These days Peter Centola can be seen around Watertown’s recreation facilities as the town’s Director of Recreation, but in his younger days baseball was his life. His prowess on the diamond has earned him a spot in the Intercity Baseball League Hall of Fame.
Centola played for 10 years in the very competitive adult baseball league for the Arlington-based Grannan Club, which turned into Holovack and Coughlin. He played first base and pitched. Being named to the the Hall of Fame was a thrill and an honor, Centola said.
“It wasn’t like I was waiting for this,” Centola said. “It was a pleasant surprise.”
His baseball career did not get off to an auspicious start. Centola got cut from youth baseball at the age of 7. He did not give up and would play with the other “River Rats” at the park along the Charles River near Charles River Road.
Coaches saw him playing at a Watertown park and at the age of 11 he was drafted by the Red Sox of the Watertown Little League, before going on to Junior Babe Ruth Reds, Senior Babe Ruth, and then played for the Watertown Hibernians in the Stan Musial League.
“That’s why I say don’t give up on a players,” Centola said.
Centola had a decorated athletic career at Watertown’s St. Patrick’s High School, where he was MVP of the Catholic Suburban League in baseball as a junior and senior and the Boston Herald named him to the All- Scholastic team in basketball when he was a senior. He went on to play for Stonehill College, and he got the opportunity of the lifetime, pitching at Fenway Park during the University and College All-Star Game.
“When I was a sophomore we had a very good team at Stonehill,” Centola said. “It was a thrill.”
The outing was not so thrilling for Centola, who started for the Div. 2 and 3 team against the Div. 1 team, gave up four runs in the first inning and pitched two innings.
After college, Centola began playing in the Intercity League, and began coaching. His first position was as freshman coach at Belmont High School in 1983, then moved to Mass Bay Community College the next year before going to UMass-Boston, where he coached from 1985-91. One of his players at UMass-Boston, Steve Coffey, was taken in the Major League Baseball drafted.
He came to Watertown High School to coach in the early 1990s and was a volunteer coach for the Harvard junior varsity while also serving as assistant athletic director at Mount Ida College. He started a club baseball team at the college. Then he became athletic director at Newbury College, where he restarted baseball as a club sport and later became a varsity team.
Through the years, Centola also worked in the Watertown Public Schools and for Watertown Recreation. He worked as a teacher’s aide in the 1980s while also coaching baseball. He first worked for Watertown Recreation in 1976 as a Camp Peqoussette Apache Counselor. He has been the commissioner of the Watertown Men’s Summer Basketball League for 33 years.
In December 2009, when former Recreation Director Tom Sullivan retired Centola struggled with whether to go for the job, but decided to go for it because it was best for his family.
The Hall of Fame committee wrote up the following profile of Centola:
Presence is defined as the impressive manner, appearance, bearing or air of a person. Whether patrolling the first base bag, digging into the left hand batter’s box or glaring in from the mound, Pete Centola carried presence. His imposing size alone was enough to get an opponent’s attention, but it was his consistent night in night out, year in year out production that rendered him the heart and soul, the presence, in Arlington’s Grannan and Holovak & Coughlin lineups, one of which, the 1986 Grannan Club, Centola led to the Intercity League playoff finals won by the Melrose Rams.
From 1983 when he joined the Grannan Club and soon settled in as their everyday first baseman and four hitter, until 1992 when he closed his career in the same roles, Centola could be counted on to supply the team with the requisite home runs and RBI. But he supplied much more. Centola hit well over .300 every year. If a single was needed against a tough lefty, he’d get the single. If a runner was on third with less than two outs, he’d fly deep to the outfield. A situational hitter, Centola knew what his job was from at bat to at bat. Coaches exhort hitters to “have an idea” when they go to the plate. That advice was not lost on Centola who time and again would get the job done in a multitude of situations. An all around athlete, Centola, who in 1978 graduated from St. Patrick’s High School in Watertown having been chosen Herald All- Scholastic in basketball as a senior and the Catholic Suburban League MVP in baseball following both his junior and senior years, also flashed an above average glove at first base, saving numerous infield errors with agility that complemented his 6’4″ target.
With Centola, batting and fielding credentials tell two-thirds of the story. Often called upon to take the mound, it wasn’t overpowering velocity that got batters out, it was location and guile. He threw strikes, got outs, got saves and got wins. As with the bat and glove, when on the mound, he did his job.
Centola graduated from Stonehill College in 1982. A senior captain and four year starter as both a pitcher and first baseman, he was named All-New England and All-Northeast as a sophomore pitcher and was chosen to start the University and College All-Star Game at Fenway Park.
Among numerous coaching and administrative positions held, he guided the UMass-Boston baseball team from 1985-1991 and recruited Intercity League players Steve Coffey, Pete Albano, Steve McCormack, Jon Sutherby, Dave Ellegood and Steve Daley to the South Boston campus. As Newbury College Athletic Director, he established baseball as a varsity sport in 2007.
Centola, a former Massachusetts Bowling Association candlepin champion, is the Director of Recreation in Watertown, where, among other things, he oversees Victory Field, home of the Watertown Reds. The lifelong Watertown resident is married to Karen. They are the parents of 22 year-old daughter, Torey Boyle, 14 year-old son, Philip, and 12 year-old daughter, Leanne. Karen’s mother, Nana, also shares the Centola home.
His late and always supportive parents, Philip and Anna, along with his late brother Quinn, smile down tonight, proudly joining Karen and the kids as we induct and welcome Pete Centola into the Intercity League Hall of Fame.
The Intercity Baseball League Hall of Fame induction dinner will be held on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, at Montvale Plaza in Stoneham. For information on the dinner please contact Dinner Chairman Orazio Azzarello at 617-839-6843.