Senior League Goes For Extra Innings

The Jersey Blues of the Berkeley Senior Softball League enjoy their fall title. Kneeling from left to right are Albie Garzoni, Ed De Francesco, Robert Martin, Jimmy Conner and Kelly Rielly. Standing from left to right are Rodney Ford, Al Switka, Jon Rasmussen, Dale Cammarata, Randy Leiser, Ron Castellano, Matt Baranyah, Joe Heckendorf (wearing the red hat), Matt Padulla, Billy Vanderstreet and Jim Dixon. Another team member was Mike Warner. (Photo courtesy of John Dowling)
The Jersey Blues of the Berkeley Senior Softball League enjoy their fall title. Kneeling from left to right are Albie Garzoni, Ed De Francesco, Robert Martin, Jimmy Conner and Kelly Rielly. Standing from left to right are Rodney Ford, Al Switka, Jon Rasmussen, Dale Cammarata, Randy Leiser, Ron Castellano, Matt Baranyah, Joe Heckendorf (wearing the red hat), Matt Padulla, Billy Vanderstreet and Jim Dixon. Another team member was Mike Warner. (Photo courtesy of John Dowling)

BERKELEY – Norman Hotaling takes his softball seriously.

So seriously that he has earned the nickname The Mayor of Softball as he has played in numerous leagues.

“The guys call me that,” the Toms River resident said. “They say, ‘If you ever ran for mayor, you would win as you know so many guys.’ ”    

He spent the spring, summer and fall competing for and managing the Red Rockers of the Berkeley Senior Softball League. The team was 16-2 and won the Spring-Summer League. It captured the Berkeley League Tournament with a 7-2 record. And, his club which consisted of players either 68 years of age or older, won the fall league.

“We’re the lone team in league history – the league is about seven years old – to win the spring-summer league, the fall league and the Berkeley League Tournament in one season,” said Hotaling, who competed in baseball, cross country and track and field at Irvington High School. “We have a handful of guys on our team in their 80s who are still playing.”

The Red Rockers contain the league’s oldest player. He’s Chuck Crunkelton – 86 years young and still catching – of Berkeley.

“He’s in great shape, a string bean,” Hotaling said. “He plays in right field every so often. He’s an inspiration to all of us. At 86, he’s still going out there.”           

The Red Rockers also consisted of outfielder John Arena of Barnegat, infielder George Chernego of Berkeley, outfielder Al Cirulli (the Mayor of Barnegat), coach Tom Cox of Berkeley, outfielder K.C. Grainger of Island Heights, catcher Tony Leo of Toms River, infielder Marty Lisella (the business administrator and former committeeman of Barnegat), infielder Dennis Pausz of Toms River, infielder Pat Pipi (a Barnegat Committeeman), catcher Frank Siracusa of Manchester, outfielder Dennis Switana of Manchester, infielder Lou Teed of Manchester, pitcher Bruce Vivadelli of Berkeley, outfielder Rich Wieling of Toms River and infielder Tom Wyckoff of Toms River.

However, the Red Rockers were not the league’s lone team to enjoy a championship season. The Jersey Blues of manager-player Ed De Francesco captured the title in the Fall League, which consists of players ages 55 and over.

Hotaling won nine of 10 games on the mound. The pitches have an arc of 6-12 feet. Hotaling also played first base and short field.

“I mix up all of my pitches,” he said. “I watch the batter’s feet. If the batter is back in the box, I try to pitch in front of the plate. I throw an occasional spinner.”    

There is a selection process in the league.

“Every year, we have a draft so that no team can be the same each season,” Hotaling said. “I know how to choose our players in the draft. I move certain guys around on defense. I know so many people from all over. I play in so many leagues. That guy might be a good infielder. That other guy might be a good outfielder. I have gotten to know the talent all over the years.”

Bases are 60 feet apart. Bunting and base stealing are not allowed. If a batter is faced with two strikes and hits the ball foul, he’s a strikeout victim. Games were played at Veterans Park and Whispering Pines Park, both of Berkeley. There are two fields at each venue.

Rivalries are friendly.

“Before and after the games, it’s super friendly,” Hotaling said. “During the games, the juices flow. We say, ‘Tremendous catch. Good hit.’ It’s a super friendly atmosphere. Our guys will pull muscles and have bad spills. We don’t have too many injuries. The younger leagues are more cut throat.”

Hotaling, who hit around .775, said Pausz batted near .800.

“He was near .900 for most of the year,” said Hotaling, noting Pipi hit near .750. “He played almost anywhere in the infield, mainly short field. Hitting .800 is good in any league even if it’s whiffle ball.”

Cox played a vital role in the team’s success.

“He also keeps score,” Hotaling said. “He is like my assistant manager. My mind is on the game. He will spot things that I miss. He makes suggestions.”

Hotaling said the players enjoy competing.

“We’re all kids again,” he said. “We live our childhoods all over again. Playing softball makes everyone feel younger. We also play pickup games at Whispering Pines. It’s strictly all for fun. When it’s around 50 or warmer, the guys will get out there. It’s a terrific league. The guys have known each other for about 10 years. Some of our guys are good enough to play in the younger league.”

De Francesco said his team was just that – a team.

“We had a good bunch of guys,” he said. “The guys were very cohesive. We had a lot of good players who never quit. Even we were down in the score, we never quit.”

Norm Hoatling displays the trophies won by his summer and fall teams in the Berkeley Senior Softball League. (Photo courtesy of AnneMarie Hotaling)
Norm Hoatling displays the trophies won by his summer and fall teams in the Berkeley Senior Softball League. (Photo courtesy of AnneMarie Hotaling)

An example of the team’s fighting spirit took place in the league’s championship game. Trailing the Yellowbirds 4-0 in the first inning of the championship game, the Jersey Blues rallied for a 16-7 victory.

“I had no worries,” De Francesco said. “We came back all year to win games.”

The winning pitcher in the championship game was Ron Castellano.

“He pitched brilliantly all year,” De Francesco said. “He was one hell of a pitcher. He knows his position. He is a good team player. He’s a righty who throws slow pitches. He mixes it up. He knows how to pitch. He moves the ball from right to left and gets a lot of grounders.”

Billy Vanderstreet played left-center field.

“He hit first, second and third in the order,” De Francesco said. “He was a hell of a player. He was a solid outfielder. He had speed and could hit.”

Jimmy Conner saw action at second base, designated hitter and in the outfield.

“He was very instrumental in our success, especially in the playoffs,” De Francesco said.

Kelly Rielly played first base.

“He played a solid first base,” De Francesco said. “He never said a word. He was very professional.”

The team was tough mentally.

“We had a gritty style of play,” DeFrancesco said. “We had a lot of good hitters. We were very professional. I would say everybody backed each other up.”

What was special about the title?

“What made it special is that we won,” De Francesco said. “It’s all about performance. We’re not into trophies or stuff like that. The fact we won it is huge, especially with the talent in this league. There was a lot of talent.”

NOTE: New player tryouts for the Berkeley Senior Premier Softball League will take place in April on a date to be determined. They will take place at Whispering Pines. Players are 55 and older.

For more information, contact assistant league commissioner John Dowling at either 732-221-5410 or johnbeav@hotmail.com.

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Chris Christopher covers sports for Micromedia Publications Inc. with knowledge, pride and passion. His beats are the high school, college, professional, youth and recreational scenes. A three-time New Jersey Press Association award winner for sports writing, Christopher was inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame in 2015 for his work in the media. The Lakewood resident enjoys taking walks in Ocean County Park and on the boardwalks in Ocean and Monmouth counties and rooting for the New York Mets.