Remember Nick Jaswell?
How about the Graniteville Mohawks, Manton Dodgers or West End Orioles?
For openers, Jaswell was among the founding fathers that started the ball rolling, as the old adage goes, so that youngsters could play Little League Baseball in Johnston.
On Feb. 11, 1963 to be precise, Jaswell made an inquiry to Little League Baseball in Williamsport, Pa. about actually starting such a league in Johnston.
Then, on March 7, 1963, the JLL received is coveted charter after which Jaswell and company began gearing up for the inaugural season.
The Charter was for six Major Division teams – listed above – and each had a total of 15 players and a 20-game schedule that would come under the leadership of President Vincent Calvitto, Vice President Jim Hopkins, Secretary Nick Jaswell, Treasurer Edwards Jenkins and Player Agent Joseph Fugere, Jr.
Back then, Johnston had a population of approximately 15,000 and the teams were broken out by sections of the town.
Those teams, and their sponsors, were: Graniteville Mohawks, sponsored by Crown Lumber Company, Manager Vincent Sharkey; Manton Dodgers, sponsored by Nanni Building Company of Johnston, Manager Nick Jaswell; Manton Chiefs, sponsored by Emico Plumbing & Heating Company of Johnston, Manager Edward Jenkins.
Also, Thornton Braves, sponsored by DiLorenzo’s 1025 Club of Johnston, Manager Angelo Vitale; Winsor Hill Senators, sponsored by Sen. Thomas DiLuglio, Manager Charles May; West End Orioles, sponsored by Fred Larney Company and Procini Plumbing and Heating, Manager Joseph Fugere Jr.
In later years, records indicate, the JLL launched its now highly-popular and successful Junior-Senior Division once the former Babe Ruth Baseball League in Johnston disbanded.
From those humble beginnings, the current JLL grew and grew and as Robert Civetti, a now Johnston Town Councilman and member of the Board of Directors whose storied youth baseball career began when he started coaching with his father in 1982 when he was still in high school, offered: “At our peak around 2003 we had 425 participants.”
Civetti, who today is the long-serving manager of the Orioles, added that the JLL was then comprised of 12 Major Division teams, 6 Farm Major Teams, 5 Minor Teams, 3 Instructional League team and 5 Junior-Senior League clubs.
Now, the program – which comes under the veteran leadership of President Ed Bedrosian and Vice President “Mr. JLL” John Simao – will reach another marvelous milestone when it celebrates its 55th Opening Day on Saturday.
“It’s a tradition unlike any that we know of,” Civetti said of Opening Day. “Opening Day in Johnston is as special for the kids – and their families – as it is when the Boston Red Sox begin another season at Fenway Park.”
Opening Day is a town-wide parade that will step off at 9 a.m. led by Mayor Joseph Polisena – many town officials – and it’s rumored that Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo who has been invited to help usher in the JLL’s 55th season as she was a year ago when she threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
So, what Jaswell did back in 1963 by way of that first communication to Little League Baseball headquarters in famed Williamsport, Pa. has paid huge dividends for hundreds upon hundreds of kids in Johnston to play organized baseball and who Saturday will be as starry-eyed as a rookie getting a World Series start as well as decked out in colorful and spiffy uniforms just like the big leaguers wear.
The JLL is said to be the only youth baseball league in the state to launch its season with a town-wide parade that will begin at Johnston High School at 9 o’clock, march down Atwood Avenue onto Hartford Avenue then into War Memorial Park and its long-time home, Kennedy Field.
Opening Day, JLL-style, has also provided many, many memorable moments for hundreds of parents who Saturday will be watching every move Johnny or Joey makes, especially those kids who will put on a baseball uniform for the first time in their young lives.
“It’s always for all of us,” Civetti, who is the longest-active coach in the JLL, said with a smile while looking over his beloved Orioles jacket. “Saturday, the business in Johnston is Little League Baseball at its best!”
And, it’s people like Bedrosian and the tireless JLL workhouse Simao – and the other dozen adult volunteers who make up the Board of Directors who have maintained and in some cases enhanced the excellence of youth baseball in Johnston that former President Vincent Calvitto and his team began more than a half century ago.
The complete list of 2018 JLL officials includes: Bedrosian, president; Simao, Vice President; Shayla Fargnoli, secretary; and Peter Susi, treasurer.
The Board of Directors is: Will Butterfield, Minor League Commissioner; Ed Pannone, Minor League Assistant Commissioner; Dan Salvatore, Player Agent; Gary Salzillo, assistant player agent; Mike Perez, coaching co-coordinator, Dave Lavalee, safety officer; Eric Martin, Dan Wolf and Bob Guidici, members at large; and Civetti, past president.