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Date of Issue: May 07, 2008

Center field: Stadium rededicated in ceremony

As Marie Franklin looks on, John Cagnina throws out the first pitch at the newly rededicated Scanio-Hutchinson Memorial Field May 3 at the Anna Maria Island Community Center.
Marie Franklin touches the plaque honoring her brother, Benji Scanio, who died in 1959.
West Coast Surf Shop player Devon Cole, 10, warms up before a May 3 game at the Anna Maria Island Community Center.
West Coast Surf Shop players attend the rededication.

Marie Franklin stretched her hand to touch the bronze-colored plaque in honor of her brother who died so young.

“A rainbow has come out of the rain,” she said, looking to the young players gathered May 3 to rededicate the Anna Maria Island Community Center baseball field named for her brother, Benji Scanio, and her family’s friend, the late Major Leaguer Fred “Hutch” Hutchinson.

Sunglasses concealed Franklin’s eyes, but her voice revealed her emotions. “Isn’t it pretty,” she said. “They did a beautiful job.”

Island youth, baseball legends and community spirit were celebrated May 3, when the baseball field was rededicated as Scanio-Hutchinson Memorial Field.

The Anna Maria field at 407 Magnolia was long ago named in memory of Benji, an Island boy who died at the age of 6 in 1959, and a memorial was placed there for Hutchinson, the pro player and coach who died of cancer in 1964.

Hutchinson, his wife, Patsy, and Benji’s dad, Benny Scanio, along with other Major Leaguers-Islanders, raised the money to build the ball diamond decades ago and then coordinated the team of volunteers who moved the red Georgia clay, installed the concrete stadium and fencing and nurtured the grass.

In the construction of the new Center, the baseball field underwent some changes - the stadium was demolished and a memorial plaque honoring Benji came down temporarily.

That plaque was replaced and unveiled May 3, along with a new plaque, donated by Patsy Hutchinson to memorialize her husband.

“This is a wonderful day,” Franklin said, as she stood near Anna Maria Island Little League president Mike Brusso as he rededicated the field.

Brusso recognized Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford, County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, Center executive director Pierrette Kelly and members of some of the Island’s baseball families, including Holmes Beach resident Chris Shaw, daughter of the late MLB player Earl Torgeson. Brusso also praised Patsy Hutchinson, who was in Seattle and could not attend the program.

“They built this field,” Brusso said of the Scanio family, the Major League ballplayers and their relatives who called the Island home and other residents who pitched in.

“All the boys and girls from Anna Maria from 1960 to the present have been playing on this field,” Brusso said.

“From the sorrow of tragedy, a ball park was born,” Brusso said, referring to the commitment of Benny Scanio and his friends to honor his son and build something for Island youth.

“Today we honor a boy and a man, the past, the present and the future,” Brusso said, gesturing toward Anna Maria’s “field of dreams.”

Little League players stood and listened with friends and relatives, as well as longtime Islanders who remember when the field was built.

John Cagnina, who threw out a ceremonial pitch, remembered his cousin Benji and Hutchinson and the past glory days.

“We sort of always played on this field,” Cagnina said, but until 1960 it was just a sandy lot.

“Benny Scanio went to Tampa and got all kinds of material and fencing from the Ringling Circus,” said Cagnina, who played left field in those days. “And all the volunteers came together. And Fred Hutchinson, he was just totally involved. And the whole community really. It was a community effort.”

Cagnina looked about at the activity on the field May 3 and remembered when his son played baseball. Mike Cagnina died earlier this year from injuries in a motorcycle accident.

“This is a really nice field,” he said. “It makes me feel good that so many years later - almost 50 years later - this baseball field is going strong.”

The ceremony took place during a full day of youth baseball at the renovated Scanio-Hutchinson Memorial Field.

The crowd assembled at about 8:30 a.m., when members of the West Coast Surf Shop and Sun teams began warming up for a 9:15 a.m. game and tucking in shirts for team photographs.

In center field, Mikey Ellsworth, 9, prepared for the game. He plays soccer, football and baseball, but Mikey said baseball is his favorite sport.

“I just like it because there’s a lot of fun and cheer in baseball. And home runs,” said the six-year veteran of the game.

During spring-training season in March, Mikey pays attention to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Then he devotes himself to Little League play. “I pitch and play first base, but mostly pitch,” he said.

Nearby, in advance of the first game, Christian Hightower, 13, leaned on the outfield fence waiting to mug for his team photo. He plays for The Islanders team sponsored by the newspaper in an older league - and on a bigger field than the Center park.

“I play everywhere but pitcher and catcher,” Christian said, adding that second-base is his favorite spot on the field.

Baseball is “something to do. It’s an activity, better than sitting on the couch eating potato chips all day,” Christian said.

Barford arrived as teams were gathering in the outfield for their photographs.

“I really love this for the kids,” she said. She recalled that when she was in Temple Terrace, she had thrown out ceremonial pitches.

“I stewed about it,” the mayor said. “But I got it in.”

Kelly said she was proud of “the visionaries who started all this. They had sports and youth in mind from the start. And it’s great to bring all these people back today with the kids. It’s exciting, very exciting.”

Later this month, Little League organizers hope to host another family day at the field, with a pitching game, a water slide and grilled hot dogs.