William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNews
GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ (CNBNews)(May 9, 2021)--After 50 years of being a volunteer member of the Gloucester City Little League organization, Dominic Staiano has decided it is time that someone else takes his spot. The 81-year-old city resident got involved with the local Little League in 1971 helping to maintain the field and the equipment. A few years later when his son was old enough to play ball in the PeeWee
League he started his coaching career.
He and his wife Kathy moved to their home on Chambers Avenue in 1969. Besides being active in the Little League he also helped out at the Gloucester City Swim Club for 30 years and served as president of the club for some time.
Staiano graduated from Gloucester Catholic in 1958. He grew up in South Camden with Art DiPatri. "Art and I went everywhere together, he was my neighbor".
"I was also friends with Frank DiGiacomo, Tony Tartaglia, the Pirrotta family, the DelRossi's, etc.
His father had a pool room and at a very young age, Dominic learned the game. "When I first started playing my dad had me stand on a milk crate so I could reach the table." When he came to Gloucester Catholic, there was a pool room, called Augies, located a few blocks from the high school on Burlington Street across from the VFW Hall. He remembered playing Albie Brandt who was a pool shark from Gloucester City at Augie's on numerous occasions.
"We played a money game called Harrigan, also 9-Ball, and 8-Ball. I liked playing straight pool."
Staiano moved up to coaching the minor league as his son Dominic grew older. Eventually, he coached the major league teams.
Its outfield fences range anywhere from 201 to 218 feet from home plate, and there is an awful lot of foul territory here. This size makes the field a fair test and has led to Gloucester City being tabbed twice to host the 12-year-old Little League state finals, in 1995 and 2016.
While the facility includes a modest concession stand and press booth building behind home plate, it also sports an indoor batting cage off the left-field line. It is part of a complex that also includes several other baseball and softball fields. (Commentary, and photos courtesy of https://www.charliesballparks.com/)
Asked if he had any problems getting kids to come and play when he first started he said, "No, not at all. At the PeeWee level, we had 18 kids on a team. And, in the minor league, there were 10 to 12 teams. Today, the lower levels have a pretty good turnout, there are four teams, but nothing like we had in the past."
"As for the major league, 10-13 year-olds, we only have two teams with just 10 kids on each team. Years ago we had 8 major league teams. We cut the roster to 12 and now it is at 10 because of the lack of players.
The two major teams are Rotary, which is coached by Staino, and Knights of Columbus. Gloucester City plays other teams in District 14.
"When I first started coaching we would have tryouts and some kids didn't make it. But that isn't the case today. Despite having the nicest field in the state of New Jersey we have trouble getting kids to play the game."
"Several towns in the immediate area have shut down their little league programs because of the lack of kids. Brooklawn, for example, is now part of the Gloucester City Little League program."
Dominic said, "I always picked three kids who were 10 years old so I would have three kids for three years. The following year I would have five kids that were 11 and I add my new batch of 10 years olds. The other four kids would be 12 years olds. Using that system I always had a pretty good roster."
Staiano was asked if he thought the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) and other venues have hurt the Little League in recruiting kids to play.
"Yes, that organization and others like it haven't help Little League ball. We are seeing fewer and fewer kids coming out to play. The parents of those kids pay lots of money for their kids to play on those teams too.
According to a 2017 linkedin.com article you can expect to pay $800 to $2,000 to play a season of Travel Baseball that would include approximately two practices a week and entry into six or seven tournaments. Breaking that down into monthly payments the cost ranges from $150 a month to $350 a month depending on the many variables outlined in this article add to that the cost of equipment and uniforms and the numbers go up even higher.
"The other thing that is hurting the Gloucester City LL and other Little League teams throughout South Jersey are the video games. Kids don't want to come outside they rather sit home in front of their computer playing those games. In recent years there is always one or more kids who complain in the dugout that it is too hot to play baseball," Staiano said.
"It wasn't like that when I was growing up in South Camden. We played sandlot baseball every day when we were kids. It wasn't organized Little League ball. My house was right next to the baseball field. Each team had 11 players. My bedroom on the second floor faced the field. In the summer when I got up in the morning one of the first things I did was look out at the field to see how many kids were playing. Depending on the numbers I would either take my time eating breakfast or rush so I could fill somebody's spot."
He was asked if he had any problems with unruly parents of the players or fans during his 50 years in the League, "Occasionally you have some parent or fan cursing out an umpire but that isn't that big of a problem in Gloucester City. Parents do sometimes get out of hand. Usually, a coach could stop that. He could intercede and quiet things down."
As for outstanding players, Dom said he had some decent players who were 10 years old that could be put right into the lineup. “A lot of times if you look at a particular kid who stands out it is because he has a parent who took some time to have a catch with the child. On the other hand, if you have a child that just comes to the practice and that is all he does, they are not as successful. A parent just having that catch once a day with his son or daughter can make such a big difference. "
He was asked, "Do you have a memorable experience in your career that stands out?
"There was this one kid, who was a big boy at 10. He didn't have much of a family life but at the time I wasn't aware of what was happening at his home. In this particular game, he was on the field and a man I thought was his parent hollered at him for missing the ball. He didn't make the catch and when he tried to pick the ball up he made a bad throw. He was an outfielder. The boy kept yelling back and forth at this person who I thought was his father. I tried to stop him and he just kept going."
"I took him off the field and set him down in the dugout. I told him he was done playing for me, that I was kicking him off the team because he was cursing and using foul language. He wouldn't listen to me."
”After the game, I drove him home as I wanted to get his uniform. Why I was waiting outside of his house his mother came out and asked what happened. She was living with someone, I don't know what the situation was. The guy who was hollering at the kid during the game wasn't his father. This really bothered me. As I sat there in my car the same guy starts hollering at the kid on the front step. As I am watching he slapped the kid on the back of his head."
"I really felt bad watching what this kid was going through in his life. I couldn't put him back on the team, even though I wanted to. Everybody in the dugout knew I threw him off the team. If I changed my mind, the other players would question why he was allowed to break the rules and not be punished. I talked it over with some of the other guys in the organization and they agreed that I couldn't reinstate him. But, later on, I talked to the kid and I told him if he wanted to come back to play baseball I would work something out. He said no, that he didn't want to play ball any longer."
"Years later, when he was a young adult, I was walking through the Deptford Mall. I hear this voice calling my name. Mr. Staiano! Mr. Staiano! It was the 10-year-old youngster that I kicked off the team so many years ago who was calling me. I asked him how he was doing? What was he doing with his life? He told me he was doing okay that he was involved in several venues and that he had straightened his life out."
"I always wondered what happened to him. To find out that he was making a life for himself; that the disciplinary action I took when he was 10 years old had a positive effect on his life years later made me feel good. "
Asked if there was a particular reason, besides being his 50th year, that he decided to quit coaching at the end of this season? "I coached all of my grandsons that have lived in town. My last grandson living here is 12 years old. I figure it was a good time to retire. Besides I am having trouble throwing a baseball lately because of aches and pains that come with being 81. I have no problem playing golf and might spend more time doing that."
Below is just some of the many photos Coach Staiano had tucked away at his house. They were chosen by this reporter in no particular order.
1954 Gloucester City Little League All Stars, who were the South Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland Region 4 Champions. The team was defeated by Millbury, NJ, who represented the North Jersey/ New York Region. They were two games from the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA
Top Row: Jim Wachter, Knute Cogan, Jake Miller, Stan Booth, Ray McCann, Bob Bevan, John Bartley, Jim Stubbs.
Bottom Row: Bart Rettew, Ed Hlopak, Tom Ferry, Matt Mullin, Albie Brandt, George Cleary, Reds Richards.