Longtime Long Islander Vito Paolantonio's rise from humble, immigrant roots is the "typical working-class Italian-American story of New York," his oldest son said.
"They came from very, very humble beginnings," Sal Paolantonio, 56, of Moorestown, N.J., said of his parents. "They were the first generation of immigrant parents, and they moved out to the greener pastures."
Vito Paolantonio died of heart failure Tuesday in Zephyrhills, Fla. He was 80.
Born in Brooklyn on June 23, 1932, he met Marie Giardina, the woman who would become his wife, when he was 16 and she was 14. She would hang out outside a candy store with her friends and Paolantonio would cruise past, one of the only teenagers in the neighborhood with a car, Sal Paolantonio said.
Paolantonio graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, Queens, and they married in 1955. In 1961, the family moved to Stewart Manor.
He spent most of his career at Ford Instrument Co. in Long Island City as a draftsman, working on technical drawings for military weapons and guidance systems. Later, he worked for Grumman Aerospace writing technical manuals.
Growing up, Paolantonio instilled in his children a deep love of baseball, and coached his sons' Little League teams.
"He was very good at teaching me and my brother James the art of baseball, the art of hitting, and just how to play the game the right way," said Sal, who works for ESPN as a national correspondent.
Despite Paolantonio's lifelong struggle with cataracts, he was a naturally gifted athlete, his son said, and taught his children that loving sports was more than being a fan of a team.
Paolantonio retired in the early 1980s, and he and his wife moved to Florida in 2005.
In addition to his son Sal, Paolantonio is survived by his wife, Marie; three other children, Angela, of Calitri, Italy, James, of Franklin Square, and JoAnn, 44, of Los Angeles; and five grandchildren.