The late Joseph Heeney chronicled Brainerd-Beverly Baseball like no other.
He made home movies of numerous games and league events, then went back and narrated them and added captions to provide lifetime keepsakes for his son, Mike Heeney, who was a player in the league.
At the Brainerd-Beverly Baseball reunion on Sept. 26 at Barraco’s restaurant in Beverly, former players enjoyed that film, as well as old team photos, write-ups and joyous memories of their times on the diamond.
Some players hadn’t seen each other since their playing days ended as teens. As he gathered with about 40 friends, Mike Heeney said the relationships provided the best memories.
“We rode our bikes to Brainerd Park to the games with a couple of friends,” Heeney said. “The friendships that we developed with guys from different parishes [are memorable]. We were from Christ the King, and there were guys from St. Ethelreda, Killian’s, Little Flower—look at how many are still loyal to the cause.”
Organizers said it was the first reunion for the league. Many attendees played in the 1950s and ’60s.
The league played at Brainerd Park, 1246 W. 92nd St., until 1967, then moved to Dawes Park, to the north, and local interest faded.
Age levels spanned from minor league to Little League to Babe Ruth League, using four diamonds at the park.
Reunion attendees, who wore nametags that also included which teams they played for, enjoyed Joseph Heeney’s film, which featured league play highlights, the “Father of the Year” game and the awarding of the umpire of the year in 1963-64.
Team caps and jerseys were also on display.
Ed O’Donnell helped Mike Heeney, who runs Heeney-Laughlin Funeral Directors, organize the celebration over the summer. They created fliers, but word of mouth helped as well.
O’Donnell, also from the parish of Christ the King, credited Heeney’s father for taking so much time to put together the films, which wasn’t easy to do back in those days.
The high-quality footage spurred them to host the reunion.
“Consequently, we’ve had the benefit of seeing some of the old movies, when we actually thought we were athletes,” O’Donnell said. “The other great thing about this is the opportunity to see people you haven’t seen in literally 40 or 50 years.”
O’Donnell said the league was a “melting pot,” and he recalled how he and his friends “trekked across Ashland [Avenue]” to get to the park.
O’Donnell said players’ fathers deserved credit for the league running so smoothly.
“They took off of work to coach, to umpire, to sponsor the teams,” O’Donnell said. “They used to come straight from work to practice on dusty diamonds. Without them, there is no league.”
He also said the thick jerseys were among his favorite memories. He remembered them as being cotton—before Mike McGrath, a former player who was also on the reunion committee, reminded him that it was even worse: wool.
“It’s putting on the damn uniform,” O’Donnell said. “It was the most uncomfortable [jersey]. It was such a privilege to put it on.”
McGrath’s father, Dick, was one of the many fathers who helped run the league. McGrath, of St. Killian parish, recalled one player from Christ the King providing an especially memorable—and humorous—moment during Babe Ruth League play.
“Before a game once, we were warming up, throwing the ball around the outfield,” McGrath said. “And he’s singing, ‘My baby does the hanky panky,’ which I thought was hilarious. I was like, ‘These Christ the King guys are really a lot of fun.’”
Joe Fisher, also of Christ the King, humorously recalled a rope being strung across the outfield to be the home-run fence. If a Beverly player hit a ball out that way, he said, by-standers would lift the rope up, and the ball would roll underneath so it wouldn’t be a home run. But if a Brainerd player hit one out there, they would lower the rope so the ball could clear it and be a round-tripper.
The reunion also highlighted brothers Craig and Michael Clancy, who are deceased. Craig was killed while serving in Vietnam at age 22, and Michael died at age 52 in 2007 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. A photo montage for each man was on display.
The reunion also had a moment of serendipity.
Celine Rothschild, the mother of Larry Rothschild, a Major League Baseball pitching coach who played in the league, died over the summer.
Michael Heeney sent his condolences to Larry Rothschild, and on the day of the reunion, he received a card from Rothschild and his wife, Jane, thanking the committee for its support and wishing the reunion great success.
Celine Rothschild, they said, loved the community.
“Without a doubt, the most joyful and cherished period of her life was those years our family lived and thrived in Beverly,” the Rothschilds said. “There was no better neighborhood in which to raise a family. We all look back on that time with great fondness, and the ‘sense of community’ of Beverly has remained with us.”