The 1963 season was a magical time for Lou Romanoli and a talented team of Wilmington ballplayers.
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Fifty years ago, on four steamy nights in August, crowds averaging more than 4,000 packed the tiny bleachers and hung on the fences at Wilmington’s 18th and Van Buren streets field to watch two semi-pro baseball teams do battle. Meanwhile, up the road in Philadelphia, a mediocre Phillies team played before smaller crowds.
It was a phenomenon that was never duplicated before or since, and is unlikely ever to happen again.
The four-game playoff for the championship of the Delaware Semi-Pro Baseball League became the stuff of legend. It pitted Parkway and its longtime manager, John Hickman, against upstart Brooks Armored Car, led by player-manager Lou Romanoli, a 28-year-old firebrand who had stacked his lineup with former major leaguers as well as talented amateurs.
The playoff was the culmination of Romanoli’s near obsessive—and successful —quest to unseat perennial champion Parkway and Hickman, his hated rival. Romanoli had been in the league for 10 years, playing for St. Anthony’s, and he and teammate Ruly Carpenter, son of then-Phillies owner and president Bob Carpenter, were tired of losing to Parkway. After securing sponsorship from Bill Brooks, Romanoli went looking for the top players at each position—“except third base,” he says. “That was my position.”
An infielder and sometime pitcher while at the University of Delaware, Romanoli knew that pitching is the key to any successful team, and he soon landed three of the best—all former major leaguers.