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Soolman manages to live a baseball dream

Medford’s Harvey Soolman couldn’t make the Northeastern varsity baseball team, but he quickly found a home in the Park League.

Brian Feulner for the Boston Globe

Medford’s Harvey Soolman couldn’t make the Northeastern varsity baseball team, but he quickly found a home in the Park League.

Somewhere under the crumbling cement bleachers at Kelly Field in Hyde Park, Harvey ­Soolman works his way through a sea of equipment and benches in the dark, finds a fuse box on the wall, and flicks a switch.

The lights towering above the baseball diamonds begin to flicker in the twilight as the Little League field across the way enjoys the last few splashes of sunshine that the day will offer.

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Soolman appears in the outfield, strolling out from behind the bleachers like a legend pushing his way out of the corn fields and onto the warning track of Ray Kinsella's field in Iowa.

He is in full uniform, with number 11 emblazoned in red on the back of his JM Force jersey, the team he manages in the Boston Park League.

An accountant by day, Soolman has been involved with America's oldest amateur baseball league for nearly 40 years.

‘This is my Major Leagues. It’s hard work sometimes now, but I can't imagine not doing it.’

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"My father wasn't interested in baseball," said Soolman, who grew up in Brookline. "But in the middle '50s, what else did you do with your kids? So he brought us out, and we played baseball and I really liked it."

After a couple of failed ­attempts at making the varsity at Northeastern, the skinny young kid was not ready to hang up his cleats, so he decided to take a shot at the highly competitive Park League.

"I was concerned that I was in over my head," said Soolman, who caught on with the Lechmere ­Orioles, "But I got comfortable playing amongst some top-notch talent."

It was here that he felt most comfortable, playing alongside teammates who were good enough to get paid to be out there.

But, the 62-year-old, says, "they never paid me to play."

Soolman became the league’s first secretary treasurer after the city of Boston relinquished control of the league to a group of players and managers in 1981.

It was around that time that he started his managerial career, with a knack for holding down the position amid turmoil.

He took over a struggling Hyde Park Sports franchise at the end of the 1982 season, and at the start of the '83 season, a power struggle with ownership forced Soolman out.

He immediately caught on with Sociedad Latina, where he again fought resistance from the sponsors after leading the team to their first wins of the season. Within the first two weeks of the 1983 season, he had been vanquished from two managing jobs.

Undeterred, he moved on to the Junior Park League, won back-to-back titles, and met the guys who would form Towne Club (now JM Force), the team he would manage in his return to the Park League in 2002.

It's not all baseball for the 42-year Medford resident, who has ­also penned numerous scripts for the stage, including “Ballplayer,” which enjoyed a run at the Charlestown Working Theater in 2003. It is the story of an aging amateur baseball player who refuses to give up the game, despite protests from his family. That player also happened to be an accountant and continues to pursue his passion in the Boston Park League.

Sound familiar?

"It's somewhat, not so loosely’’ based on his own life, Soolman said of the lead character.

"It's not really a baseball play,” he said. “It's a play about someone that keeps doing something ­because that's just who he is; he just has to keep doing it."

And it's a seemingly never-
ending cycle as he recruits talent in the offseason and umpires on off nights and weekends in season.

"Sometimes I go home on a Saturday night and find I have nothing to do," said Soolman. "That's nice."

Mike Stefaniak, a Needham ­native, started pitching for ­Soolman six years ago after his freshman season at Tufts. Now that his collegiate career is over, he understands his manager's desire to come to the park every night.

“There are some kids here who are still in college, so I don't think it means as much to them," said Stefaniak. "But this is all I’ve got now, so it definitely means a lot more than it did a couple years ago."

On occasion, if the mood and the score are right, Soolman is not afraid to pick up the lumber and insert himself into the lineup.

"I'd strike him out, no doubt about it," Stefaniak joked.

The script, however, favors Soolman in that matchup.

"This is my Major Leagues," said Soolman. "Its hard work sometimes now, but I can't imagine not doing it."

Craig Forde can be reached at cfordy40@hotmail.com.

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