The inaugural induction of the Capital District Baseball Hall of Fame will include plenty of Schenectady’s finest players, coaches and umpires.
Among the 40 original members will be Schenectady native and current Seattle Mariners outfielder Casper Wells, longtime Siena head baseball coach Tony Rossi, former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Ed Barnowski, former Schenectady Blue Jays coach and Philadelphia Phillies farmhand Lee Riley — father of Basketball Hall of Fame member Pat Riley of the Miami Heat — former Los Angeles Dodgers player Jim Barbieri, former New York Yankees pitching coach Billy Connors, the late John Grabowski, who was a member of the 1927 New York Yankees, longtime umpire Tommy Brennan and former Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons basketball coach Don Blaha, who was a star pitcher at NYU.
A special team legacy honor will be presented to the 1954 Schenectady Little League team that won the national championship.
The induction ceremony and dinner will be held Nov. 6 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The reception begins at 4:30, followed by the dinner at 6. Tickets, priced at $75, can be purchased by calling 877-5170 or emailing [email protected]
Rene M. LeRoux, the executive director of the new local Hall of Fame, said it wasn’t hard to come up with so many local standouts.
“The board did significant research going back over 100 years of baseball in upstate New York,” said LeRoux, also the executive director of the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame. “We feel that this is a very special inaugural group. It is going to be an incredible evening to have so many of these ballplayers in one place at one time.”
LeRoux said the idea for a local baseball hall of fame began several years ago.
“I was approached two years ago by some basketball people who thought we did a good job of getting the basketball hall of fame going. They liked the fact that we had a wing at the Times Union Center, and that we were able to bring in so many good people every year.
“There are a lot of big baseball fans in this area, too, so it wasn’t hard at all to come up with more than enough names, especially from the Schenectady area.”
LeRoux said that several of the inductees, including Wells, have been asked to be guest speakers. Other inductees, who are also expected to speak, include former Montreal Expos pitcher David Palmer from Glens Falls, current major league pitcher Tim Stauffer from Saratoga Catholic and Queensbury’s Brendan Harris, now with the Baltimore Orioles.
“A lot of these guys are names that people recognize,” said LeRoux. “I think everybody knows Billy Connors and Barbieri in the Schenectady area. Tony Rossi has spent 43 years coaching at Siena. I’m not sure everyone knows that Lee Riley was both a minor leaguer and a coach with the Schenectady Blue Jays.”
LeRoux also said that not everyone knows how good Blaha was at NYU.
“He was a dominant pitcher at that level. He once tossed a perfect game in college and won both ends of a double-header,” he said.
“I was a senior and we were a little short-handed in the pitching department against Hofstra,” said Blaha. “So my coach asks me to pitch both games. It was 90 degrees out. We won the first game, 5-3, but I gave up some runs at the end, and I was wondering if I could finish one game, let alone pitch two.
“But I got a sandwich and some orange juice between games and ran out for the second game. The guys from Hofstra started ragging on me right from the start, wondering why I was coming out for the second game. That’s all I needed. I ended up winning the second game, 1-0. Both games were complete games, and I ended up striking out 20.”
Blaha was also an MVP in the Metropolitan Collegiate Baseball League and a team MVP during his career. In the Albany Twilight League, he was 9-0 with an ERA under 1.00 in the 1965 season.
“It’s so nice to be part of the first induction class,” Blaha said. “There are so many great teammates that I”m going in with.”
Two special awards will be handed out. George Rodgers, founder of the South Troy Dodgers amateur baseball program, will be honored with the Johnny Podres LIfetime Achievement Award, while Mike Serbalik, owner of All-Stars Sports Academy, one of the first indoor baseball facilities and a former Dodgers’ minor leaguer, will receive the Johnny Evers Contributor Award.
“I’m very happy with the players we have in our first class. It’s a good one,” said LeRoux.