February 2, 2007

CONTACT: Tom Plante, 908-527-4746
Jim Iozzi, 908-486-5164


71st Annual Hot Stove Awards Dinner, Feb. 11,
Honors Union County Athletes, Young and Old

The Union County Baseball Association will induct three new members into the Union County Baseball Hall of Fame and honor three student athletes from Union County during award ceremonies on Sunday afternoon, February 11.

The three student athletes, Capri Catalano of Berkeley Heights, Manny Collins of Plainfield, and Michael Murray of Westfield, will be honored at the 71st Annual Hot Stove League Baseball Dinner which begins at 1:00 p.m. at the L’Affaire Banquet Center, 1099 Route 22 East, Mountainside. The dinner is sponsored by the Union County Baseball Association, in cooperation with the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Union County Department of Parks, Recreation and Facilities.

Also being honored at the awards dinner are Al Ashmont of Clark, Chuck Fernicola of Mountainside, and Rich Pender of Elizabeth, all of whom will be inducted into the Union County Baseball Hall of Fame.

“The Hot Stove League Awards Dinner is a wonderful opportunity each winter to recognize the physical skills and hard work of Union County athletes,” said Freeholder Al Mirabella. “We hope that family members and friends of all the award recipients will enjoy the Sunday afternoon ceremonies and support youth baseball and the new inductees into the Union County Baseball Hall of Fame.”

The special guest speaker at the awards dinner will be Johnny Blanchard, the former New York Yankees catcher and outfielder who was an important member of the 1961 World Series championship team.
In addition to the new Hall of Fame inductees and the scholastic sports honorees, the Hot Stove League Dinner also will honor youth league athletes and local baseball teams for their achievements in 2006.

Tickets for the dinner are $35.00, with proceeds going to help fund the Union County Summer Youth Baseball League for youngsters 8 to 15 years, and the Fall Teen League.

Since 1937, the annual Hot Stove League Dinner has been the primary fund-raising effort for the Union County Baseball Association’s summer and fall programs. Over the years, the awards dinner has honored many local and national baseball luminaries – including Joe Collins of Union, Phil Rizzuto of Hillside, Don Newcombe of Elizabeth, Jeff Torborg of Mountainside, Willie Wilson of Summit, Jake Wood of Elizabeth, and Elliott Maddox of Union.

Tickets for the 71st Annual Union County Baseball Association Hot Stove League Dinner on Feb. 11th are available for $35 and may be obtained by calling (908) 527-4910.

(Editor’s Note: Biographical information about honorees follows below)

Union County Baseball Association
71st Annual Hot Stove League Dinner
Guest Speaker and 2007 Award Winners

Guest Speaker

John Edwin Blanchard was born February 26, 1933, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent on July 3, 1951, Johnny played in his first major league game with the Yankees on September 25, 1955. But he had to wait until 1959 for his big league career to really begin.

Blanchard was the Yankees’ third-string catcher for most of his career and also was a “super sub” in the outfield. He was used infrequently in 1959 and in 1960, and manager Casey Stengel considered activating 40-year-old bullpen coach Jim Hegan, instead of Blanchard, to back up Yogi Berra when Elston Howard was injured. Stengel reconsidered, and Blanchard responded in 1961 with a career-best .305 batting average and 21 home runs.

With Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris battling for the home run title in 1961, Blanchard played a critical role in the Yankees’ season. His 2-out, 9th inning grand slam on July 21, 1961, subdued the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The next day, the Yankee handyman’s pinch-hit home run started a 9th inning rally to beat Boston. In his next two at-bats, on July 26, Blanchard homered both times to tie a major-league record with four straight home runs in a three-game stretch. The Bomber “super sub” ended the year with 21 homers in 243 at bats, the first player in history to hit 20 or more home runs in fewer than 250 at-bats.

Blanchard’s playing time decreased over the next three seasons as he was used primarily as a utility outfielder. On May 3, 1965, he was traded with pitcher Rollie Sheldon to the Kansas City Athletics for catcher Doc Edwards to replace Elston Howard. John was used sparingly in Kansas City and on Sept. 9, 1965, he was purchased by the Milwaukee Braves. As the end of the season drew near, Blanchard got one hit with the Braves, his only National League home run.
Johnny Blanchard will always be remembered for his heroic play for the Yankees in the 1961 World Series. He hit two home runs for the Bronx Bombers in that series against the Cincinnati Reds and batted .400 for the series.

In his major league career, Blanchard played in five World Series with the Yankees (1960-64). He played in 15 World Series games over that period, and he holds the Major League record with ten World Series pinch-hit at-bats.

Hall of Fame Inductees


Al Ashmont was the most dominant pitcher in Union County from 1982-1984. In the course of those years, he led Union Catholic High School to two Watchung Conference titles, plus a Union County title and a State Parochial title.

Al compiled a three-year pitching record of 32-6 at Union Catholic and had a high school career batting average of over .400. He was selected First Team All-Union County in 1983 and 1984, as well as First Team All Parochial and First Team All-State.

In 1984, he was picked for the All-American High School team, and was named New Jersey Player of the Year. He helped Union Catholic win the Star-Ledger trophy for the number one voted team in the state.

Al Ashmont also compiled a 20-2 pitching record with a .450 batting average while playing for Westfield in American Legion baseball for two summers. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Chicago Cubs and was awarded a full scholarship to Florida State University.

With a fastball clocked in the low to mid 90’s, the big right-hander from Winfield Park compiled a 5-0 record as a freshman at Florida State as the team finished the 1985 season at 59-23. Unfortunately, Al injured his elbow in the fall of his sophomore year and had his career cut short because of two elbow surgeries.

In 2000, the Star-Ledger selected Al Ashmont as a member of the New Jersey All-Century Team. He is also a member of the Union Catholic Hall of Fame.

Today, Al Ashmont, a retired Union County Sheriff’s officer, resides in Clark with his wife, Patricia, and their sons, Mickey and Tyler.


Charles Michael Fernicola was born on July 12, 1936, in Newark and grew up in Union, New Jersey. Chuck played football, basketball and baseball at Washington Avenue Grammar School. Later, at Union High School, he played varsity basketball and baseball and was voted Most Valuable Player on his American Legion team.

Chuck earned a four-year scholarship to Ithaca College, but had to leave school in his freshman year when his father died. At the age of 18, Chuck had to take over the family business, Charles Fernicola Cooperage, Inc. More than 50 years later, he is still running the business in Newark, New Jersey.

Even with his new responsibilities, Chuck continued to play baseball and made the All Star Team as a first baseman in the Metropolitan League.

After settling in Mountainside with his family, Chuck played adult softball and began coaching Little League baseball when he was in his mid-30s. Year after year, he coached the Mountainside Blue Stars in the regular season and an All Star summer team.

Now in his 30th year of coaching, he has influenced hundreds of young boys. His impact on their lives continues long after they leave his team. Chuck has been asked to be a Confirmation sponsor for some of his players, and he keeps in contact with them as they go through high school and college. He’s often invited to their weddings and he now is coaching children of his former players.

Chuck’s dedication to the game of baseball and his interest in his players has made him a truly outstanding member of the community. In addition to coaching, he has been on the Board of Directors for Mountainside Youth Baseball for 30 years, in charge of fields and grounds. He has spent countless hours raking, rolling, painting and doing everything necessary to make Major League Field #1 a beautiful facility.

Professionally, Chuck Fernicola serves on the Board of Directors of the New Jersey Oil and Chemical Association, and has served as president for two terms.

Chuck has two daughters and a granddaughter.


Rich Pender, at age 10, was selected to play on one of the four teams of the newly formed Minor Midget League of the Union County Baseball Association in 1946. He eventually played in the Boys League, as well as the Junior and Senior Leagues.

Rich played for Roosevelt Junior High School, as well as for Argonne Post #6 (coached by Buzzy Fox) and for Hersh Motors, winning the Elizabeth City Championship three years in a row. In American Legion Baseball competition, he played on teams that won the Union County Championship, and the 1953 State Championship and the Middle Atlantic Championship.

At Jefferson High School in Elizabeth, Pender was a three-year varsity starter for Abner West. As a sophomore in 1952, he received Honorable Mention on the All-County and All-State teams. In his junior year, he was selected First Team All-County by the Elizabeth Daily Journal, the Newark News, and the Newark Star-Ledger, with the Ledger and the News selecting him Third Team All-State.

In 1954, Pender had an undefeated pitching record to lead Jefferson High to the Group Four State Championship. He was an All-County selection and a First Team All-Stater. Rich was also honored as the County and State Scholastic Pitching Champion having won 14 consecutive games between the 1953 and 1954 seasons. He had an overall pitching record of 46-2 throughout his career in high school, American Legion, the Union County and Elizabeth City leagues, and the Union County Industrial League.

After high school, Rich enlisted in the Army and served with the elite 18th Airborne Corps. After his military stint, he enrolled in the Newark College of Engineering on the GI Bill.

In 1958, he returned to baseball on Ken Green’s Colonials, leading the team to the Union County Industrial League Championship in 1960. After he hung up his spikes in 1962, Rich coached 11-and-12-year-olds in the Rahway Recreation Program for several years.

In 2006, he was inducted into the Elizabeth Hall of Fame.

Rich Pender and his wife Larysa live in North Brunswick and have 18 grandchildren.

Chris Zusi Memorial Award
Outstanding Athlete
Union County

Manny Collins was a standout at both wide receiver and defensive back for the Plainfield High School Cardinals and earned All-County, All-Conference and All-Area honors. A versatile athlete at Plainfield, he also excelled on the wrestling mat, played three years of baseball, and ran track in his senior year, specializing in the 100-meter, 200-meter, long jump and the javelin.

His football career at Rutgers University was interrupted in 2004 when he suffered serious injuries in a car accident. But Collins recovered and returned to strengthen the defense in the 2005 and 2006 seasons for the Scarlet Knights. Among the highlights of ’06: Manny’s two interceptions at North Carolina; his blocked punts against Illinois and Navy; and a recovered UConn fumble that Manny returned for a touchdown, the first of his career.

Jerry Molloy Memorial Award
Service to Union County Baseball

Damien Kane’s roots in the Union County Baseball Association go back to his playing days in the Youth Leagues. With Warinanco Park as his backyard, it was only natural that the Roselle native would begin his affiliation with Union County baseball in his childhood.

Damien graduated to coaching and directing the League and currently serves as Treasurer for the UCBA. His kindness and willingness to help make him a “treasure” to the UCBA.

Damien resides in Manalapan with his wife, Tammy, and their son, Tyler.

Edward Cooper Memorial Award
Most Valuable Scholastic Baseball Player
Westfield High School

Mike Murray set four single-season Westfield records in 2006 – batting average (.560), hits (51), home runs (8), and RBI (44). The two-time All-State catcher led the Blue Devils to a 20-7 record and the school’s 12th Union County Tournament championship. In four seasons, Mike set 11 school records, including career average (.518), hits (155), extra-base hits (59), doubles (33), homers (19) and RBI (145). He now attends Wake Forest University.

Banyasz Brothers Memorial Award
Most Valuable Scholastic Softball Player
Gov. Livingston High School

Capri Catalano struck out 934 batters in her first three varsity seasons in Berkeley Heights, including a Union County-leading 389 strikeouts in 2006. She allowed just 26 walks and 47 hits last spring while building a 19-7 record for Gov. Livingston (22-7). The hard-throwing right-hander was responsible for just 10 earned runs in 183 innings last spring. She pitched three no-hitters in 2006, including a perfect game.

U.C.B.A. Scholarship
St. Joseph’s Social Service Center, Elizabeth

Sister Jacinta founded St. Joseph’s Social Service Center in the 1980s. Working with the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, Sr. Jacinta and her staff and volunteers have helped to feed, clothe, shelter and educate the poor and elderly in Elizabeth for more than 20 years.

The Union County Baseball Association applauds Sr. Jacinta’s hard work and devotion to the needy in our community. The UCBA presents a $2,000 donation to Sr. Jacinta and St. Joseph’s Social Service Center for the continuation of this life-affirming work.