Jen Amero forwards
Strong storm winds for have finally put out the lights at Mattos Field on Webster street, the most historically significant “Field” in Gloucester. Home to decades of youth sports, birthplace of little league in Gloucester and home plate for a few hometown heroes gone to the “bigs”, darkness dimming this diamond is something a dedicated group is looking to reverse like Ruth’s curse.
“Light up Mattos”, a committee formed largely of the veteran members of the Cape Ann Women’s Softball League (CAWSL), had secured considerable funds to replace the 40 year old lights before the storm knocked the poles down altogether. The removal of the poles has now displaced the league and many other Mattos enthusiasts altogether, in the middle of their season. It is in an effort to illuminate their cause that I submit this brief history of Mattos field:
The field’s history is an impressive one, perhaps the most vibrant open space in Gloucester for nearly 100 years. In 1935, in the depths of The Depression, the WPA had a brilliant idea; take Webster’s Pond, provide work for the jobless, open space for tenement –dwellers, pay honor to a teenaged Portuguese immigrant from the neighborhood, who on October 5, 1918 was the youngest “American” killed in WWI, and with it’s iconic bleachers create not Mattos “Park” but Mattos “Field”.
When the following great, war, WWII ended in 1945 and GIs again came back to “The Hill”, the cultural epicenter of Gloucester’s Portuguese community, they started families, joined social clubs, and organized sports leagues at Mattos Field. Portuguee Hill’s Gloucester Fraternity Club (The GFC) still houses the 1948 league trophy in its trophy case.
In the early 1950s, Gloucester Little League began at Mattos, the charter signed in the GFC hall. From its inaugural class, little Billie McLeod would go on to pitch for the Boston Red Sox in 1962.
In “baby boom” 1957, Veterans’ Memorial School opened on the grounds of Mattos Field, providing much needed space for the children of veterans to learn and play. A playground was added to the offerings at Mattos.
In the 60’s, the growing softball league proposed and worked with the city to install the original lights, one of the very first installations in the state. Every summer, teams and fans came by bus from across the New England to play fast pitch tournament ball “Under The Lights at Mattos”. And kids who honed their baseball skills playing sandlot on its diamond each morning would re-assemble there to cheer on their brothers and fathers after dark.
Pee Wee football took the field in the 1960s, offering year round organized sports for kids on the hill.
In 1970s, in the days of Billie Jean King and Title 9, guaranteeing equal funding for female student athletes, graduating GHS softball players wanting to continue playing ball organized a league of their own, the Cape Ann Women’s Softball League (CAWSL), joining the men’s Cape Ann Industrial League and Semi-Fast leagues to take their own place under the lights at Mattos. They quickly made their mark, producing an all-star squad that traveled the country winning in high level tournaments.
They also became coaches and mentors to other female athletes. Girls aged ten to fifteen who were previously relegated to cheerleading became competitive softball players, then GHS softball players, players in the CAWSL, and then themselves coaches in the youth and high school programs. And most importantly, they became the stewards of Mattos Field.
It is this group of women, mothers and daughters, sisters and friends who bring their families down the field every Wednesday and Friday night from spring to summer who are leading the charge to restore the shine on the emerald field. It is through their tenacious efforts to secure grant money, private donations and city support that over the past four years has resulted in an overhaul of the field.
They’ve gotten bathrooms installed, electrical service moved and up-graded. The DPW has replaced and covered the splintered, dangerous, ugly bleachers and installed, maintain and police trash and recycling barrels. . The CAWSL has worked with Art Space to get the bleachers painted. They are a cheery, vibrant addition to the Veterans’ Memorial School playground. A backstop and scoreboard are planned. The old dirt and stone dust infield has been replaced with state of the art materials and also the outfield has been treated and seeded and is a verdant symbol of their efforts.
But the lights are the biggie. And that was before they actually fell down.
The committee, “Light Up Mattos” (Like them on FaceBook) is in need of an additional $200,000 to replace the lights and restore the field and all of the games played on it to it’s original glory. Ongoing fundraising events have been very successful, but that’s a big number and a big need but a big part of the city’s athletes and school children will shine under those lights if we help them to reach their goal.
For information and to donate, please go to….https://www.facebook.com/lightupmattos
Let’s Light Up Mattos, for every kid who wants to play ball, big and small.