SONNY GRASSO, 81
"A great person and
a doer," said College of Staten Island baseball coach Bill Cali,
who has a unique perspective. Cali played baseball against Mr. Grasso,
the player-coach for DeJoy's taxi in the Twyford-Muche Major League and
the Curtis Community Center league in the 1950s and the 1960s.
"There was nothing Sonny felt couldn't get done," Cali added.
That was obvious near the end of Mr. Grasso's years (1944-47) in the U.S. Army.
The New Brighton resident entered the service after a busy athletic career at Curtis High School that presaged his adult life in the community: Basketball, football and baseball, where as an outfielder and a pitcher he played a prominent role in the Warriors' city PSAL championships of 1943 and 1944.
The recipient of the Bronze Star for meritorious service in the Pacific Theater, Mr. Grasso, a staff sergeant, was assigned to special services in Japan at the conclusion of the war.
His job was to organize activities and entertainment for the troops, but he also found time to construct a baseball field for the soldiers -- and Japanese youth.
NATIONAL LEAGUE DEAL
Upon his return home, Mr. Grasso signed with the National League's Boston Braves, who would later move to Milwaukee and then to Atlanta.
He played two seasons with the Braves' Kitty League team, hitting .356 and .325. His teammates included future Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn and catcher Del Crandall, both of whom would become integral parts of the Milwaukee Braves' 1957 World Series champions and 1958 National League champions.
After his second season, however, Mr. Grasso returned home and severely injured his right (throwing arm) shoulder, ironically while playing in a basketball game at the Catholic Youth Organization Center, where he would later serve as program director from 1959 to 1976.
His professional baseball career over, Mr. Grasso immersed himself in his community.
His high school credits include serving as baseball coach at the now-defunct Augustinian Academy from 1966 to 1968. In his first season, the other Island coaches voted him coach of the year for the New York Daily News Staten Island All-Star team; junior varsity baseball coach at Moore Catholic in 1972 and 1973, and varsity coach at Moore from 1974 through 1977.
Mr. Grasso left Moore to become the College of Staten Island's first baseball coach when the school became a four-year institution. The team won its first CUNYAC baseball championship in 1982.
He also started a transportation company, Sheffield Transit, in 1977, which he operated until 1985, when he was appointed supervisor of intramural recreation at CSI, a post he held until his retirement in 1997.
"When we first started football at McKee, we used Sonny's buses," said Bob Steele, then the school's athletic director. "He charged us less than he should have, of course.
"But then, the Pioneer Bus Company was going to donate a bus to the school. The only problem was, we needed people licensed to drive a bus. We had to train Paul Barchitta and myself as drivers.
"That meant Sonny was going to lose our business," Steele said, "but he loaned us a bus for Paul and I to train with . . . to prepare ourselves by taking mock tests."
"Sonny," Steele added, "couldn't do enough for people."
In 1995, Mr. Grasso stepped up to the plate when CSI needed a women's softball coach. The next season, the Dolphins won the CUNYAC championship, making him the only coach in CUNY history to coach championship teams in baseball and softball.
Mr. Grasso's community activism had a sports accent, but it wasn't limited to sports.
A parishioner of Sacred Heart R.C. Church in West Brighton, he was a member of its Holy Name Society and a charter member of the Sacred Heart Youth Council.
He also was a member of the Staten Island Baseball Oldtimers Association, Staten Island Baseball Umpires Association, Staten Island CYO Basketball Officials Association, CYO Sports Advisory Board, board of trustees of the Greater New York Sandlot Alliance, First Friday Club, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The CYO recognized his years of selfless service in 1993, when he received that organization's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2003 he was inducted into the Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame.
When Mr. Grasso returned from New Port Richey for the Hall of Fame ceremony, Staten Islanders learned he had only moved. He hadn't retired. A parishioner of St. James the Apostle R.C. Church, he coached Knights of Columbus youth baseball until three years ago, when illness made it impossible for him to continue.
Mr. Grasso is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Teresa Rigor; his four sons, Eugene, Gerard, Jeffrey Mark and Jaime; his three daughters, Judith Trancucci, Jodette Grasso and Janis Grasso; two sisters, Rose Will and Lillian Gargano; seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his grandson, Jason Grasso.
The funeral will be tomorrow from the Faupel Funeral Home, New Port Richey, with a mass in St. James the Apostle Church. Burial will follow in Florida National Cemetery, Bushnell. A memorial service will be held on Staten Island at a later date.