They came from Belleville, Nutley, Freehold, Clifton and Kenilworth.
But they also arrived from Maryland and Colorado.
And why? To spend an evening amongst old friends, to recall a much simpler time and to once again hear the echoes of applause for a job well done. And that applause, from a new generation of Bellevilleites, mixed in with the old, made for a legendary night at George Zanfini Municipal (yes Municipal) field.
On a gorgeous night, the Belleville High School Fence of Fame welcomed some new entrants to its prestigious company on April 30 with the addition of the 1976 BHS baseball team, as well as Jack Cullen and Phil Cuzzi.
On hand to welcome the newest inductees were members of the current Belleville Little League, in their uniforms. Special thanks to little league president Thomas Graziano, as well as Craig Jackowski for bringing the kids and adding another dimension of unity to a township which has thrived on that kind of cohesion.
The Fence of Fame began with then-varsity head coach Alan Frank a decade ago as a way to honor all the former Belleville High All-State baseball players. Since then, the fence has added outstanding teams, such as the ’65 Bellboys and ’81 Buccaneers. It has also welcomed great players who excelled in college, such as Michael Nicosia and now has opened its gates to Cullen, believed to be the only Belleville High grad to play in the Major Leagues and Cuzzi, a 1973 BHS grad who was a standout baseball player and a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame and Wall of Recognition, who was honored for his work as a Major League Baseball umpire.
Just about the entire 1976 team was on hand for the event. Greg Petite, a star pitcher for the Bellboys and a ’76 grad, looked at the sign with nostalgia and said, “I’m glad I was alive to see this.”
Others were just happy to see old friends and reminisce. Frank Mozeika, a ’77 BHS grad, came from Colorado to be here while Anthony ‘Chipper’ Biafore, a ’76 grad who later was drafted by the Chicago Cubs after a standout career at Monmouth College, drove in from his home in Maryland.
“I didn’t want to miss this,” said Biafore, who today is an NCAA umpire. “A lot of memories here. Just seeing (former head coach) George Zanfini was incredible.”
Zanfini was the spokesman for the team.
“I can’t even begin to tell you what an incredible group of players these guys were,” Zanfini said. “What a tremendous time to be in Belleville.”
Fred Racioppi, known to us in high school as ‘Freddie Photo’ because he always had a camera in his hand, was in rare form at the dedication, camera and all, taking some great shots that appear in this blog. Fred was also a member of the ’76 Bellboys.
The light-hearted moment of the evening came during the introductions. Frank was about to bring up Zanfini and referenced the field, which is named for Zanfini, calling it ‘The George Zanfini Memorial Field’. Obviously, George is alive and well and the field is called the George Zanfini Municipal Field. Jack Cullen’s 12-year-old grand daughter, Maddy, was quick to catch that error.
“Doesn’t the sign say Municipal?” she said.
“One of these days, people will know I’m still around,” Zanfini said in mock horror.
Cullen, a 1958 grad and today a resident of Nutley, pitched for the New York Yankees in 1962 and again in 1965 and ’66. His family was on hand and Cullen gave a beautiful speeh, recalling the days when Belleville Little League had just four teams. Cullen would later play with Yankee legends such as Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Yogi Berra, Joe Pepitone and Tony Kubek.
“It was a wonderful event,” Cullen said afterward as his wife, Layne, along with daughter, Maureen Browning and granddaughters Morgan and Maddy looked on. “It was so nice to see familiar faces.”
It should also be noted that a number of people still carry Cullen’s baseball card in their wallet, including Steve Schwed, who graduated Belleville 30 years after Cullen, but ironically has coached Cullen’s granddaughter in softball.
Cuzzi closed out the evening by thanking the little leaguers for their attendance. The veteran MLB umpire, who is also renowned for his work in funding research and ultimately finding a cure for ALS, spoke of his days at Belleville High and telling the crowd that hard work and success usually come hand-in-hand. He is the first person to be honored by Belleville in its Hall of Fame, Wall of Recognition and now the Fence of Fame.