I’ve marked Rocky Colavito’s birthday on August 10th for as long as I can remember. I’m sure I found the date on the back of one of Rocky’s baseball cards, some of my most treasured possessions.
Months ago I learned that a statue of Rocky would be unveiled in Cleveland on his 88th birthday, and I made plans to go. On August 9, I picked up a fellow Tribe fan in northern New Jersey and we drove the 450 miles to Cleveland on I-80.
The weather the morning of the 10th was a bit odd, which is to say normal for summertime Cleveland. Would it rain? Would it be roasting hot? Who knew! But the weather gods would smile on the ceremony, to be held at Tony Brush Park in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood early in the afternoon.
Joined by another good friend, a lifelong Clevelander and Tribe fan, we drove down to Little Italy and were pleased to see a crowd that would swell to an estimated 500 people gathered at the park.
I am thankful God chose me to play in Cleveland.
We stood off to the side on a patch of grass not far from the stage that had been set up near the statue, which was under a big wrap. As 1:30 approached, a hubbub arose just behind us as Rocky, in a wheelchair, arrived and was rolled up to the stage.
With the Indians top public relations executive as emcee, several introductory remarks were made before Rocky got his chance. He spoke movingly about how much he loved the city of Cleveland and its fans, and he added his appreciation for former Cleveland teammate Vern Fuller for attending as well as former Detroit Tigers teammates Willie Horton and Denny McLain.
A few fans wearing Tigers jerseys and caps were in the audience, which otherwise presented a dazzling array of Indians replica jerseys. Many of them were No. 21 models from the mid-60s, when Rocky and his teammates wore white vests over red sleeves.
For the unveiling, the crowd counted down from six to correspond to the jersey number Rocky wore when he came up with the Indians in the 1950s.
The crowd would have immediately mobbed the statue if they had not been asked to afford Rocky time to meet their and be photographed with a busload of friends and family who came to the event from the Reading, Pennsylvania, area, where Rocky has lived most of his post-baseball life.
My friends and I walked over to the restaurant and retail strip along Mayfield Road, wandering our way to an Italian bakery. We let some time pass — at least half an hour — before strolling back to the park. We were surprised to find that Rocky was still at the statue, signing autographs and posing for photos. He left a short while later, and my friends and I finally got our photos of and with the statue.
The ceremony was a wonderful way to honor an Italian American kid who grew up near Crotona Park in the Bronx and made good as a ballplayer with the Indians, Tigers, Kansas City Athletics, White Sox and, briefly at the end of his career, with the Dodgers and Yankees.
For as prominent a hero as Rocco Domenico Colavito was to my generation of Clevelanders, you’d expect the statue would stand front and center at the stadium where the team plays its games. But Rocky is not included at Progressive Field, per team policy, as he’s not enshrined in Cooperstown.
I won’t quibble with that standard, but I will salute and thank the Italian American Brotherhood Club of Cleveland for honoring Rocky and feting him in a wonderful ceremony that left no doubt about how the fans feel about him, and he about us.