Sep 26, 2011 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
It’s no easy feat to hit a home run at the Burnet Park softball fields, but Big Ed Zacholl routinely whacked ’em over the fence. In fact, a Tipperary Hill neighbor claims Big Ed once drove a ball all the way to Monkey Island in the Burnet Park Zoo.
But his hitting prowess paled compared to his pitching. He was nearly un-hittable.
One of his old softball buddies — Jerry Wilcox, who became a coach at Bishop Ludden High — recalled stepping up to the plate against Big Ed.
“I could hit the drop, but I could never touch the rise,” Wilcox whined.
Another old opponent opined, “When you batted against Big Ed, you were happy if you could just foul one off!”
Six and a half years ago Big Ed died at age 72, but on Tipp Hill he’s well-remembered for his diamond dominance on various neighborhood fast-pitch teams. And, to a slightly lesser extent, for his love of good grub, good suds and good tunes.
“When he sang, he had a voice like Burl Ives,” recalls his namesake, Z-Bones bandleader Eddie Zacholl. “He sang all the old standards around the house, all the old show tunes, and he let me stay up late to watch ‘Elvis Presley, Aloha From Hawaii, Via Satellite’ when I was, I think, about 8, which really floored me at the time,” his son said. “He loved the bands I was in. In his later years, he knew I had a thing for songwriting, and once in while he’d slip me a piece of paper with a song he wrote — I still have them. Then he’d say something like, ‘Keep that in your back pocket, kid, in case you run out of material.’ What a character!”
Big Ed Special
In fact, Big Ed was such a character that his legacy of laughter lives on as a daily special served at a local diner. Mike Tassone, the owner of Liverpool’s American Diner, named a humble lunch platter in honor of a man who meant the world to him. It’s fried bologna and cheese with french fries, for $5.29, The Big Ed Special! (The diner is kitty-corner from Heid’s, at 314 Old Liverpool Road.)
“He was a big man, well over 6 feet,” Tassone recalls. “He was a tremendous softball player and a real hero to us kids, a real father-figure,” Mike recalled. “I always said if I ever open a restaurant, I’m going to name the fried bologna special after Big Ed.”
Eddie Z. remembers Tassone.
“Mike Tassone was my brother’s best friend and one of Big Ed’s boys,” the son said. “Mike and seven other of Big Ed’s boys were his pallbearers, and they all wore suits and Yankee caps… My dad was a big, fun-loving guy who laughed a lot, liked food and beer and loved the Yankees and his boys, so growing up was like having my own personal Babe Ruth to look up to, and that I did.”
Eddie Z. served as bat boy for some of Big Ed’s teams — Harrison’s, Nibsy’s and he thinks Wheeler’s — and saw his dad hit homers that cleared the tennis court fence at Wadsworth Park. Though he’d started his A League career playing for Brigandi’s on the North Side, Big Ed moved to the West End after he married a Tipp Hill lass named Diane McNamara.
Tipp Hill Fest Saturday
If he were still alive, loudly reminiscing about his exploits on the mound, Big Ed would surely have made the scene at the 5th Annual Tipperary Hill Music Festival from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at Burnet Park’s Pass Arboretum. Admission is free,
The music, of course, paid homage to Tipp Hill’s Irish roots, but it also reflected the neighborhood’s growing diversity. The 15 acts on five stages included blues by the Super Delinquents, swing and show tunes by the DeSantis Orchestra, bluegrass by Boots N Shorts, and innovative rock by White Picket Fence, Blue Sky Mission Club, Donna Colton & The Troublemakers, The Causeway Giants, Frenay & Lenin, Sirsy, The Mere Mortals, The Tipp Hillbillies and the Z-Bones, the deeply grooving combo led by Big Ed’s son, Eddie Z.
Other performers included the Same Blood Folk Band, Frank & Burns, Nate & Kate and the venerable Tom Dooley Choraliers. The Dooley singers recorded “Billy Barry,” one of 12 tracks on the 2010 CD “My Heart’s Right Here; Songs for Tipperary Hill,” co-produced by Eddie Zacholl along with Joe Henson and Mike Lounsbery. Those same three guys produce the festival.
Pass Arboretum is located across from the Avery/Salisbury/WhittierAve entrance to Burnet Park; tipphillmusicfest.org, 299-4415.
Russ Tarby’s column appears weekly in The Eagle and online at theeaglecny.com. He also covers the arts and sports. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.