On the first day of summer, not even the oppressive, 100-degree heat was strong enough to keep the Hunting Park Indians from taking on their crosstown rivals, the Francisville A’s.
In the second game of their three-game, Little League playoff series, Steve Irving was busy running his makeshift concession stand–keeping one eye on the game and the other on the burgers cooking on his cherry-red, charcoal grill.
“I work here at the [Hunting Park Recreation] Center, and we came up with the idea to put together the baseball program,” Irving said.
“I’ve been serving as the league director, so I get all the coaches organized, make sure they have everything they’re supposed to have and know all the information, [and I] deal with the parents, so I’m just basically administration.”
For the last four years, the Hunting Park area has fielded teams in five different categories: T-ball and ages 10, 12, 14 and 17.
“With these types of programs, as people see you’re here every year, they grow. They tend to grow and grow,” Irving said. “People start to look for you.”
Irving said the “older kids” play in the Department of Recreation league, where a majority of teams originate from the Northeast Philadelphia area and the 10- and 12-year-olds face competition in the Liberty League that come from “around the way.” Some of these teams include the Frankford Chargers, North Philly Blackhawks, Oaklane Wild Cats and the Tioga Mustangs.
Carlos Perez, head coach of the 10-year-old-team, has seen the popularity of baseball in the area increase immensely in the last few years, as well as the neighborhood pride.
“We actually had too many people come out [for baseball] this year,” Perez said. “In the end, we had to make an A-team and a B-team – a travelling team and a home team.”
The traveling, 10-year-old team–which is trying to extend their season against Francisville–has made it to the championship series for the last two seasons. This year, they’re trying to make it for a third straight time.
In the end, however, the Indians couldn’t overcome a 4-2 deficit against undefeated Francisville and the season ended with Hunting Park hitters striking out twice with the bases loaded.
Despite the loss, if the saying on the back of Coach Perez’s black, Hunting Park T-shirt holds any truth, those season-ending strikeouts are inconsequential, concerning the message they’re trying to convey: “It takes a tribe to raise an Indian.”
And with around 60 parents, friends and fans watching the game–while thermometers inched towards the century mark –their tribe is definitely behind them 100 percent.