Chance Discovery Leads to Memorable Little League Reunion
Half a Century Later, Teammates Come Together to Celebrate Timeless Memories
While sifting through some old boxes in a storage unit, 62-year-old Leo E. Boyle of Fort Myers, Fla., discovered a photograph of the Highland Park Little League team he played on in 1959, while living in Lowell, Mass. Mr. Boyle's discovery was a quick glimpse into his past that in a year's time became a life-changing event.
"Organizing a Little League reunion was my idea, but I had not thought about a reunion at any time before that moment … Finding the picture was completely an accident," Mr. Boyle, a personal trainer for Major League Baseball's Minnesota Twins and competitive drug-free bodybuilder, said. "I found a picture of our team and it was like I was being told what to do. I started getting the reunion organized that same day."
Growing up in Lowell, Mr. Boyle was friends with several boys in his neighborhood. Doing what seemed natural for 10-year-olds in the late 1950's, he and his friends played Little League Baseball. Half a century later, spurned by the old black-and-white photo, Mr. Boyle set out to find the whereabouts of the rest of the Dodgers.
"I called the Lowell (Sun) newspaper in August 2008," Mr. Boyle said. "I asked Sports Editor Dennis Whitton to help me find the players in the picture I'd found of our '59 regular-season Little League team."
Mr. Boyle learned later that not one of his Dodger teammates had a copy of the fateful picture.
"This reunion has changed my life and meant everything to all of us," Mr. Boyle said. "Our Little League teams were brought together 50 years later, and we all shared our life experiences. Come to find out, a lot of positive things have happened to us."
In this 1960 photo (top), Leo E. Boyle, left; Dan O'Neil, second from left; and Frank Elliott; third from left, members of the Highland Park Little League Dodgers, listen to instruction from Bucky Bohem of the Philadelphia Athletics prior to a practice. Late last year, several members of the Dodgers team and other Highland Park Little League alumni from Lowell, Mass., gathered for a 50th reunion. Pictured below, Mr. Boyle, the reunion's organizer, left; and teammates O'Neil, second from left; and Elliott, third from left; visit with Mr. Bohem at Joe DeCosta Little League Field in Lowell
From 1958-to-1960, Mr. Boyle played for the Dodgers, which was one of four Little League (Majors) baseball teams in Highland Park Little League (HPLL). In 1959, and 1960, he was selected as an all-star and played in the Massachusetts state tournament both years, but it was his memories of his home league and his Dodgers' Manager Joe DeCosta that made finding the team picture so special.
With help from the Mr. Whitton, and the Lowell Sun publishing the team picture provided by Mr. Boyle, several former Dodgers, as well as players from the three other teams in the league during that same time, contacted Mr. Boyle.
What had started as a whim was now taking shape, and a reunion would soon be a reality.
On Sept. 18, 2010 in Lowell, a little over a year after the HPLL Dodgers picture appeared in the Lowell newspaper, Mr. Boyle and 17 Highland Park Little League graduates, including eight Dodgers, were reunited.
"We met in Lowell and went to Highland Park Field, where we played as children," Mr. Boyle said. "Everyone at the field observed a moment of silence for the players and coaches we had lost. There was a lot of emotion for all of us."
Throughout the remarkable day, Mr. Boyle's childhood teammates and fellow Little Leaguers discussed the impact that Mr. DeCosta had on their lives.
"I felt his presence at the reunion," Mr. Boyle, while visiting the baseball field in Lowell that bears Mr. DeCosta's name, said. "Joe taught us about honesty, integrity, and he instilled in us the importance of being a team and all the values of life.
"On all the teams I played on, I never had the same camaraderie," Mr. Boyle, who played semi-pro baseball until he was 35, said. "We were very intense competitors and we got that mental toughness from Joe."
Mr. Boyle said that Mr. DeCosta often spoke of education and how important it was to do well in school. For Mr. Boyle, his education came in the real world as breadwinner for his large family. His father was injured on the job, which prompted Leo to spend his teenage years as a grocery clerk, instead of on a baseball field.
For other reunion-goers, Mr. DeCosta's message hit home as several became school teachers.
"Joe brought to us the importance of getting our education," Mr. Boyle said. "The environment created by Joe motivated many of the players to become teachers.
"Joe DeCosta was our coach and this reunion was about him," Mr. Boyle said. "As a kid, my nickname was 'Lippy,' because I talked so much. Throughout this day though, I was very quiet, as I was taking it all in."
For the year it took to pull the reunion together, Mr. Boyle, along with Bobby and Bucky Boehm; Dan and Susan O'Neil; Jimmy Downing; and Brian Linehan, teamed to organize and coordinate the event.
Now, with the reunion behind them, the group intends to continue honoring their Little League heritage and their coach. Plans are being organized for a trip to Cooperstown, N.Y., and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum sometime during the summer of 2011. Visiting the baseball hall of fame was trip talked about by Mr. DeCosta and never taken. The players want to see that experience fulfilled.
With so many Little Leagues and players having similar storied memories, Mr. Boyle suggested that people embrace their past and relish the time spent on ball fields around the world.
"Revisiting one's Little League past can bring a lot of people out of depression over the years," Mr. Boyle said. "I know during our reunion I felt like I was 12 years old again and the other players were rejuvenated too.
"Don't hesitate to reach out," he said. "I highly recommend keeping mementos like pictures, trophies, hats, jerseys … anything that makes you proud of the memories and cherished moments. Those were the good old days and they can be again."
Several members of the 1960 Highland Park Little League returned to Lowell, Mass., for a 50th anniversary reunion. Event organizer Leo E. Boyle, fourth from left; called the reunion a tribute to Highland Park Little League coach Joe DeCosta.