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After freeing Europe, McGorry saved Baseball

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Jack McGorry doesn’t get back to Bayside much anymore.

At 78, the former Queens resident doesn’t have much reason to come back to his old neighborhood, most of which looks nothing like the town he left close to 50 years ago, just a few seasons after he founded the now thriving Bayside Little League.

The Bayside of his youth was hardly the bustling metropolitan suburb it is today. McGorry’s memories are of a more rural setting, one that featured a large vacant lot across from his family home on Corporal Stone Street between 35th and 36th avenues.

Upon returning home from Europe — where he served for three years with the 8th Armored Division to help liberate Europe from under the thumb of Adolf Hitler — McGorry settled back into his normal life, which included playing baseball and football in that old vacant lot and occasionally watching some of the neighborhood kids play baseball on the weekend.

“I lived right across the street from the ball field, but it’s not a ball field anymore — it’s homes,” McGorry said. “That was a full empty lot. I lived on Corporal Stone between 35th and 36th. The only thing on the block was the Masonic temple. I had been involved with the teams that were in the sandlot as a kid. We’re talking a youngster.”

Now a church, the Bayside Masonic Temple was the lone structure on the entire block, which now features the Bayside Milk Farm and The Jackson Hole Diner as well as numerous one- and two-family houses.

“The kids were always out there on Saturday mornings,” McGorry recalled. “It would last all day until they got tired. They spent most of their time looking for the ball in the weeds. I used to laugh watching them. It would take two throws to get the ball from third to first base.”

As someone who was “always involved in the sports in the area” McGorry was approached about the idea of forming a Little League by fellow Baysider Jim Gray, who used to play baseball at a field on Northern Boulevard near current-day Springfield Boulevard.

Not knowing much about Little League, McGorry then talked with former Bayside Times sports editor Bill Kearns. The two attended a lecture and film about Little League that was held at the Garden City Hotel with “thousands” of people from Long Island who wanted to find out more about the growing phenomenon.

McGorry and Kearns were sufficiently impressed with the model set up by Little League, which adapted the traditional rules of baseball for younger players. No longer would children have to play on the same 90-foot diamond on which the New York Yankees played. Little League shrunk the field to 60 feet and set up rules that called for sponsorship from local businesses and required equipment, officials and parental supervision.

“I liked it and it looked like a possibility,” McGorry said. “The thing I was wondering was whether they could do this.”

At the time — in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s — Little League was a foreign concept to most of the borough. And what organized baseball there was in the neighborhood was largely informal. Sacred Heart parish had permission to use the field, McGorry said, and would play teams from neighborhood parishes, St. Anastasia in Douglaston and St. Kevin’s in Flushing.

McGorry took the idea a step further by approaching a priest at Sacred Heart and asking whether he could “try to modify their game for them following what the Little League had. I said I would take care of whatever it takes.”

McGorry and his fellow volunteers then went about organizing the “new game,” as he referred to it. They measured a field on the lot, moved the pitching rubber in to Little League specs, bought a couple of bats and balls and “basically gave that to them.”

Though not an official Little League — McGorry dubbed the league the Tri-Town Tot League — it began play under Little League rules in Bayside in 1951.

“An older person was in charge, but there weren’t any real formal uniforms and what not,” McGorry said. “That’s all I did, just to see what was happening.

“I watched them play, and right off the bat it was a totally different ball game,” he added. “I thought this was great and we should do this.”

But to become an official Little League — to earn a charter — certain things were called for, specifically four teams, which meant four sponsors. So= pounding the turf, McGorry and his compatriots set out to find four willing local businesses, which they did almost immediately.

American Legion Post 510 funded the first team, followed closely by the Ford automobile dealership on Northern Boulevard, Smith and Gregory. The third sponsor to come on board was DeWitt Harden of the Harden Funeral Home, while the final sponsor was Loretta J. McEntee of Bayside Sports, a sporting goods store just a few blocks from the field on Bell Boulevard.

Before the start of play in 1952, McGorry penned a piece to the Bayside Times about the league, its new rules and to announce tryouts. According to McGorry, the response to the article drew more than 300 children for the first full season of Little League baseball in Bayside. The overwhelming response forced the organizers to form unofficial farm teams for the four sponsored teams.

The following year saw the official formation of the Bayside Little League, charter and all. The league had already doubled in size from its inaugural season, with two four-team divisions in the same age bracket, and a scoreboard was donated by the Bayside Lions Club.

Residential expansion, however, eventually took away the vacant lot across from where McGorry grew up, forcing the league to find a new home. New York City responded by building the first-ever field inside the five boroughs exclusively for Little League use in Crocheron Park. The league even played a few games on the estate of John Golden, a movie producer whose property was later donated to the city for use as park land.

But as soon as the league began to take off, so did its founder. Now 28 years old, McGorry married, had a child and left Bayside, the town of his birth. He moved briefly to Whitestone before finally settling in Farmingdale, L.I., where he still lives.

McGorry would occasionally come back to Bayside to see family and friends, but those visits decreased over time. Still, he has not lost touch with the league, which has continued to grow over the years.

“It was great,” McGorry said. “Even at that time, from nothing to get this whole thing going. I had to do everything — had to get umpires, coaches, you name it.”

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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