In celebration of Major League Baseball’s opening day, the New Jersey Globe reached out to former Assembly Majority executive director and baseball fanatic Bill Castner for an oral history about the best players/teams he had seen during the Golden Dome softball League’s heyday years. This past October was the 15-year anniversary of the Assembly Majority Office’s last Golden Dome Championship – something still more recent than the Star-Ledger’s last Pulitzer Prize — and Castner chose to zero in on the former staffers who made up that roster. Castner: “In 2007, the Speaker essentially gave us a mandate: if we were going to field another softball team with his name on it, we’d better be pretty good. And if we weren’t good, we at least needed to beat Dick Codey’s team. It’s probably a stretch to say we were playing for our jobs — but no one told us we weren’t. We had an undefeated regular season, beat our longtime nemesis Taxation in the finals, popped champagne at Mercer County Park, and sang one of the worst versions of “We are the Champions” you will ever hear in your life at karaoke night at JoJo’s Tavern. In the State House, winning isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.”
Editor’s Note: The Assembly Majority Office team won two championships in three years.
P – Jason Gonzalez:Then: Speaker Joe Roberts’ district office staff Now: Senior Manager, DuPont Castner: “JayGo was 5 foot nothing but a fearless pitcher with a short fuse who could pitch east-west, north-south on command – inducing plenty of pop-ups. A true ace & sparkplug on offense.”
C- Gina LaPlaca/Jen Taylor: Then: Associate Counsel Assembly Majority Office, Associate Policy Staff Assembly Majority Office/ Director of Member Development, Assembly
Now: Business Administrator, Neptune & former Mayor Lumberton Castner: “LaPlaca & Taylor were mentally tougher than most of the team. The hated losing more than they loved winning. Might not have had the strongest bats in the lineup but solid backstops whose in-your-face attitude was definitely a plus.”
1B- Troy SingletonThen: Deputy Director, Assembly Majority Office Now: State Senator, Senate Majority Whip Castner: “TS was our Ryan Howard, a power bat in the middle of the lineup with an impressive glove & strong leadership. I won’t recite any details of the now legendary suspended game against the Attorney General’s office but suffice to say Troy didn’t take smack talk from anyone – regardless of who they were.”
2B – Lauren RepoleThen: Intern for Assembly Majority Office Now: Assistant United States Attorney Castner: “It’s amazing Repole became a federal prosecutor despite hanging around a band of pirates.”
3B – Ethan HasbrouckThen: Chief of Staff to Assemblyman Herb Conaway Now: Director of State Government Affairs, Bristol-Myers Squibb Castner: “No drama. Solid bat, solid glove, highly productive player. You needed a couple low-key guys like Ethan because the other personalities on the team were so explosive.”
SS – Aaron BinderThen: Deputy Budget Director, Assembly Majority Office Now: Deputy State Treasurer Castner: “Binder the Side Winder. MVP. When AB was hired, he was the all-time saves leader at Brandeis University. Played with Nelson Figueroa. He played in the Maccabee games for Team Israel. The ball would leave his hand at SS & instantaneously be inside Troy’s glove pocket at 1B. I’ve never seen a quick release like that before in my life.” Editor’s Note: There continues to be speculation that Castner initially hired Binder for his softball skills, and that his expertise on state budget matters was a bonus, but those allegations remain under investigation.
LF – Jeff MartinThen: Intern Now: Mayor of Hamilton Castner: “I’ve seen few human beings run as slow around the bases as Jeff, but his baseball IQ was off the charts, he was always positioned perfectly in Left field before the days of analytics, and he delivered in clutch moments. We knew a star was on the rise. He also happened to be a halfway decent research intern at the office.”
Left Center – Jeff KolakowskiThen: Chief of staff to Assemblyman Reed Gusciora Now: CEO, New Jersey Builders Association Castner: “Jeff K would smoke a pack of Marlboros out there in left center each game and, despite all Surgeon General forecasts to the contrary, the guy tracked down everything – he was a vacuum out there with a cannon for an arm. A really solid middle of the order bat. Tough as nails.”
Right Center – Brian QuigleyThen: Intern Now: Attorney, Vice President, Prudential Financial Castner: “Quigs was a rabbit. He was our leadoff batter and I’m not sure he ever got out. Chased down everything in the outfield, set the tone for the entire offense, consistently turned singles into doubles. He was young, unassuming & in good shape — qualities that separated him from the majority of his teammates.”
RF: Evan PiscitelliThen: Chief of staff to Assemblyman John Wisniewski Now: Executive Director, National Utility Contractors Association of NJ Castner: “Clutch hitter. Solid glove. Good guy.”
DH – Jim JeffersonThen: Speaker Joe Roberts’ Driver Now: Commissioner, Gloucester County Board of Freeholders Castner: “Jimmy J hit BOMBS. I mean legitimate jog-around-the-bases even on fields without fences bombs. He was a beast. Our cleanup hitter. Just a super guy too, a great human being. He looked like he should be playing for the Trenton Thunder.” Assistant Coaches: Steve Petrecca, Pat Cox, Rob Nixon
Castner “All of our players were Dems, but our coaches were all Republicans. They were better with numbers, which was important for our post-game expenses. They were also more ruthless than we were. It was a brilliant strategy bringing them on.”
Castner managed and played the hot corner for the team, went on to be Governor Jon Corzine’s chief counsel, a senior vice president at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, and is currently a partner at Connell Foley. He believes a decent percentage of his recollections are accurate.