The motto was there’s “nuttin’ like it anywhere!”
Now more than ever, the Northeast Peanut League’s motto rings true.
The NEPL started in 1979 when Lansing Knights T-ball coach Frank Spatocco reached out to Holmesburg coach Rory Tees to see if they wanted to hook up and play against each other.
At the time, Lansing had three teams in its in-house league and Holmesburg also had low numbers, so by joining together, it gave them a chance to play against different players.
Little did Spatocco realize that would be the beginning of the NEPL, a league that would go on to include just about every organization in Northeast Philadelphia and beyond.
“It was incredible,” said Spatocco, the CEO who pulled the plug on the NEPL after last baseball season. “We just wanted a place where kids can play. It was a place for people to play and have fun. It was competitive, but we wanted it to be a place where these kids could go and play with good equipment and play in big games. It really was something special.”
The league started with two teams and continued to grow. At one time or another, the following clubs were associated with the NEPL: Academy Sabres, Marian Anderson Recreation Center, Boyle Recreation Center, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Bridesburg Cougars, Bustleton Bengals, Calvary, Cione Recreation Center, Crispin, Dorsey Lions, Edward O’Malley Athletic Association, Fairmount Sports Association, Fels Recreation Center, Fishtown Athletic Club, Fox Rok, Frankford Boys Club, Harrowgate Recreation Center, Heitzman Recreation Center, Holmesburg Boys Club, Holy Terrors Youth Organization, Houseman Recreation Center, Jardel Recreation Center, Juniata Boys Club, Lansing Knights, Lawncrest Recreation Center, Leo’s Lions Youth Organization, Leprechauns Sports Association, Liberty Bell, Lighthouse Youth Organization, Mayfair Athletic Club, Mayfair Monarchs, Mayfair Shamrocks, Max Myers Recreation Center, Moss, Northeast Optimist (N.E.O.), Olney Athletic Association, Olney Midgets, Olney Recreation Center, Oxford Circle Recreation Center, Parkwood Youth Organization, Penn Academy Athletic Association, Philly Storm, Port Richmond Athletic Association, Port Richmond Tigers, Rhawnhurst Athletic Association, Samuel Recreation Center, Scanlon Recreation Center, Simpson Athletic Association, Somerton Youth Organization, Tabor Rams Youth Organization, Tarken Recreation Center, Torresdale Boys Club, Vogt Athletic Association and Wissinoming Boys Club.
With all of those leagues taking part, there were years the NEPL would have 25 all-star games during the summer. There were rivalries, tremendous performances and more than anything, good old-fashioned fun.
It was the perfect league.
And after last year, it is now a memory.
“It’s sad, but it was definitely time,” said Spatocco, who had been involved in the league since its inception. “I own the copyright, and if someone else wants to start something else, they can, but I just think it was time.
“The numbers were down, people don’t play as much as they did. And it’s hard to get the volunteers. It’s hard today to be an official or a coach because parents have changed. It’s so much different today than it was. It’s just different.”
Spatocco couldn’t be happier with what the league produced during its run.
He estimates more than 100,000 athletes competed in the leagues. That meant there were thousands of games played over the years. And there were kids of all abilities.
During the league’s peak in the 1990s, the league included 350 baseball and softball teams and 260 basketball teams with more than 40 groups participating each year.
And for Spatocco, the fun part was watching kids who may not have been the greatest athletes going out, improving and more than anything, having fun.
“I don’t think we had any major leaguers, but we did have guys who played in the minor leagues,” Spatocco said. “We had players of all abilities. There were kids who were great ball players, and we had kids who just wanted a place to play. And we tried to give them a chance to play. Everyone had fun. I would say that was the best part about it, the league was fun.”
Spatocco wore many different hats during the 40 years and he did whatever he could to make sure the teams had what they needed. But he was quick to point out he had plenty of help.
“We had great volunteers, they wouldn’t be paid, they would get a T-shirt,” Spatocco said. “We had great people working for the kids. And we had support. I remember Ukee Washington would make every all-star game. The News Gleaner would run our scores and box scores. And Joan Krajewski was a huge supporter. When we needed things, she would help us.”
The Northeast Peanut League was a league for everyone.
And now it’s gone.
Spatocco is happy the league has done so much to help kids, but he’s certainly going to miss being involved when spring rolls around.
“It’s going to be different come March, as I will not be getting ready to begin a new season,” Spatocco said. “But then again, I’ve been kind of left in the shadows over the last few years. It’s unfortunate, but again, philosophies change greatly regardless of how long you know someone or regardless to your status.”