Park League Gets A Commissioner: Hal Kallenberg

For Hal Kallenberg of West Roxbury, there will be more responsibilities this summer than last, but otherwise his lifestyle will be about the same – he’ll be attending a Park League baseball game, or two, just about every night.

The difference is that Kallenberg – ex-player, ex-umpire, ardent fan – has been named “commissioner” of the Park League.

It’s the first time that the league, at age 54 the oldest sandlot league in the country, has established such an office. It is part of a continuing effort by current and former Park League participants to keep the league operative.

The league’s problems have intensified since the implementation of Proposition 2 1/2 . Even before 2 1/2 , there were budget cuts and obstacles, but the way things stand now, the City of Boston provides permission for its playing fields to be used, and that’s it. The rest is up to the league: paying for umpires, lights, baseballs, even police presence when deemed advisable.

A couple of years ago, the struggling league went back to twilight ball – 6:15 starting times – to save on the cost of lights, but attendance dipped sharply and players, because of job requirements, had difficulty making the games on time. The caliber of baseball suffered accordingly.

Last year, a generous donation by the Yawkey Foundation helped keep the league afloat; and this year, the league again is counting heavily on similar grants by the Yawkey Foundation and Budweiser.

Another project that bears promise is the formation of the Park League Alumni Assn. “There have been many prominent citizens in the Boston area who look back with fond memories of their own Park League experiences, and they are showing increasing willingness to help,” said John Kelliher, general manager of the defending champion Mass. Envelope club and a man with more than 40 years of league affiliation.

But, why a league commissioner after all these years?

“Well, we’re pretty much on our own now,” Kelliher said. “We can’t go running to City Hall with our problems, and, inevitably, problems do keep cropping up. Hal Kallenberg is going to have the last word, the decisive word, on anything that happens on the field of play, any controversies that may arise.”

Kelliher added that Kallenberg’s selection had the unanimous approval of the league’s managers once they learned he was willing to accept the responsibility at the price the league can afford to pay – zero.

“Why am I doing it?” Kallenberg asks rhetorically. “Well, I guess I have to say it’s because I love the game of baseball, I appreciate the benefits I received from my years in the Park League, and I’d like to help in any way that I can to keep the league going.”

Kallenberg was 15, a sophomore at Roslindale High, when he first played in the Park League. He was All-Scholastic in both baseball (outfield) and football (fullback) and earned the interest of the Boston Braves while still a schoolboy.

“I used to work out in the morning sessions at Braves Field,” Kallenberg said. “I learned a lot from fellows like Al Lopez and Tony Cuccinello.”

The Braves signed Kallenberg right out of high school and assigned him to their farm team in the Pony League. “I was the teammate of a pretty good lefthander,” said Kallenberg, “a guy named Warren Spahn.”

Kallenberg made it to the Three-I League and later to Hartford in the Eastern League.

“An invitation from my uncle, Samuel, interrupted all that,” Kallenberg said, “and I served four years in the Army. When I came out, I was 26, there were no expansion clubs then, and the big leagues weren’t too interested in potential 26-year-old rookies. Anyhow, I got a job, played many years in the Park League, later umpired in the league and have been a dedicated fan ever since. My wife and I seldom miss a game. Some nights, we’ve watched a game at Fallon Field, then driven to Kelly Field (where the games start later) and caught the rest of the game there.”

Said Kelliher: “This gives you an idea of how much interest our commissioner has in the league.”

Willingness to be a volunteer is characteristic of Kallenberg. Ever since his retirement two years ago, Kallenberg has spent six hours a day – 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. – two days a week doing volunteer work at Faulkner Hospital in Jamaica Plain.

The Park League will again comprise nine teams, and the opener, tomorrow at Casey Town Field in Dorchester, will pit Mass. Envelope against last year’s runnerup, the Triple D’s of Jamaica Plain.

Parks and Recreation Dept. commissioner Bob McCoy and recreation director Dorothy Curran are helping arrange pregame ceremonies. A couple of bands are scheduled to perform, and Mayor Kevin White will be invited to throw out the first ball.

Other league entries are Great Scott and the Larkin Club, both of Brighton; the Conley Club, Hyde Park Sports, Societe de Latino, Crown Insurance (formerly Savin Hill A.A.) and the Dorchester Millstreams.

Copyright © 1983 Boston Globe, all rights reserved. Written by Art Ballou.

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