Dennis Gratto was born in Portland and grew up with his two brothers playing our National Pastime on playgrounds, St. Dominic’s school yard and the Deering Oaks. Dennis is the son of the late George and Imelda Gratto who always supported Dennis and his love of the game. Dennis resides in Portland with his wife of twenty-six years, Bernadette and their daughter Therese. Professionally, Mr. Gratto is the Physical Education Director of the South Portland Boys and Girls club where he has held this position for nearly thirty-eight years.
As a youngster, Dennis played Little League for the Knight’s of Columbus in Portland at the Douglas Street field. During his final two years, Dennis led his team to a record of 34-2 as an all-star catcher. Dennis then moved to 3rd base in the 7th grade and on to shortstop in the 8th grade at King Middle School. After two productive years playing in Portland’s Senior Little League, his family moved to South Portland. Dennis benefited from the move as he led Prescott’s Pharmacy to the S.P. National Sr. League title with fifteen wins. Dennis continued to show his flexibility on the diamond as he moved to center field for the all-stars and batted over 400.
In high school, Dennis was a four-year varsity player for Cheverus high School. As a senior, Dennis won the Telegram League batting title in 1969 with a batting average of .421. He led a talented Cheverus team to the league championship game, but lost to his hometown team South Portland 7-5 in the finals. Championship game losses are always tough to take, but this one was even tougher as his younger brother Christopher played for the South Portland team. Dennis was a unanimous All-Telegram League first team selection.
Dennis played American Legion baseball for Morrill Post of South Portland in 1968-69 for the legendary Leroy Rand. This team would go on to win the Zone 4 championship both years while winning the state championship in 1968. Batting clean up in 1969 for a very talented team, Dennis batted over .350 and led the team in RBI’s. He is the fifth member of this team to be inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame; the others are Peter Dresser, Al Livingston, John Gleason and George Beattie.
Dennis has a long and storied history with the Portland Twilight league beginning in 1970 with the Falmouth Townies. Two years later, he joined the Yarmouth Townies and was instrumental in helping them win their last two championships. In 1972 with players like Ronnie Butland and Paul Sullivan they won the state championship (Governor’s Cup) at Auburn’s Pettengill Park under coach Pat Feury. 1975 Yarmouth won its last Twilight League championship with a 3-1 series win over three time defending champ South Portland Merchants under player/manager Al Livingston. In 1980, Dennis took full reins as the coach of the In-town Portland team that would become Forest Gardens and later Olympia Sports. In the five years as a player/coach his teams had a 128-64 record with two regular season championships and one overall championship in 1984. Beyond the play on the field, Dennis spent numerous hours each year raising funds for the team. He held dances, sold concessions at Bingo and went door-to-door to area business to raise funds. Dennis was a leader in pursuing publicity to raise awareness of the local talent in the league. He did weekly interviews for the Portland newspapers and television spots with Frank Fixaris and Bill Green. Mr. Gratto’s leadership, stamina and character were always displayed during his fifteen years with the Twilight League.
As a UMO graduate with a degree in Physical Education, Dennis was able to live his lifetime dream of working with young athletes as a coach and mentor while providing a living for his family. As a coach in the Twilight League, Dennis influenced many young men who went on to professional sports careers: Tom Willerson (Atlanta Braves), Mike LaPierre (Montreal Expos), Dan Leach (Cleveland Indians), Vinnie Digifico (Boston Red Sox), and Kenny Joyce (coach San Francisco Giants). At the Boys and Girls Clubs he coached youth basketball to Charlie Furbush (Detroit Tigers) and Billy Swift who played for numerous teams at the major league level. In addition, Dennis is also proud of his influence on one of his former ball boys, Kris Roukey who majored in Sports Management at Springfield College and is now a merchandising executive with the Cleveland Indians.