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NFL legend Jim Brown helps christen Manhasset park

Jon Kaiman, North Hempstead town supervisor, with Jim

Jon Kaiman, North Hempstead town supervisor, with Jim Brown, a football hall of famer and Manhasset hometown hero, at the grand re-opening of Manhasset Valley Park. (April 27, 2013) Credit: Barry Sloan

As Jim Brown crossed the turf of the newly renovated Manhasset Valley Park, a boy called out from against the fence, a Cleveland Browns jersey in his hands.

"Man, that's the Cleveland Browns," the legendary NFL Hall of Fame running back told the youngster. "We're talking about Manhasset!"

The gentle chiding highlighted Brown's roots, on full display Saturday during his homecoming, at which he helped christen the park where a field will bear his name.

"This is where it all started," he said, before North Hempstead town officials issued a proclamation declaring the day for Brown, 77, a 1953 graduate of Manhasset High School who also starred in films and other sports, including lacrosse.

The town acquired the park from the county in 2007. Supervisor Jon Kaiman described the roughly $3 million renovation as "years in the making."

The new facilities include two synthetic turf fields: one for baseball, and the other, which is named for Brown, designed for soccer and lacrosse. A concession stand, playground and other additions are planned.

Through the years, Kaiman said, the park was used "less and less." Residents recalled it was mostly for baseball games and said the grass fields were ill-equipped for bad weather.

"After the rain, it would always flood," said Joe Locurto, 51, of Manhasset, there with his 11-year-old son and twin daughters, 9. "You couldn't play here for three or four days after."

Pamela Patillo, who grew up in Manhasset and said her mother was Brown's classmate, brought more than a dozen family and friends to see Brown.

Patillo said Brown's remarks, in which he thanked the adults who championed him growing up (including his mother, single and working as a domestic), "gave me chills . . . I felt like I was hearing a word from my pastor."

The town -- and residents -- seemed to pay little mind to Brown's 3-month prison stint in 2002 for vandalizing his wife's car. He was jailed after refusing to undergo court-ordered counseling and community service.

Of his struggles, Brown said: "We all try to do better."

And Kaiman said: "Everyone has parts of their life that they regret, that they learned from."

He added: "Jim Brown the athlete and Jim Brown today is a man worthy of recognition."

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