Buried in a box of forgotten black and white photos in a storage room at Nassau Coliseum was a picture of a young Clark Gillies playing softball.
It's dated sometime in the summer of 1980, in an undiscernible ballpark with a full grandstand and deep dugouts. Most people are drawn to his legs, which are huge and project a sense of power in his swing. Gillies was a minor league baseball player before his Islanders career, so his plate presence looks natural. It's a cool enough photo by itself, but if you look closer, you'll notice the catcher is wearing a Philadelphia Flyers logo on his jersey.
NHL teams playing softball against each other in the offseason? Now that's really cool.
As it turns out, this wasn't a one-off. The Islanders had an active softball team, playing anyone and everyone to raise money in the summer. NewYorkIslanders.com sat down with Gillies and Ken Morrow, two winter warriors who were also boys of summer. We'll let them tell the story of the Islanders softball teams.
"We were all here (on Long Island) and wanted something to stay busy. I think we helped a lot of community fundraisers. Whether it was Knights of Columbus or raising a few bucks for this or whatever the cause was, we played all over the Island. I basically learned how to drive around Long Island. I would venture to say I couldn't get lost around here based on how many places I went playing softball. It was just a lot of fun. We played sometimes four nights a week and weekends, so we kept ourselves pretty busy.
We had our own softball uniforms and some of the guys were pretty good. Clark Gillies was a former professional baseball player. Bob Bourne was pretty good. We had some pretty good players mixed in with some guys like myself. I wasn't very good at softball, so my comfort level of playing in front of a crowd wasn't very good, but hey, it was fun and I enjoyed it.
We probably played 40 softball games over a summer, sometimes two a night and my wife would sometimes say I can't wait till the season starts so I can see you again. And I wasn't home much during the season, so it kind of tells you how much we were out.
RALPH SELLITTI (VP TICKET SALES/PART-TIME PITCHER):
We used to draw crowds in excess of 2,000 people. It was insane. People would be lined up in the parking lot as the players came in just to get their autographs. That's how popular it was.
Editor's Note: In 1982 the Islanders reportedly raised over $200K in approximately 15 charity games, per a 1983 story in the New York Times.
We played Don Imus every summer, he would have a team of celebrity players. We'd go to play the King and his Court, which was a famous travel team that went around the country. There were only four of them on the team: a pitcher, catcher, one outfielder and one infielder and they would beat teams that had nine players out there. That was their thing, that's what they did, they went around the country and it was a show they put on. I got to know the dad [Eddie Feigner], he was a famous softball player and his son was the catcher. That was probably the game I remember the most.
Lorne Henning was a very good fastball pitcher and we beat [The King and his Court] a couple of times and they were a little annoyed with that (laughs).
NYI: Would the games get competitive?
Always. (Laughs.) You can never do anything where it doesn't get a little competitive, but ultimately it was all about charity. Even though it was all for charity - a lot of those teams the fire department or whatever would load up on ringers.
Video: The Islanders Softball Team
Editor's Note: On a couple of rare occasions, the Islanders would play other NHL teams. The Islanders played a game against the Philadelphia Flyers in 1980 and a game against the Rangers at Shea Stadium in 1982.
Per the New York Times: August 28, 1982
THE ISLANDERS LINEUP:
C Mike Revien (son of team eye doctor)
1B Dave Langevin
2B Bryan Trottier
3B Clark Gillies
SS Monty Trottier (Bryan Trottier's brother)
OF: Ken Morrow, Wayne Merrick, John Tonelli, Ralph Sellitti (team financial controller)
P: Billy Carroll
THE RANGERS LINEUP:
C Cam Connor
1B Dave Maloney
2B Mel Lowell (VP of finance for the Rangers and the Knicks)
3B Barry Beck
SS Steve Vickers
OF: Ron Duguay, Andre Dore, Don Maloney
P: Joe Bucchino (administrative assistant)
We played the Rangers at Shea Stadium and the Flyers at Veterans Stadium down there. I do remember almost hitting a softball out of Shea down the left field line. I almost hit it over the wall, I hit it to the base of the wall.
Clarkie was good. Clarkie could hit the crap out of the ball.
Editor's Note: Gillies played three years of minor league baseball for the Houston Astros affiliate in Covington, VA. From 1970-72. The left field wall at Shea Stadium started at 338 ft.
I don't remember [if we won]. I'd like to say we won. I was kind of just trying not to embarrass myself out there.
[My most memorable game was] probably playing the Flyers. That was a period of time when we were pretty heated as rivals and playing against some of those guys, Dave Schultz, Bob Kelly, Moose Dupont and all those guys, we got along great. In the offseason we were all buddies and that certainly changed when the season rolled around. Just how much fun we had. I enjoyed pretty much every game we played and after, the after parties were fun we'd go and have a few beers with the people we played against.
The most important thing was how much goodwill we created on the Island for the Islanders and for us. We had a lot of fans out there. Of course it wasn't that hard to do when we were winning Stanley Cups and doing that stuff in the summer time. Everybody wanted to be around. It was a good time. I'd like to say it helped keep us in shape, but based on the amount of beer we drank after every game…I don't think it helped that much.