NAUGATUCK — The Peter J. Foley Little League field is billed as the Oldest Little League Stadium in New England. What has allowed this diamond in the rough to thrive for the past 66 summers is the dedication of a special breed of volunteers who have sacrificed more than just a few summer vacations.
Joe Magnamo is among that special breed. He slipped on a Giants uniform 42 years ago and hasn’t taken it off since.
“Joe has touched the lives of thousands of kids throughout the years,” Peter J. Foley Little League President Rob Dibble said. “He is truly passionate about coaching the kids and the game of baseball.”
Magnamo, a former three-sport Naugatuck Greyhound athlete, got his Little League upbringing on the other side of the borough with the Union City Cardinals.
“I came from the other side of town when Union City Little League was behind St. Mary’s Church,” Magnamo said. “After the flood washed away our field, we played behind Peter and Paul until they moved they moved the Little League up to Morris Street.”
Though he got his start at Union City, it has been Peter J. Foley Little League that has been Magnamo’s home away from home for more than four decades.
“Joe has served in every capacity in this league and has been on the board of directors for the entire 42 years he’s been coaching,” Dibble said. “We are fortunate to have a person with that kind of character and dedication, and over the years he’s proved that he’s no average Joe.”
In 1973, Magnamo became a Giants assistant coach under his father-in-law, Dick Pistarelli. He has been a Giant coach ever since.
“It takes a lot of effort from a lot of people to keep this going for as long as it has,” Magnamo said. “I got involved with this when my father-in-law was coaching and my brother-in-law, David, was a 10 year-old player.”
Magnamo, a 1992 Naugatuck Hall of Fame inductee, excelled as the starting quarterback for the Greyhounds, spent two seasons on the basketball team under coach Ed Mariano and was the third baseman for coach Ray Legenza’s 1963 state champion baseball team in his senior year.
After graduating from the Merchant Marine Academy in 1967, Magnamo came back to the borough looking to give back and build a solid foundation in the youth he coached.
“One of my fondest memories was the rivalry I had with my good friend Pete Lawlor, the coach of the Orioles,” Magnamo said. “Now we have guys in here that played and now their sons are playing.”
The Giants have been the team to beat of late, winning four of the last six Peter J. Foley league championships.
“We had a bit of a drop off over the years but recently the new group of younger guys coming in to coach have really stepped it up,” Magnamo said.
Winning isn’t everything for Magnamo, though. He’s very pleased to watch players return to the league and make a difference. One former player Zach Mason came back as an Eagle Scout and took it upon himself to make some much needed changes around the field including a new picnic area.
“It takes dedicated people like Rich Neary, Mike Falcha, Carmen Gallo and probably a whole lot more that I’m forgetting to mention,” Magnamo said. “Peter J. Foley now has Mike’s Kitchen, Gallo’s Batting Cage and recently a picnic area named after me. I was a little reluctant to accept that honor but league President Rob Dibble thought it was a good idea.”
Coaches like Magnamo aren’t the only ones that make sacrifices, their families do as well.
Magnamo spoke about scheduling vacation plans around the season, and if the All-Star team advanced into the playoffs those plans needed to be altered to accommodate that schedule.
“My first wife Patty knew that baseball and coaching was something I loved and she supported what I was trying to do, make a difference in a young kid’s life,” Magnamo said. “After she passed away and I married my second wife, Terry, she knew that this is part of who I am. Terry has two children, Katie and Patrick, but we have no grandchildren so these kids I coach are like an extended family.”
As Magnamo’s coaching career extends into a fifth decade, he knows there will come a time when he has to pass the torch. When that time will be, remains to be seen.
“Guys like Ken Stone, Chris Main, Rich Kilmer, Mike Doxsey, Mike D’Agnone, Mike Chatfield, and I know I just left out a lot of other guys who belong on that list, now is there time,” he said. “They deserve the opportunity to move up and coach the older kids.
“Does that mean it’s time for me to step down? I don’t know, when it’s time I will know. But for now it’s all about the kids and teaching them how to be good teammates, show good sportsmanship and how to become productive and successful members of our society. That’s what we are here for.”