ALBANY – In the popular 1990 biographical crime movie Goodfellas, the mafia character Tommy DeVito, played by Joe Pesci, couldn’t take a joke, and the results created dire consequences for anyone who dared to poke fun.
The players on the Goodfellas team that competes in the All American Sports Recreation men’s adult softball league don’t take themselves that seriously. In fact, they are extremely serious about having fun at all costs.
A great example was the reaction to Brendan Rowland’s towering three-run homer to left, one of two blasts the team’s top slugger cranked out in the team’s 14-2 victory Tuesday night at the Field of Dreams, their modest stadium squeezed into the warehouse district off Terminal Street. Instead of claps and cheers, Rowland received a ton of good-natured ribbing and roasts from his teammates, most of whom have known him for years.
When an infielder failed to make a play early in the game when it was still scoreless, his teammates didn’t show much sympathy, and everyone simply burst out laughing and joking.
“We have a blast doing this,” said team manager Phil Sidoti, also a slick-fielding and speedy first baseman who is just as quick with a barb for his friends. “What’s fun about this group is that a lot of the guys on this team were childhood friends,” Sidoti added. “Having this league guarantees that we see each other at least once a week. We also do plenty of stuff off the field, as well. We go to dinner together and have parties. The softball makes that possible. We are all competitive, and we love to play, but this keeps us together.”
This team is like one big happy, albeit sarcastic, family. “My father-in-law sponsors the team [through the accounting firm Ciampino & Company CPAs], making it possible for us to have new jerseys and all of the equipment we need. My dad is the hitting coach, and my brother-in-law is the director of alcoholic consumption. He makes sure we have enough beer for every game. The wives, kids, father and mothers often come to most of our games. We just have a blast,” Sidoti added.
The All American Sports Recreation league is divided into three men’s divisions (A,B and C) as well as a co-ed division. Between 40 and 50 teams compete for playoff berths. “There used to be even more teams, maybe 80 at one point,” Sidoti said. “Each team can have up to 24 people on its roster, and to qualify for the playoffs, a team must play at least eight games. A team can have up to 12 guys playing in a game if they use a designated hitter or extra hitter.”
Most of the Goodfellas are in their 30s, and most of them are from Colonie. Sidoti, 34, played varsity baseball for Colonie High School. “I played baseball all my life, but after high school, most of us faded from baseball into softball,” he explained. “We all love the game. This isn’t baseball but it’s close enough.”
Sidoti keeps the laughter going by keeping detailed stats, operating a team website and Facebook page, and handing out all types of single-game and season awards. The player of the game gets to wear an impressive belt and be the focus of a funny post-game interview. “It’s very informal and mostly a way of us busting chops,” Sidoti said.
The team’s end-of-the-season banquet is legendary for the number of awards and fines handed out in a kind of kangaroo’s court.
“We are very serious about having fun,” Sidodi pointed out. “We do everything we can to have fun. That’s why everybody keeps coming back. When one of our players [Mark LeMorta], hit his 100th career home run, we had a banner made up for him, and we sent a video to a local television station. We also put an ad in the Gazette to congratulate him. We joked about it and had fun,” Sidoti said. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. But it’s also cool that we track all the stats the way we do.”
LeMorta and Brendan Clemens, the team’s all-time leader in games played with 213, help Sidoti run the club, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a cute T-shirt that reads: Grip, Rip and Ship. The Ship stands for championship. The team’s only championship was in 2013, but with a 10-0 record to date, they are in contention to win another title.
“We have guys on this team that I practically grew up with,” said LeMorta. “We grew up with baseball, and we built a bond. We get together at least once a week. Being undefeated is great, but we just want to win another championship.”
Rowland, 33, another Colonie High School product like Sidoti, LeMorta and Clemens, is the team’s perennial triple-crown threat. He averages about 12 homers a season and is usually considered the team’s MVP.
“I played varsity baseball for three years at Colonie and then played D1 at UAlbany,” Rowland said. “Then I played in the Atlanta Braves’ organization in the Rookie league “The thing I love about this league is the camaraderie. You know you’re going to laugh no matter what – even if we lose by 20. Coach Phil runs it like a serious organization, but the brotherhood we have here is incredible.”
Second baseman Brian Hoffman took his talents to The College of Saint Rose after a standout career at Colonie. “I’ve been on this team for 15 years, and now we are middle-age men and playing softball. But we are not giving up on our dreams,” Hoffman said, “This gives us an excuse to get out of the house and get together. As long as Mark [LeMorta] and Phil are around, they can count on me playing.”
Hoffman was told that he and his teammates look like they are still in excellent shape and quite fit. “We look better than we feel, but we still have a good time,” he said, “Most of us have been together for a long time. Phil always makes it all worthwhile to come out and play, He’s something else. He goes above and beyond.
“I know he has a son playing at the Tee-ball level, and I can only imagine what he has in store for him over the next few years, I can say that we’ve had seasons where we’ve won only two games, and we’ve had seasons when we’re undefeated, but we have the same amount of fun each time,” Hoffman said. “The majority of people in my life I’ve met through baseball.”
Shortstop Casey Schoonmaker, who will be 27 in a couple of weeks, is one of the younger players on the team. “I’ve known Phil and Brendan for a long time, and I still play baseball with Brian Hoffman,” said Schoonmaker, also a noted area bowler. “This environment makes we want to come back every year.”
Other players on the team include right fielder Matt Grill, from Shaker, third baseman Mike Nicastro, pitcher Ryan Myers, outfielder Dan Capoccitti, outfielder/utility player Bill Pulver and catcher Tom Conlin.
A total of 71 players have worn the Goodfellas uniform. The team even has a Hall of Fame with 11 members.
“Every guy on this team at some point realized their baseball career was over,” said Sidoti. “Softball allows us to continue to be little kids again at least once a week and bring back the memories of when we were 12 playing together. Whether we are 12 or 35 it doesn’t matter; we are all together having a blast because we are all on the same field together once again. Our goal is to pass this team onto our kids and the roster is looking strong. Me, Brendan [Clemens] will all retire together and hand the team over to our sons when they are old enough.”
Sidoti emphasized how much this softball team means to the entire group.
“As competitive as we are, it all boils down to one thing: family. The game brings us together, ensures we see each other at least once a week, and most of our childhood friends play on this team,” he said. “As life gets busier and we all get pulled into 100 different directions, the Goodfellas always get us back together.”
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].