CLARK, NJ -- As a long winter reaches its final month, the first signs of spring slowly begin to blossom. One of those indicators that spring is on the horizon is the annual Union County Baseball Hot Stove Awards, which symbolize the start of the upcoming baseball season.
On Sunday, the Union County Baseball Association (UCBA) hosted its 82nd annual Hot Stove League Dinner at the Gran Centurions in Clark. Two awards were presented to local prep baseball and softball stars in addition to the induction of four members into the Association’s Hall of Fame.
Arthur L. Johnson High School was well represented at the annual event, as softball stars Gianna Randazza and Shannon Brogan shared a portion of the Banyasz Brothers Award for most valuable softball player.
Randazza, a 2017 graduate from ALJ, is the school’s all-time leader in hits (192), RBI (179), runs (140), triples (17) and home runs (26). On the mound, she won 59 high school games, struck out 532 batters, and tossed five no-hitters. Winning the Banyasz Brothers Award each of the last three years, Randazza now plays at Boston College.
Brogan, also a 2017 ALJ graduate, enjoyed similar success on the diamond. She hit a career .425 with 152 hits, 124 runs, 44 extra base hits,and drove in 81 runs. She was part of Johnson’s Union County Tournament finalist teams in 2016 and 2017, and now plays at Moravian College.
Both Johnson softball stars shared the award with Alanna Namit, a product of Gov. Livingston High School.
On the baseball side, Cranford reached both the Union County and State Group 3 baseball finals last season, and shortstop Brian Oblachinski was a major reason why. Now playing for Montclair State University, Oblachinski was honored with the Edward R. Cooper most outstanding baseball player award. The three-sport and four year varsity baseball player notched 42 hits for a .396 average, with three home runs, 32 runs scored, and 22 RBI in 2017.
Legends within the Union County Baseball ranks are inducted into the association’s Hall of Fame at each season’s banquet, and four standouts from the county were part of this year’s class. The inductees were Ernie Hoffer, Curt Wallace, Jack Goldberg and Bill Feehan.
Hoffer is a graduate of Linden High School and earned nine varsity letters during his time as a student. He helped Linden win the 1960 Union County Championship by driving in two runs in the championship game against St. Mary of Elizabeth, and hit .375 during his senior year.
One of the best products to come out of Elizabeth, Wallace played for Edison Tech of Elizabeth during his high school years. Wallace went on to play for the Negro American League’s Indianapolis Clowns before taking his talents to South America, and he’s played in six total countries. After his playing career, Wallace became a Major League scout for 20 years.
Goldberg starred at Union High School, where he played alongside future Major Leaguers Elliott Maddox and Al Santorini. He hit .325 in both his junior and senior years, and helped his team win the New Jersey Group 4 state championship and Greater Newark Tournament during that senior campaign. He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves and played professionally for two years.
Feehan attended Roselle Catholic High School and burst onto the scene as a player at Kean College. In 1983, he hit .465 with 53 hits and 43 RBI and was named to the NCAA Division III All-District First Team. By the time he graduated, Feehan owned Kean’s record for highest batting average, most hits and RBI.
The Joseph R. Lombardi Memorial Award for an outstanding athlete went to Katarina Pelyviou of Cranford. She plays lacrosse and field hockey at DeSales University.
Nate Roe, a pitcher from Plainfield, won the Chris Zusi Memorial Award for an outstanding athlete. Now with the nearby Somerset Patriots, Roe went 7-6 with 60 strikeouts in the Atlantic League in 2017 and pitched in Australia during that winter.
Every year, the UCBA hosts a guest speaker, and over the years, some of baseball’s legends have spoken. This year’s guest was Phil Cuzzi, a renowned 22-year veteran Major League Baseball umpire. Cuzzi, from Nutley, worked the 2017 World Series, among other accomplishments. For about an hour, he entertained the annual dinner with humorous stories from his umpiring experiences and told the tale of his unusual path to the big leagues.
Profit earned from the dinner will go straight towards the Union County Baseball Association, which hosts a summer clinic and competitive summer and fall leagues for children aged eight to 15.