Before Rich Biddulph excelled behind the plate for the Lions, a place to play had to be constructed at Roselle Catholic.
“We built the baseball field my sophomore year,” Biddulph recalled. “Being a sophomore, I did most of the heavy lifting. It was a labor of love.”
One of the many talented second baseman to play at Union for longtime Coach Gordon LeMatty was Walter Podgurski. As a senior in 1975 he helped lead Union to a 28-3 record – the best of all the LeMatty teams – and that mark included the Farmers winning the Union County Tournament championship for the seventh time.
That June Podgurski was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 31st round of the Major League Draft.
Before Chris Roof hit the cover off the ball at Governor Livingston his wiffle ball playing days in his hometown of Berkeley Heights had him as Don Mattingly or Darryl Strawberry when he was at the plate and as Dwight “Doc” Gooden when he was on the mound.
“I had all three of their posters up in my room,” Roof said.
Tom Urban of Elizabeth was an infielder during his playing days at Thomas Jefferson High School. The former assistant coach at Elizabeth and present assistant at Johnson – in addition to being the director of the Union County Baseball Association’s summer and fall leagues – continues to be highly-instrumental in the teaching of baseball to high school athletes.
“Tom has been great for the game of baseball since he was a kid,” said Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy, who Urban has now coached with for 12 seasons – two at Elizabeth and now 10 at Johnson. “His contributions are vast. He dedicates himself year-round. The amount of people he has touched and helped in the game is tremendous.”
Biddulph, Podgurski, Roof, Urban – welcome the 2019 Class of the Union County Baseball Hall of Fame.
Those four men, in addition to others, will be honored at Sunday’s 83rd annual Hot Stove League Awards Dinner, beginning at 1 p.m. at the Gran Centurions in Clark.
Scholastic athletes who will be honored at the afternoon awards ceremonies include Luis Amaro, a Roselle Park High School alum who excelled as an infielder for the West Texas A&M University Buffaloes; Jamie Belfer, an outstanding slugger, pitcher and all-around impact player on the Gov. Livingston softball team and Danny Serretti, a standout baseball player at Gov. Livingston who was one of the state’s finest hitting and fielding shortstops.
Amaro, a star pitcher and tough out at the plate for the Panthers, helped lead Roselle Park to the 2011 North 2, Group 1 sectional state championship.
Belfer and Serretti are 2018 GL graduates.
Belfer was a four-year varsity softball starter for head coach Mike Roof at GL and produced more than 150 career hits. She is now playing in college at Franklin & Marshall. GL won the Union County Tournament championship twice with Belfer among the Highlander stars.
Serretti was a three-year varsity baseball starter at shortstop for head coach Chris Roof at GL only because he missed his sophomore year due to injury.
After first giving St. John’s a verbal commitment earlier in his high school career, Serretti opted to play in college at the University of North Carolina, where he is now beginning his freshman season. Serretti helped lead GL to the 2015 Group 2 state championship, the 2015 and 2017 Central Jersey, Group 2 sectional state titles and the 2018 Union County Tournament crown.
Among the special honorees will be Wayne Avery and Ed Kushner.
Avery is a longtime coach, umpire, referee, league director and radio and TV sports personality from Elizabeth, who is also a member of the Elizabeth Athletic Hall of Fame.
Kushner is a retired Linden Fire Captain, member of the New Jersey Softball Hall of Fame and supervisor of the Linden Recreation Department since 1995.
Former New York Yankee All-Star 2B and New York Mets manager Willie Randolph has replaced Dwight “Doc” Gooden as guest speaker. Randolph helped lead the Yankees to four American League pennants and World Series championships in 1977 and 1978.
Randolph was also the third base coach for the Yankees when they won six pennants and four World Series from 1996-2003.
Tickets for the 83rd annual Hot Stove League Awards Dinner may be purchased online at www.UCBAS-NJ.org or by writing to the Union County Baseball Association, P.O. Box 176, Fanwood, NJ, 07023.
Sponsored by the Union County Baseball Association, in cooperation with the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Department of Parks and Recreation, the annual Hot Stove event is the primary fund-raising effort for the Union County Youth Baseball Leagues. The summer and fall leagues have given more than 40,000 boys and girls an opportunity to participate in an organized baseball program for the past 70 years.
The Union County Baseball Association will induct Biddulph, Podgurski, Roof and Urban into the Union County Baseball Hall of Fame as part of Sunday’s ceremonies.
Biddulph was an All-State catcher for Roselle Catholic, Class of 1977, and a three-year starter for head coach Ray Korn.
“I accept this honor with a tremendous amount of humility,” said Biddulph, who was also a longtime coach of American Legion baseball teams in Cranford and Roselle. “This is the highlight of my baseball career to be honored by the Union County Baseball Hall of Fame.”
During Biddulph’s sophomore season in 1975 Roselle Catholic reached the Parochial A state championship game, falling to St. Anthony. The Lions won it in 1978 over Camden Catholic, the year after Biddulph graduated.
Biddulph was a fan of New York Yankee catchers Thurman Munson and also Bill Dickey. Korn was a big part of Biddulph’s success at RC. Biddulph went on to play collegiately at Marietta, Ohio, which captured the Division 3 national championship for the first time his senior season in 1981.
“I was blessed to have played for Ray Korn, who is one of the best coaches, period,” Biddulph said. “His knowledge of every facet of the game, not just pitching, and his ability to teach was second to none.
“It was one of Ray’s dreams to build the field at RC so we wouldn’t have to constantly go to Warinanco Park and play.”
Korn is presently the pitching coach at Audrey Kell High School in Charlotte, N.C. and a pitching coach in the Cape Cod League during the summer.
He was the head coach at his high school alma mater Roselle Catholic from 1974-1979 – leading the Lions to one Parochial A state championship in 1978 – and from 1980-2009 at Elizabeth – leading the Minutemen to three Group 4 state championships in 1983, 1986 and 1994.
Korn is the winningest baseball coach in Union County, with a record of 651-308-1 (.679).
“Richie was definitely our leader,” Korn said. “He was always fired up to play and came to play every day.
“He kept everybody in line and the other guys on the team just followed him. He wouldn’t allow us to get down, no matter what the situation was. There was no quit in Richie Biddulph and I was lucky to have a guy like him to coach.”
Biddulph could hit and he could also field his position well.
“I would have to say that he was one of the top throwing catchers I’ve had in my 51 years of coaching,” Korn said. “In his senior year, I think he threw out 30 guys (out of probably 35). He was just incredible.
“We would joke that if we had two outs we should walk the next batter and when he tried to steal Richie would throw him out to end the inning.”
Biddulph is a longtime Roselle resident and a product of the St. Joseph’s Boys Baseball and the Roselle Playground Baseball leagues.
Biddulph was a highly-successful legion coach at Cranford and also for the junior and senior teams at Roselle, leading all three to more than 500 wins total. He is also a member of the Union County American Legion Hall of Fame.
Biddulph still resides in Roselle and follows all Union County sports as treasurer of the Union County Interscholastic Athletic Conference (UCIAC). He announces basketball games at Roselle Catholic and Kean University.
“Rich Biddulph has done a tremendous job as a member of the Union County Interscholastic Athletic Conference Administration team,” said UCIAC Executive Director Tom Lewis. “Rich is a behind-the-scenes guy continuing to give back to the student-athletes of Union County.”
Biddulph was also valedictorian of his senior class at Roselle Catholic and is a former 7th and 8th grade girls basketball coach at St. Joseph the Carpenter in Roselle. He is married for 40 years to Mrs. Debbie Biddulph.
Biddulph also coached soccer. He said that baseball has always been his favorite sport.
Biddulph is a former Knights of Columbus Knight of the Year (statewide honor) nearly 30 years ago and a past Grand Knight of Roselle Council #3946.
“He’s a good human being whose contributions might go under the radar, but on a day-to-day basis he’s an instrumental part of what the UCIAC tries to do for student-athletes,” Lewis said.
Podgurski was also All-State for Union, the second baseman going on to play collegiately in the Ivy League at the University of Pennsylvania. Union’s records his four years at the school were 25-4 in 1972, 18-9 in 1973, 25-5 in 1974 and 28-3 in 1975, which was the highest winning-percentage year (.903) of any of the LeMatty teams. Only the 1984 team that went 28-4 matched the 1975 squad for the school record of most wins in a season.
The 1972 and 1974 teams won Group 4 state championships and in between the 1973 squad was also Union County Tournament champs.
“He was right up there with the best to ever play baseball at Union,” said LeMatty, whose 33-season (1959-1991) record at Union was 641-272-4 (.702).
Roof, now a Scotch Plains resident, also excelled collegiately at Montclair State. His freshman year there Montclair State won the Division 3 national championship.
Now one of the top baseball coaches in the state and also among the all-time winningest in Union County, Roof has guided GL to four sectional state championships – all in Central Jersey, Group 2 – two Group 2 state championships in three appearances at Toms River high schools and the program to its first two Union County Tournament titles in his first 15 seasons at the helm.
He is just as excited for his upcoming 16th season at the helm of the Highlanders, with two of his senior college-bound players – Georgia Tech signees Drew Compton (3B) and Stephen Reid (OF-DH) – possible Major League Draft selections come the beginning of June.
For developing as a player, coach and human being, one of Roof’s biggest influences was his coach at GL, Bill Howard. After playing at Montclair State, Roof came back to coach at GL for three years under Howard, including the program’s initial state championship team, the 1999 squad that won Group 2 for the first time.
“I will say again, Bill Howard was one of the top three biggest influences in my life,” Roof said. “Playing for him for four years and coming back and coaching with him for three more and then him becoming my boss for five years, wow, what a great time.”
A health and physical education teacher for 21 years and the past 16 at GL, Roof’s first head coaching tenure was at Millburn for the three seasons of 2001, 2002 and 2003. He guided the Millers to the one sectional state championship in North 2, Group 3. Roof’s record at Millburn was 54-34 (.614).
He then came back to GL in 2004 as the Highlander head coach. Roof’s 15-season record at GL is 315-120-1 (.724), including a playoff record of 35-13 (.729). He has guided the Highlanders to the state playoffs each of his first 15 seasons as the head coach at GL, with the Highlanders winning at least one state tournament game the past 13 years.
Roof’s overall record for 18 seasons as a head coach is 369-153-1 (.707).
“Everything I have ever done in this game I owe to that guy,” Roof said of Howard. “He taught me the right way to play, how to handle myself on and off the field and just as a young coach he gave me a lot of leeway to do different things.
“It’s because of Bill why I came here (GL) to coach. If it wasn’t for Coach Howard reaching out to me when we got knocked out of the mid-regional in 1996 I probably wouldn’t have followed this path of coaching and teaching.
“Everything in life as far as coaching I owe to him.”
There were three other individuals who were also instrumental in Roof’s growth in life and in the coaching profession.
“Norm Schoenig, my head coach at Montclair State, (assistant coach) Rich O’Connor and Rick Giancola (MSU football coach) – those guys at that time in my life, ages 18-22, played big roles,” Roof said. “I learned so much from them from beyond a baseball standpoint. They taught me discipline and doing things the right way.
“It’s not only from myself, but what my coaches also try to bring to our players today.”
Urban was an assistant coach at Elizabeth with Kennedy under Korn for the 2006 and 2007 seasons and has been Kennedy’s assistant coach at Johnson since the 2010 campaign.
“Tom has put in a lot of great years, not only with me at Elizabeth and at Johnson, but with legion and fall leagues,” Kennedy said. “He’s the kind of coach who will do whatever is needed, what the day dictates.
“There are so many factors that go into preparing a plan for practice, including how the weather will determine it. From my vantage point he’s always been creative and able to maximize where and when we can get things done.”
More information about the dinner may be obtained by calling Jim Iozzi, UCBA president, at 908-917-2523.
Before Rich Biddulph excelled behind the plate for the Lions, a place to play had to be constructed at Roselle Catholic.