Citizen’s Joe DeFelice a legend on the diamondBy Mary Ann Price
If you see a car with the license plate SFTBLL heading down Washington Street, there’s a good chance it’s heading to a softball tournament.
The driver, Canton native and longtime Canton Citizen columnist Joe DeFelice, has had a decades-long love affair with baseball and softball. He played in his first Little League game at the age of 10 in 1952, which was also the first year Little League games began in Canton. Sixty years later, DeFelice is still catching balls behind home plate and savoring the national championship his team won last February.
DeFelice was named to the Canton All-Star Little League team in 1952, 1953 and 1954. In 1954, his team won the district championship but lost in the semifinals to Needham, who went on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport.
He went on to play baseball in the Pony League and later at Canton High School. In 1959, the CHS baseball team, one of the four best baseball teams coached by teacher Bob Gibson, won the Hockomock League championship.
Growing up, DeFelice used to go to Messinger Field to watch teams play in the Canton Men’s Softball League. While studying at Northeastern University, he decided to put together a fast-pitch softball team for the league. To raise money for his goal, he ran record hops at Canton High and raised $2,000.
“I outfitted the team in complete uniforms,” he said, “pants, shirt, belts and hats.”
In 1964, five days after graduating from college, DeFelice joined the Army, and over the next three years he played ball on Army bases in the United States and in Korea while serving as a captain in the Signal Corps. He continued to play his favorite sport when he returned and began working at the Plymouth Rubber Company. The business had a team that played in a slow-pitch league in Brockton.
DeFelice liked the idea of slow-pitch softball and went to see Russ Kidd, who was a teacher and the part-time Recreation Department director in Canton.
“I sat down with him and said, ‘I have an idea,’” he said with a laugh. “I founded the Canton men’s slow pitch in the town of Canton.” Twelve teams joined during the first year; there are ten teams participating presently. DeFelice was president of the league from 1967 to 1977. He played on 27 teams that won championships in both slow-pitch and fast-pitch, including 13 consecutive slow-pitch winning teams.
He worked as an industrial engineer for the Kendall Company in Walpole for 20 years and played softball in the Industrial League, earning the Most Valuable Player Award in 1973. In addition to having fun, DeFelice realized that the games were a way for him to relate to the union employees that worked for Kendall and vice-versa. “It made it easier for me to talk to them,” he said.
DeFelice eventually joined the league for senior players. His first team, the Renegades, won 35 straight games during one season. In 2006, he put together his own team, Hanningtons of Massachusetts, supported by local attorney Glen Hannington.
An over-70 team, Hanningtons has won five tournaments this year: the Ocean State Classic in Rhode Island, the Bay State Championship in Wayland, the Cape Cod Classic in Harwich, the Atlantic Coast Championship in Virginia, and the Tournament of Champions in Florida.
In order to play in the Tournament of Champions, the team needed to win the Atlantic Coast Championship. They were losing when DeFelice, who describes himself as a line-drive hitter, stepped up to the plate and hit a two-run homer. They won the game because of his effort.
“For me personally, it was a highlight,” he said. Hanningtons went on to Florida and won the Tournament of Champions.
DeFelice has won more than 200 trophies, including those medals from 1952. He continues to play softball five days a week and travels to as many tournaments as he can.
“I love the game,” he said. “You play the top teams. You try to beat them and they try to beat you.”
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