2017 Hall of Fame Inductee Bios

2017 Inductee Bios

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Roy Hobbs Hall of Fame 2017 Program CoverThe Roy Hobbs Hall of Fame has inducted 8 members with its Class of 2017.

The 11 were elected by the 43 current members of the Hall of Fame and the 12-member Board of Trustees in a process that covered the summer months.

Additionally, the Trustees selected Bonnie Fear to receive the Hall’s Brian Mullen Ambassador of Baseball award, which recognizes their Meritorious Service as an Ambassador of Amateur Baseball.

The eight honorees for 2017 bring total membership in the Hall of Fame to 51, all of whom are pictured on the Hall of Fame wall in Roy Hobbs Player Development Complex office reception area.

Jim Ahlborn

Ahlborn: A pretty damn good catcher

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Jim Ahlborn

Jim Ahlborn lost cartilage in his hips after decades of catching. There were three years on the varsity at Brentwood (Pa.) High School, then playing at Edinboro University and playing in Roy Hobbs for more than 20 years, going all the way back to his first World Series in 1994.

That’s a lot of getting up. A lot of getting down. And then repeating the process, game after game after game. … Year after year after year…
The lost cartilage led to hip replacement surgeries in 2010. The left hip was replaced in May of that year and the right one in September.

Despite losing all that cartilage Ahlborn never lost his love of the game and returned to catching for his Pittsburgh team.

“Our team is just that – a team,” Ahlborn said.

It’s fitting, perhaps, that Ahlborn works in sales for A & H Equipment, a supplier of heavy equipment such as street sweepers, snow removal trucks and asphalt repair vehicles. Catchers are the hardy workhorses of baseball, players who do heavy lifting and just keep plugging away.

That’s Ahlborn.

Now, 7 years after two hip replacements his love of the game and dedication have led him to the Hall of Fame.

But it takes more than love of the game, dedication and talent to earn Hall of Fame induction. Ahlborn has demonstrated those other qualities over many years as an administrator, coach and manager.

Ahlborn and his Pittsburgh teammates have been fixtures in Fort Myers since his first trip here.

“I got hooked on it,” Ahlborn said of playing in the World Series and on Lee County fields.

Not in 2010. That was because of the hip surgeries. He’s missing the 2017 World Series because of surgery for stenosis, which he described as a lower back degenerative condition of the spine.

Other than when medical situations dictate that he miss, Ahlborn has played and caught. He even caught the year after having both hips replaced.

The combination of attributes that have propelled Ahlborn to the Hall of Fame were summed up by Rob Fester, who knows him well.

“Jim is a great teammate, a good friend, and an even better man,” Fester told a Roy Hobbs Hall of Fame trustee during the vetting process. “And, he’s a pretty damn good catcher, too.”

And he said…

Why play baseball? “It’s the one sport I’ve truly loved my entire life.”

What keeps you playing?  “The camaraderie with our Pittsburgh group and winning! (And titanium body replacements.)”

How’d you get hooked on baseball? “Following the Pirates as a kid in the ‘70s.”

What do you say to people who think you play softball? As famous teammate Mark Schmidt interjected to a woman when we were on the road, “’It’s hardball ma’am, not softball.”

What does it mean to be elected to the Hall of Fame? “Tremendous honor but also speaks for our entire group over the years.”

What’s your favorite baseball memory? “Way too many to choose from but walking through the handshake line after winning a championship, that’s it.”

Willie Boyd

Boyd: Somebody pinch me!

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Willie Boyd

For Detroit mailman Willie Boyd, the return home from the 2017 Roy Hobbs Baseball World Series will mean carrying a special delivery.

He’ll return as a new member of the Roy Hobbs Hall of Fame. The Border City Brewers veteran knows it is a very special honor.

“A blessing,” Boyd said. “I’m flabbergasted.”

The honor is doubly special because his love of the game runs deep. Boyd, 58, and his family moved from Indianapolis to Detroit in 1968. That was perfect baseball timing for a then very young Willie. The Tigers won a seven-game World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals that year.

Boyd was hooked and remains hooked. His passion for baseball, his knowledge of the game and respect for its traditions as well as his character leap off the pages of his Hall of Fame vetting report.

Nominator Dave Cooper: “I have known him for 30 years and have yet to hear a bad word come out of his mouth.”

Mike Taylor: “He plays the game with competitive fervor while being respectful of his teammates and his opponents. He sacrifices himself to make the team better.”

Russ Bortell: “He epitomizes not only what Roy Hobbs Baseball stands for, but what the game of baseball was meant to be and how to be played.”

Gary Ignasiak: “Put Mr. Boyd in any dugout and you have given your team a chance to win.”

Boyd recalls his reaction to the news of his election as he was driving away from a bowling alley.

“I had to pull over,” Boyd said. “It was unreal. I never thought that would happen.”

Boyd has served in the past as a vetter, a person who researches the worthiness of potential Hall of Famers.

“I said I wish I could get to the point where I could get to the Hall of Fame,” said Boyd, a three-time World Series MVP.

Now he has.

And he said…

Why play baseball?  “Why not? It’s a game that’s been played for ages and anyone can play it for as long as they want providing they are healthy and willing.”

What keeps you playing? “LOVE for the game.”

How did you get hooked on baseball? “When my family and I moved to Detroit in 1968 and the Detroit Tigers won the World Series, I started playing then and I’m still playing now.”

What do you say to people who think you play softball? “I correct them by saying NO, I play hardball, the small ball, fast pitch, like the Tigers.”

What’s your reaction to being elected to the Hall of Fame? “It’s a great HONOR to be elected, I’ve won multiple World Series Championships but the Hall of Fame, that’s an honor because it’s not how well you play, it’s what you put into the game on and off the field, your personality, and most of all what other people think of you.”

What is your favorite baseball memory? “It was throwing a no-hitter in a semifinal playoff game. Now it’ll be being elected into the Hall of Fame. It’s still hard to believe. Somebody pinch me.”

George Blackwell

Blackwell: Knowledge, enthusiasm, communication

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George Blackwell

George Blackwell is 76, has played baseball since his Pennsylvania childhood in the 1950s and doesn’t intend to stop playing.

“I’ll play ‘till I’m 96,” Blackwell said.

Before that far-off birthday, Blackwell has something else to take care of – induction into the Roy Hobbs Hall of Fame. He recalls receiving the call informing him of his election.

“I was just ecstatic,” Blackwell said. “Very humbling. I don’t take it lightly. I’m honored.”

Blackwell earned his election through a life in baseball, including playing at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh, more than 30 years of senior baseball in Minnesota and coaching Blake High School to the Minnesota state tournament for the first time in its history. He’s also played Roy Hobbs since 1998.

When Blackwell’s Hall of Fame candidacy was vetted, three qualities stood out:

Knowledge of the game.

Enthusiasm for the game.

Ability to communicate the game and promote it.

What keeps him playing is a feeling that keeps many men playing into their 70s and beyond.

“It’s something you can’t get out of your system,” Blackwell said.

The camaraderie of the game is a powerful magnet. “There’s nothing like it,” he said.

He instilled that in his players at Blake High School. He also has done that with his Minnesota Saints for more than a decade.

His vetting document noted that Blackwell has a “servant’s heart.”

He also has a baseball heart. Blackwell recalls as a standout high school baseball player participating in a Pirates’ tryout at Forbes Field. On that day, the then 18-year-old bumped into the greatest Pirates player ever in the dugout. Roberto Clemente, as Blackwell recalls, was rehabbing an arm injury and asked the kid to play catch.

Blackwell naturally said yes. Now, nearly 60 years later, that experience still resonates with Blackwell, who every year comes to Fort Myers, where the Pirates had spring training during most of Clemente’s career. One of the Terry Park ball fields is named for Clemente, a fact that makes Blackwell think back to that day at Forbes Field when he played catch with a legend.

“Every time I go to Terry Park I think about it,” Blackwell said.

The main thing with Blackwell, though, isn’t the past; it’s the men he plays with now.

“I want to surround myself with good guys, great teammates,” Blackwell said.

Until he’s 96…

And he said…

Why play baseball? “For the love of the game.”

What keeps you playing? “Being around some great guys who love the game as much as I do.”

How’d you get hooked on baseball? “Started at an early age, 7 or 8. My dad got me started and the rest is history.”

What do you say to people who think you play softball? “Yes! It really is baseball.”

What does it mean to be elected to the Hall of Fame? “Very honored and humbled to be elected. It’s a special honor to be a part of this group.”

What’s your favorite baseball memory? “Playing catch with Roberto Clemente when I was invited to a Pirate tryout in 1960.”

Dominick Catinella

Catinella: A passion for big boy baseball

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Dominick Catinella

For Dominick Catinella, the Roy Hobbs Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be more about family than baseball, more about his wife and kids and grandkids than even the Oak Lawn Roy Hobbs League.

In all 16 family members plan to be at the induction starting with his wife of 43 years, Kathleen. Look in the crowd for their four children – Nicole, Dominick II, Daniel and Lauren. The “kids” are all now in their 30s. The four grandchildren will be there. That means Delaney, Charlie, Connor and Clara Grace, ages between 2 and 6.

And Catinella’s twin sister – Lois. By the way, she is 59 minutes older than Dominick.

This will obviously be a special night for Dominick.

“I don’t know if I’m going to get through the evening,” the 67-year-old Catinella said.

He has a great deal to talk about in his baseball life, which was kick-started nearly 60 years ago when he watched the 1959 Chicago White Sox lose the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A few years later he was on the baseball team at Lindbloom High School in Chicago. Baseball in general and Roy Hobbs in particular have been a big part of Catinella’s life ever since. Well, not all of it with Hobbs because the organization didn’t exist when Catinella graduated from high school.

But for the past quarter of a century Catinella has been a key figure in the Oak Lawn League. Key figure? That’s an understatement. He spent 12 years as president and 26 years on the board. Catinella has been a coach, manager, umpire and player.

Hall of Fame nominator Bonnie Fear described him as a “fixture.”

Fear said Catinella is often at fields early in the morning to make sure they’re ready for play. He’s also a fixture in Fort Myers. This will be his 19th consecutive World Series.

Hall of Famer Vito Ruscio said Catinella also helps players on and off the field. “He is there for them,” Ruscio said.

Hall of Famer Roger Laurella described Catinella as “a special kind of person with a countless amount of energy.”

Through it all, through all the years since watching the White Sox in the 1959 World Series and high school ball and Roy Hobbs there has been one constant for this new Hall of Famer.

“What drives me is my passion for baseball,” Catinella said.

And, of course, his family.

And he said…

Why play baseball?  “Keeps me young.”

What keeps you playing? “Lasting friendships made over the years.”

How’d you get hooked on baseball? “Watching the ’59 White Sox and knowing every player on the team.”

What do you say to people who think you play softball? “I say, ‘No, the little 9-inch ball. It’s called Big Boy Baseball.”

What does it mean to be elected to the Hall of Fame? “An inspiring pinnacle to reach this accomplishment in the game I love.”

What’s your favorite baseball memory? “Playing on my first Colt championship team in 1964.”

Dominick Catinella Ad

Ellen Giffen

Giffen: Unsung labors behind the scenes

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Ellen Giffen

You won’t see Ellen Giffen slashing doubles into the gap, firing fastballs from atop a mound or laying down bunts.

But her behind the scenes work helps make that possible every fall for thousands of players in the Roy Hobbs World Series. She’s an administrative wizard whose work helps make the four-week event possible.

She and her husband, Tom, the president of Roy Hobbs Baseball, purchased the organization 25 years ago.

Its unsung labors for a quarter of a century that earned Ellen’s election into the Hall of Fame. The organization’s success isn’t possible without her competence and people skills. And Roy Hobbs is built on people skills.

“Our event is an event of families and teammates,” Ellen said.

Hall of Fame vetter Bart Leathers wrote in a vetting document of her administrative skills: “She handles these matters with great aplomb and a friendliness that is so welcome by players and coaches alike.”

Details are endless. They include players, coaches, locker rooms, umpires, fields, rain delays, concessions, restaurants, hotels, car rentals companies, souvenirs, the shop, clothing and more.

Ellen’s workload is enormous as she did all of the marketing the first 20+ years in addition to holding down a full-time position as a Project Manager for Ruhlin Construction Company through 2005.

That meant meeting restaurateurs and hoteliers and rental car companies. Much of the marketing has now been out-sourced but other details remain endless. Ellen even used to physically carry boxes and trays of food and drink until injuring an arm five years ago.

Work, work, work…

“I take care of the apparel ordering,” she said.

The 2017 World Series has 238 teams, about 4,000 players, 80-to-90 umpires, 20 concession workers, three store employees and concierges scattered around five facilities. Ellen helps manage all that.

Dave McLaughlin nominated Ellen for the Hall of Fame.

“Roy Hobbs would not be as polished without Ellen,” McLaughlin said in his nomination. “She has been instrumental in name recognition by both promoting and protecting the (Roy Hobbs) brand.”

Running the World Series requires mastery of details, something Hall of Famer J. D. Hinson noted in his letter of reference.

“It would be impossible to list all of Ellen’s contributions because she quietly does it in the background,” Hinson said.

Hall of Famer Tommy Faherty said this of the World Series and Ellen’s work that goes into making it come together every fall: “Just would not exist as is without Ellen’s direction and leadership.”

And she said…

How did you get hooked on baseball? “There’s really something special about the heart of baseball. … I didn’t play baseball. … I would say through my mom listening to Indians games on the radio.”

What do you say to people who think Roy Hobbs Baseball is softball? “I’m kind of abrupt. It’s hardball; it’s not softball.”

What does it mean to be elected to the Hall of Fame? “I consider it an honor. … I really appreciate it. … There’s way more to our events than what is on the field.”

What’s your favorite baseball memory? “It was quite a few years ago. … A team of players with Irish descent won a championship and did an Irish jig on the field.”

Ellen Giffen Hall of Fame Ad

Bart Waldamn

Waldman: A servant with a slider

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Bart Waldman

Bart Waldman has accomplished a great deal – Harvard, Georgetown Law School, Seattle Mariners’ vice president/legal counsel and member of a Washington Titans team that won four consecutive Legends titles, 2005-08.

Yet when Waldman received the news about his Hall of Fame election the reaction was profound.

“Lawyers aren’t often speechless,” said Waldman, who is now retired from the Mariners.

The Hall of Fame has that impact, especially for men such as Waldman who have loved baseball since boyhood. He grew up in Connecticut as a Yankees fan. Although the favorite Yankee of most kids then was Mickey Mantle Waldman’s was third baseman Clete Boyer.

“My favorite tended to be more of the underdog,” Waldman said.

He looks on himself that way, describing himself as a “not particularly athletic” and “cerebral” kid. But he was athletic enough to play collegiate baseball and star for the Titans.

Like others in the Class of ’17, Waldman is a pitcher, a pitcher with a particularly effective slider that “can make a grown man cry” said Hall of Famer Billy Devine. Beyond that, however, he is a leader in the dugout, on the field and off.

Said teammate Rick Park in his reference: “We cannot play baseball without guys like Bart who organize, recruit and put whole teams together which benefits all. Tireless, thankless work that is pure service so others can play this kids game at our age. It’s a blessing to know a guy like Bart.”

The main thing is the game. He doesn’t take anything for granted, especially World Series games in stadiums.

“You take the mound and they play the national anthem and I always tear up,” Waldman said.

That’s Bart Waldman – Hall of Famer.

And he said…

Why play baseball, what keeps you playing and how’d you get hooked on baseball?  “I have to answer these together. … The answer evolves as I age.  As a kid, you played because it was fun, social, challenging, and at the same time it gave you a sense of belonging.  In the 1950s, baseball was the very fabric of America.  When you played, you experienced part of Americana.  It was like picnics and fireworks. … As an adult, you continue to play because it reminds you of the unqualified joy you experienced on the ballfield as a kid.  It is a complete escape from the pressures of everyday life – Then you discover the team bonding and friendships are more important than the games.  As I’m fond of telling teams I coach, “Think of every game as a doubleheader.  We play it once on the field, then again over a burger and beer.  We never lose the nightcap.”

What do you say to people who think you play softball? “You never let the error stand uncorrected.  I don’t know how many times I’ve said, ‘We play real baseball. Hardball. Overhand pitching, curve balls, bunting, base-stealing, nine innings.  Someday, when we slow down and can’t do this anymore, we’ll consider softball . . . or golf.’”

What does it mean to be elected to the Hall of Fame?  “It’s a very singular and special honor.”

Favorite baseball memory: “On-field, it has to be the Titans’ first RHWS AAAA championship in 2005.  Off-field, it has to be the final game of the 1995 playoffs between the Mariners and Yankees.  I was at the game with my then 11-year old daughter, and I’ll never forget the joy of jumping up and down and hugging each other when Edgar Martinez doubled in Ken Griffey Jr. with the walk-off winning run.  A very special moment.

Bart Waldman Ad

Mark Reinerth

Rienerth: All about Baseball and Rhino

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Mark Reinerth

Mark “Rhino” Rienerth is all about baseball and his nickname.

“I don’t do golf, hunting and fishing,” said Rienerth, who resides in Norfolk, Va. “I don’t do the guy thing except during Roy Hobbs.”

The Tidewater Drillers pitcher is a Virginia baseball man and always has been, ever since he was an 11-year-old Little League All-Star in Onacock and on through Onacock High School and as an All-Southern Conference pitcher and team captain at the College of William and Mary.

He started adult baseball in 1977 and later found Roy Hobbs, playing in his first World Series when the event was still held in Orlando.

“I had the time of my life,” Rienerth, 61, said.

He was hooked and estimates this year’s World Series is his 27th. Rienerth isn’t a Hall of Famer because of longevity. A great deal more went into his election than merely playing a long time.

He’s a seven-time World Series MVP for the Drillers, a durable pitcher whose expertise is not overpowering hitters, just getting them out, consistently. Throughout his nomination documents, leadership – in the dugout, on the field, and behind the scenes – was a focal point.

And, Rienerth helps organize Drillers teams that play in the World Series, has coached youth teams in his community and then there are the intangibles, qualities that can’t be measured by wins and losses.

“He makes us all better players because of his passion and love of baseball and the fact that he deeply cares about us – his teammates,” said nominator Gary Wright, who is also a Hall of Famer.

Away from ballfields Rienerth is in wealth management. The name of his company is Rhino Wealth Management and his email address includes the name Rhino.
That’s how he is known in the Virginia and Roy Hobbs baseball worlds.

His wife is not known as Rhino. Her name is Linda. Every year, Rienerth said, he and Linda have a similar conversation just before the World Series. She’ll ask him how long he will be gone to Florida for the World Series.

Rhino tells her basically the same thing every fall: ”I’ll say three weeks unless my body doesn’t hold up. Then I’ll be back tomorrow.”

And this year it may be 4 weeks…

Rhino’s body is still holding up.

And he said…

Why play baseball?  “The camaraderie. You don’t get it anywhere else.”

What keeps you playing? “It’s part of Americana.”

How’d you get hooked on baseball?  “I remember the very moment. I grew up in the small town of Onocock, Va. … When I was 6 or 7, I threw stones at a buoy and then saw how I could make them skip. … Ever since I could throw from three arm slots.”

What do you say to people who think you play softball?  “I usually roll my eyes and say I play the real sport.”

What does it mean to be elected to the Hall of Fame? “It means I’m still alive and playing after 25 years. It’s nice to be recognized.”

What’s your favorite baseball memory? “Oh, man that is just so tough. … Winning a Little League championship. …” (After an Orioles’ game at Memorial Stadium in the 1960s, a kid named Rhino asked a young player for his autograph.) “There was a signature of this guy – Jim Palmer.”

Fernando Roman

Roman: LBBA league a labor of love

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Fernando Roman

Fernando Roman placed a call from Puerto Rico to Florida a few days after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September.

The place where he grew up was reeling but a chance to talk baseball and his election to the Roy Hobbs Hall of Fame was too good to pass up.

“We don’t have lights, power,” Roman said.

Maria didn’t turn out the lights on his love of baseball. With no power and no access to television news or the Internet Roman was living through a virtual news blackout on his home.

Roman may not have known what was going on around the island but he was sure about something – the Roy Hobbs Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“I’ll be there for the induction no matter what,” Roman said.

Baseball has been a big part of his life since his grandfather encouraged him to watch the 1967 World Series and see Puerto Rican Jose Santiago pitch for the Boston Red Sox.

A passion was lit. He played as a kid until the death of the greatest Puerto Rican player ever, Roberto Clemente, in a mercy-mission plane crash. Roman was 16 at the time and heartbroken and couldn’t go on with the game.

But he returned to it as an adult, playing and doing so much more, including writing a book in 1992 about the last 30 months of the life of Roberto Clemente: “En el Cielo lo que se juega es Beisbol” (In Heaven, We Play Baseball). The book is in Cooperstown, New York.

He is essentially the father of Roy Hobbs Baseball on the island serving as president, coach, player, umpire and scorekeeper. He founded the local league (LBBA) in 1990.

He has made it possible for Puerto Rican teams to play every year for 27 years in the World Series; some 50 teams have made it to Fort Myers under his watch.

Hall of Famer Alfred Ayala said in his reference letter: “There would be no (Puerto Rican) teams at RHWS if not for Fernando.”

Dexter Cosmo’s reference: “Fernando is the standard bearer for adult amateur baseball in PR. Due to his leadership, the LBBA continues to survive and grow in spite of the severe economic conditions in Puerto Rico.”

Roman has always been there for his league and has some personal experiences as well. During his stint as a professional umpire in Puerto Rico, he was on the crew at the Puerto Rican All-Star Game in 1995, with Roberto Alomar, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and many other Major League Baseball’s players. And, he umpired one year in the RHWS.

Yes, he does it all!

And he said…

Why play baseball?  On watching Santiago pitch in the 1967 World Series: “I said, ‘Oh, wow! I love this game.”

What keeps you playing?  “I love baseball. … (To play again) I started running and bicycling to get in shape.”

How’d you get hooked on baseball? (Santiago, 1967) “That hooked me. I started playing Little League.”

What do you say to people who think you play softball? Laughs and said, “I don’t play softball. People have invited me. No. No. I play hard ball.”

What does it mean to be elected to the Hall of Fame? “This is an honor. … Like a prize for all the work I do in Puerto Rico. The players say, ‘Thank you for the opportunity to play baseball again.’”

What’s your favorite baseball memory? 1. Winning the 2008 4A championship. 2. Hall of Fame. 3. Watching Red Sox win 2004 World Series.

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