Jimbo Levato

Three things come naturally to Jimbo Levato; 16″ softball, socializing and working. And few people have mixed in the things they value as well as Levato. Perhaps because of that, Levato, who turned 67 three days after his induction to the Hall of Fame, has the demeanor and physical movement of a much younger man. “I’ve had a great life,” he smiles. “And softball was so big in it. That was my first love.” The lifelong Bridgeport resident recalls going off with a softball and bat to the park while all his friends were out swimming. He’d hit the ball and chase after it. Then hit it again and chase it again, over and over. By the time he was 16 years old, he was playing big time softball with Tracy’s. A left handed singles and doubles hitter, Levato prided himself on his consistency. “Didn’t make very many outs,” he says proudly, looking at his wife, Joyce. “I was always on base.” “Always,” Joyce nods. Much of his time was spent at McGuane Park at Halsted and 28th (then called Mark White Park) where Tracey’s won nine championships, and at Armour Square Park, where they won three titles. He also competed on such legendary softball battlegrounds as Kelly Park and Donovan Park. In 1973, he was on the undefeated Diamond Oaks squad at Kelly Park.  Levato recalls playing weekend round robin money tournaments against such top teams as the Amalgamonsters, and Bill Bonnetts. “They had uniforms, bats and everything. We had nothing,” he says.  “We wore these little dago-t’s. But we knocked down a lot of those big teams.” Levato retired nearly four decades later, at 55. He played center field until he was 49, then switched to pitcher. Along the way, he notes with satisfaction, he got to play with not only his five brothers, but all three of his sons as well. In 1985, while still playing ball, Levato opened Jimbo’s. Situated directly across from Armour Square Park, and within sight of Comiskey, Jimbo’s seems not so much a bar as an extension of the neighborhood and it’s people. As he moves about the lounge and on the street outside, it’s apparent Levato is at home among the people around him. Levato came to the bar business rather late in life at age 48, following an adult life working on trucking docks. He was approached by the lounge’s previous owner, who was planning a move to Florida. The man asked Levato if he would be interested in taking over the place. “I said, y’know, I’m good with people. Let me try it,”  Levato recalls. “What have I got to loose?” He clearly relishes his role in providing a welcoming place for softball players to gather. Over 16 years, Jimbo’s has sponsored local men’s and women’s teams and has served as the host bar for Bridgeport Crush manager Mick Ballestri’s popular annual spring and fall 16″ tournaments. He also sponsored the 1989 and 1995 Bridgeport Crush USSSA National 16″ champions. “They all come here after the games,” Levato says , smiling. “While they’re playing ball they hardly talk to each other. After the games, they all come in here, they drink together, they laugh together, they sing with the jukebox. Just have a good time.” Like a blue collar version of the famous Pump Room, over one hundred 8 X 12 photos of past and present patrons mix with the likes of the Three Stooges (“They come in here once in a while,” Jimbo cracks), Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony LaRussa and other assorted major leaguers. “I found out that people would rather have their picture up there than the ball players,” says Levato. “And it’s worked out great.” Of all the people he’s known in softball over the years, he thanks Ballestri, along with brothers Carmen and Santo. “Mickey Ballestri’s excellent,” Levato offers. “And he devotes a lot of time to it. It’s not easy getting 29 teams to come out for a tournament.” Levato credits older brothers Carmen and Santo with impressing on him the values that would guide him through his life. “Never give up, and always give one hundred percent,” he says, grinning. “And play hard,” he continues. “And I always did.” Still, Levato has at least one small regret. “It’s still hard to watch and not play.”