. "It’s something we need to have more often."
For more information about the game, call Gary Spano, 609-605-0333, or Donnie Pizzi, 215-685-1883.