Hot Stove Dinner Recalls A Different Era

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baseballMOUNTAINSIDE—With tales from his Little League youth—the long-standing rivalries between Peterstown and E’port, the mandatory Italian ice breaks—Ben Candelino had them laughing in the aisles.

Candelino and his younger brother Anthony, two of the legends of Elizabeth baseball, were among those honored recently by the Union County Baseball Association’s 73rd annual Hot Stove League dinner at L’Affaire in Mountainside.

The Candelino brothers, along with former Summit recreation director and baseball coach Dom Guida, who died in September, and Gov Livingston High School’s Bill Howard, were inducted into the association’s Hall of Fame.

Ben Candelino reflected on how much he and the others owed to all the men who gave their time to coach them in Little League and all the other leagues they would play in. “If it were not (for them), I wouldn’t be here today,” Candelino said, recalling the pick-up games at O’Brien Field in the heart of Peterstown, then the Italian section of Elizabeth.

“We played all day, every day. There were no bases, no umpires,” Candelino said. “We ran for lemon ice and ran back and played some more. We grew up in a time when we could be kids and play for the fun of it. We learned how to compete and we learned how to make friends. I really believe we grew up at a special time.”

“You could walk the city of Elizabeth. You knew everyone…there were a lot of ethnic groups and we were all friends,” he said.

Candelino recalled how his team from St. Anthony’s, which was “99.9 percent Italian,” would play Elizabethport teams that were predominantly black. “Many of the games did not end with a handshake, they were battles. But in the end we were friends,” he said.

Also recognized at the Sunday dinner, which featured former New York Mets great Ed Kranepool as the guest speaker, were a host of student athletes.

Kranepool, who grew up in The Bronx, signed with the Mets in 1962 right out of high school. His tenure with the team included their incredible 1969 World Series win, along with the 1973 series, where the Mets would lose to Oakland in the seventh and final game.

“Sometimes mistakes are made. We should have won that in six games,” Kranepool said, recalling how he believed that if Gil Hodges had still been the manager going into that series, the outcome would have been very different.

With no shortage of questions from the baseball fans in the audience, there was keen interest in what Kranepool thought of Mets manager Casey Stengel.

“Casey was a wonderful person,” Kranepool said. But the Stengel that the public saw on television bore little resemblance to the man they knew and respected in the locker room, he said.

“Behind closed doors he was down to earth. He was a great guy,” Kranepool said, recalling how the starting salary back then was $6,500 a year and how Stengel was always trying to get more money for his players.

“He was very articulate, very bright. He was part of a tremendous era,” Kranepool said. “But there was only gong to be one showman on the field and that was Casey Stengel.”

Kranepool, who left the Mets after the 1979 season, said that when the franchise was sold in it was clear to him that his future prospects were bleak. “The game wasn’t fun anymore,” he said. “My career went form the penthouse to the outhouse when the team was sold.”

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Getting Ready For Their Cameos—Former NY Mets great Ed Kranepool joins several of the athletes honored by the Union County Baseball Association at the 73rd Hot Stove League dinner as they wait for photographers to snap the official shots with their trophies. Cranford High School seniors Deanna Russomanno, left, and Katherine VanBenschoten, next to her, were named most valuable scholastic softball players, while former Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School student Hillary Klimowicz was named outstanding athlete of the year.


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