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His star shines on at diamond

The north end of MacFarlane Park is home to the West Tampa Little League, an organization that has produced baseball stars such as Al Lopez, Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella and Tino Martinez.

But for all of its legends, the West Tampa Little League is also known for Marty Salla, a neighborhood boy who loved baseball and whose family supported the league. His name graces the league's main field.

Born in 1949, Salla grew up in West Tampa and attended St. Joseph Catholic School through eighth grade. At age 10, he took up baseball and played for the West Tampa Little League. He also enjoyed basketball.

Salla was a clean-cut, quiet kid. "He was no long-haired hippy," said Dan Curbelo, the widower of Salla's sister, Diana. "He was very quiet, and a very sensitive kid. Very courteous."

Salla was close to his father, John Salla, who was a major in the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. They spent a lot of time together hunting and fishing on their land in Odessa and near Trout Creek. They also bred pigeons in a backyard coop and traveled to pigeon racing events, Curbelo recalled.

At age 16, Salla was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. Not long after he graduated from Jesuit High School, he died from the disease in 1968 at age 19. Former Sheriff Malcolm Beard was among the pallbearers.

After his death, the West Tampa baseball field was named after Salla, in honor of his participation and his father's longstanding support of the league.

John Salla also died from cancer in 1975, as did Marty's sister Diana in 2002.

_ MICHAEL CANNING

Source: Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library, E.J. Salcines.

Photo courtesy of Dan Curbelo.

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