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Colavito statue to be unveiled in Cleveland’s Little Italy

By MARC BONA • Oct 10, 2019 at 6:40 PM

CLEVELAND — Rocky Colavito made a point of spending time with his fans when he played in Cleveland.

Soon, those fans will have more than memories to remember their beloved hero.

A life-size statue of Colavito is being created by noted sculptor David Deming and will be placed in Tony Brush Park at University Circle — about five miles east of Progressive Field. It's an appropriate setting for the image of Rocco Domenico Colavito, in the Little Italy neighborhood of the city that still embraces him.

Mark Sommer, whose biography on Colavito came out this year, is part of a committee making the statue a reality. Sommer brought Colavito to town for a meet-and-greet days before the All-Star Game was played in Progressive Field. Scores of fans turned out at Playhouse Square to meet the former Indians slugger.

Colavito does not have a statue at Progressive Field, a point of contention between some fans and the team. According to team officials, for a statue to be erected at the ballpark, an Indians player must be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Colavito — who hit .266 and smacked 374 home runs over 14 seasons — is not. He is remembered for both the endearing nature he had with fans and for the monumental trade that sent him to Detroit for the 1960 season.

What's amazing is the grassroots committee of volunteers coalesced quickly; it was formed only two months ago, said member Matt Gambatese, 78, who lives in Little Italy.

"Rocky Colavito awareness came back with the book," Sommer said.

Gambatese and the following form the committee:

— Anthony Delguyd.

— Sheldon Green, who as a boy was in a theater when the film was stopped for the infamous announcement that Colavito had been traded. Green is interviewed in Sommer's book.

— Randy Mintz, from Bertman Original Ballpark Mustard.

— Marc Paige, who is working on a Facebook page about the statue and donation efforts.

— Ida Pocci, a lifelong Colavito fan who has been petitioning the Indians for a statue in Colavito's likeness at Progressive Field.

— Basil Russo, president of the Italian Sons and Daughters.

— Sommer, whose book "Rocky Colavito: Cleveland's Iconic Slugger" is the first definitive biography on the player in more than 50 years.

The genesis of the committee can be traced to Gambatese and Green, who know each other through a mutual contact.

"I mentioned to him they should have a statute of him," Gambatese said. "We started talking, and this thing got to be more and more serious. And I'm a guy when he gets something in his head he kind of goes crazy with it. So we're going crazy."

From there things snowballed efficiently. The committee mulled Deming and another Cleveland sculptor, Sandro Bonaiuto, as possible artists for the job. Both have long resumes lined with rich artistic creations.

Gambatese said Mintz was enthusiastic about Deming, who has crafted a multitude of images, many iconic Cleveland figures including Olympic star Harrison Dillard, the late Plain Dealer rock critic Jane Scott, Superman, Indians Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby, Frank Robinson and Jim Thome; and Browns greats Jim Brown and Otto Graham.

"So I sat with David Deming and he showed me his brochures and all the stuff he has done," Gambatese said. "The thing I was swayed with is that he is a humungous Rocky Colavito fan. Sandro Bonaiuto doesn't even know what baseball is. But he's done statues for the pope, so he's qualified."

Gambatese and Sommer said the target date for the statue's unveiling is spring.

The next step was to choose a pose, and Colavito weighed in, Sommer said.

Rocky with bat stretched behind his head? Rocky pointing his bat, the way he did at opposing pitchers? In the end it will be Colavito in traditional batting stance. Gambatese said all the tiny details were considered, including the type of bat Colavito is holding and the signature on the barrel.

Deming went to work immediately on the statue, which will have a total cost exceeding $110,000, Sommer said.

In addition to the Facebook page, Gambatese is reaching out to Italian contractors and business people and is submitting a grant application with NOIA — Northern Ohio Italian American Foundation. Gambatese said the committee is working on establishing 501c3 status, and donations will go through Little Italy Redevelopment Corp.

A plan also is in the works to sell tribute bricks for $100, so fans can have family members' names engraved near the pedestal.

Deming is two or three months ahead of schedule, Gambatese said.

"He's so enthusiastic about getting it done," he said.

"Rocky's 86," Sommer said. "We want him to be there and celebrate him for being one of the most all-time popular ballplayers to put on an Indians uniform. It's long overdue to see Rocky get this recognition."

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