By Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO The efforts of Monticello High School baseball Coach Mike Marra and the team’s Booster Club which is also known as “The Dugout” culminated in Saturday night’s first annual First Pitch Dinner and Silent Auction to benefit the school’s baseball team.
The dinner, held at Bernie’s Holiday Restaurant in Rock Hill, was by all measures a success, with a great turnout and great food to boot. A silent auction held throughout the evening included such items as guitars autographed by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift, baseballs autographed by U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and celebrity autographed photos of Billy Joel, Justin Bieber and “The Twilight Saga” stars, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.
The event kicked off with a “Monticello Baseball Alumni of the Year” recognition ceremony for five former Monticello High School baseball stars and alums, as well as the legendary, Coach Kenneth Somerville who coached baseball at the school from 1930 to 1957 and was represented by his son, Dr. William “Slim” Somerville.
The five former players included Lefty Herzog (Class of 1939), who was unable to attend due to health issues, James Culligan (Class of 1949), the late Stanley Crawford (Class of 1950), Bernie Cohen (Class of 1952) and Steve Pinto (Class of 1986).
Crawford was remembered by Coach Marra as “possibly the best player to ever come out of Monticello.” Herzog, who was the 1939 team captain under Coach Somerville, was recalled as “a legend” by Marra and was represented at the dinner by Bernie Cohen.
Cohen, who was a member of the 1950 D.U.S.O. (Dutchess, Ulster, Sullivan and Orange Counties) league championship team guided by Coach Somerville, was a four-year starter for Monticello from 1949-1952. In 1951, he pitched the first no-hit, no-run baseball game in Monticello history. He once tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers and is currently employed as a Vice President and Financial Advisor for Merill-Lynch in Montvalle, N.J.
“I have to say to all of you baseballers and anyone else who’s involved in athletics that athletics is just an additional dimension to your life and you will surely appreciate it throughout your life,” Cohen said.
Next up for honors was former Distinguished Scholastic Athlete, James Culligan. Culligan earned a staggering 14 varsity letters in soccer, track, basketball and baseball while a student-athlete at Monticello High School. He was also a member of the Panthers’ 1950 D.U.S.O. championship squad, as well as the American Legion Sullivan County Championship team the same year.
Upon returning to Monticello after a distinguished military career, Culligan was a member of the Monticello Central School District Board of Education from 1972 to 1982 and served as the Board President from 1973 to 1981.
The final Monticello alum honored was Steve Pinto, who played first base for the Panthers and served as team captain his senior year of 1986. After graduation, Pinto was an outfielder for the NCAA Division I Siena College baseball team. Pinto, a former Sullivan County Democrat sportswrite who currently resides in Tyler Hill, Pa., is a freelance writer for Boxing Scene Magazine and spent eight years as a boxing columnist for an out-of-county daily newspaper.
In 1997, which was the same year he was a member of the North Atlantic League Champion Catskill Cougars, Pinto started Pro Prospects Training Center. Pro Prospects is currently celebrating its 15th year in business. During that time, Pinto and his staff have trained more than 5,000 baseball players from the Tri-State area, with more than 400 of those athletes going on to play college baseball and softball.
“My time playing ball at Monticello was very special,” Pinto said. “It gave me the perspective that you play the game to win, but as you get older you realize just how much the game means to you.”
Marra then turned his and the crowd’s attention to the 2012 Monticello Panthers baseball team, described by Marra as “a very young group,” led by four returning seniors. Center fielder Anthony Gray, second baseman Devon Chester, pitcher/shortstop Connor Briggs and right fielder Sean Reuss represent the core of a team which finished last season just below .500 with an 8-10 record.
When asked what his goals were for this season, Gray said, “Building off of last season, I think we’ll do really well.”
“We’ve got a great group of hardworking guys who want badly to make the playoffs, win a couple of games and see where we go from there,” Gray added.
The team’s mantra this year is “All In.”