Sometimes the simplest questions elicit the best responses.
For example, what’s the longest home run you ever saw?
Ask that at any high school field at the Jersey Shore and you’re sure to get some amazing anecdotes.
You see, there’s something about a round-tripper that sticks with you. And the tape-measure shots drilled amid the distinctive backdrops that frame ball fields throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties make for the type of tales that are retold for generations.
So I reached out to some of the people who have seen an awful lot of baseball in the area over the years to see what they had to say on the subject. And the resulting narratives involve some of the greatest players ever in these parts, while shining a light on the rich history of Shore Conference baseball over the years.
And this is just scratching the surface on this subject. There are so many more incredible stories out there, and I want to hear them all. So please share yours in the comment section of this story, via social media or email me directly with your thoughts.
Here are some of the best I’ve gathered so far. See what you think:
Destined for greatness
Todd Frazier set the home run record at Rutgers and reached the finals of last summer’s Home Run Derby at the MLB All-Star game as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.
But it was the blast he hit at Jackson Memorial in 2003 that came to mind immediately for Toms River South coach Ken Frank, and several others in attendance that day.
“He absolutely crushed it,” said Frank, the only coach in New Jersey with over 800 wins. “It cleared a row of mature trees over the leftfield fence and went out onto the football field.”
Anyone who’s ever seen the height of the trees the ball sailed over understands it was a monumental blast. At the time, Jackson coach Ken Sims said, “”it landed on the down ramp on the football bleachers. It’s got to have gone at least 450 feet.”
It was one of 26 homers Frazier stroked for the Indians.
Shadow Lawn blasts
The Monmouth College Invitational Tournament was a huge deal back in the day, with the semifinals and finals played on the school’s old diamond in front of Wilson Hall on The Great Lawn.
Jim Rochford was coaching Brick at the time, before going on to become the athletic director and a long-time umpire
“”I remember Matawan’s Ken Mandeville hit an incredible shot there in 1977,” he said. “”It wasn’t against us – I was there scouting because we ended up playing them in the championship game – but it went over the road and the trees beyond that. The governor was there and made a remark about it in the newspaper the next day.”
That means Mandeville, a multi-sport star who went on to play football at Syracuse, hit a ball that would have landed on Norwood Ave., a long distance beyond boundary of The Great Lawn.
It’s similar to a blast Fred Kampf, the long-time Shore Regional coach, hit while playing for the Blue Devils against Neptune in the 1965 final, with the ball having cleared the trees beyond the leftfield fence.
The name that came up more than any other was Marc Fink of Jackson, now Jackson Memorial.
Fink held the Shore Conference record with 27 career home runs by the time he graduated in 1994, so there are plenty of tales of the moonshots he struck locally. But the one I’m going to use was the ball he hit playing for the Jersey Shore team in a 1994 Carpenter Cup game at the old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.
Fink became only the eight player at the time to reach the “”500 level,” or upper deck at The Vet, joining a group that included Willie Stargell and Fred McGriff. And later in that same inning he hit a 426-foot shot to dead center for good measure, as the Jersey Shore team won the title.
Home run king
No one hit more home runs than Ocean’s Keith Weinkofsky, who broke Fink’s mark in 2007, finishing with 30 dingers for his career.
But the one that sticks out in the mind of Del Dal Pra, his former coach at Ocean who now serves as the athletic director at Red Bank, is one he hit at Wall in 2006.
“It was at Wall’s field on 18th Ave.,” he recalled. “”There are two rows of parking well beyond the (centerfield) fence and it cleared a bus in the second row. I don’t know if it got all the way to 18th Ave., but I know it cleared that bus.”
My decidedly unscientific analysis on Google Maps would put such a shot at close to 500 feet.
“”There was also a ball he hit at the BlueClaws’ stadium that ricocheted off one of these lifeguard stands they had beyond the leftfield fence,” Dal Pra added.
It was a 1999 Shore Conference Tournament semifinal at Toms River South when CBA’s Anthony Buffone launched a ball that became part of the baseball lore locally.
The ball not only went onto the roof of the school, it reached the upper roof. It was discovered days later by Toms River school district electrician Ed Schumann, who was up there fixing an exhaust fan and noted he had never seen a ball up there before.
“It had one big, brown mark where it was hit. Otherwise it was brand-spanking new,” Schumann said at the time. “Got to be guessing that’s at least 450 feet from home plate. It’s a monster, plus it’s so high.”
Buffone finished his career with what was then a school-record 23 homers.
Speaking of Toms River South, the quirky field, with the school jutting out into the outfield in right-centerfield, has become something of a temple for Shore Conference baseball over the years, both because of its distinctive features and the fact that the Indians have been so good for so long.
But long-time Lakewood coach Stan Liptzin has an amazing story from 1967, back when it was just Toms River High School and he was a Lakewood assistant under Larry D’Zio.
“We were losing and Larry was mad,” Liptzin said, “so he pulls a $10 bill out of his wallet and says he has 10 bucks for the first guy who hits it on the roof.”
Sure enough, Melvin Lowe, the older brother of Dion Lowe, who would lead Lakewood to the Little League World Series title in 1975 and later the Piners to a state championship, steps up and puts one on the roof. And then Larry Valentine promptly hit a second one up there.
“I tried that for 20 years and it never worked,” Liptzin added.
There was never a fence at the Lakewood High School field. But situated way out in leftfield was the football grandstand, with the press box resting at the top of the structure.
It was 1980, and Central Regional’s Steve Kachmar stepped to the plate against the Piners’ Bobby DelConte, who five years earlier had tossed a one-hitter in the Little League World Series championship game.
“Bobby threw him a perfect pitch, a fastball low and outside,” Litpzin said. “He hit it was up into the bleachers almost hitting the press box. For the next five or six years anyone who hit a shot we called it `a Kachmar.’ Then I had to stop because no one knew who he was.”
While the ball Wall catcher Evan Baubles hit in a state tournament game in 2003 wasn’t technically at the Jersey Shore, it’s certainly worth mentioning.
“It was at the cavernous Mercer County Park,” said Wall coach Todd Schmitt. “In the first inning he was 0-2 in the count and hit a ball to dead center field (408 feet). The center fielder broke his ribs running into the fence. The regional scout from the Brewers said that was one of the hardest hit balls he had seen by a high school player, and a week later they drafted Evan.”
Of course, Schmitt also recalls some wicked shots hit against his team, including one Long Branch’s Derek Warren tattooed in 2000.
“It was a walk-off grand slam at the old Long Branch field that hit a dumpster in right centerfield that was in a parking lot well beyond the fence,” Schmitt said. “We had walked him several times over the years but with the bases loaded there was nowhere to put him.”
School bus blast
Ken Frank fondly remembers the ball Ron Maurer hit for Toms River South at Brick in 1986.
“”Beyond the fence at Brick in left-centerfield they have rows of buses,” he said. “”Ronnie hit one over the buses, and then there’s this little space before this bus garage, and the ball ended up near that garage. He really tattooed that one.”
Maurer, who played at North Carolina, eventually worked his way through the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, playing a game or two in the big leagues according to Frank.
“”He had the distinction of playing all nine positions in a Triple-A game,” Frank added.
Jerry Frulio was the coach at Central in 2006 when they hosted Point Boro in a game at their field behind the high school, where the terrain rises up beyond the right field fence, with the softball diamond located a good distance beyond that.
Point Boro’s Pat Biserta proceeded to clock one way out over that fence, one of 17 career homers he hit for the Panthers, before ripping 25 more for Rutgers and signing with St. Louis after his junior season.
“”He hit it so far one of the softball girls picked it up,” Frulio recalled. “”And then he made a diving catch to win the game for them.”
Student parking permit
Former Ocean coach Dave Enderly, an assistant in 1979, reminded me of a ball my former teammate Vic Lomet hit at St. John Vianney that season.
“”Vianney coach Barry Cook and I talked about it for many years after,” Enderly said. “”It was so high and far it cleared the fence in left-center, went over a buffer of several dozen yards of well-established trees and landed well into the student parking lot beyond that. Barry told me that over time no one had ever come close to putting a ball in that parking lot.”
Lomet his .544 and drove in 32 runs that season, while finishing with an 18-3 career record as a pitcher.
Staff writer Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @SteveEdelsonAPP