North Haven Baseball's Proto-Typical Captain
Playing catcher and leading a baseball team are two things that go hand in hand. In the case of North Haven senior backstop Nick Proto, it’s safe to say he fits both positions like a mitt.
Nick was actually a center fielder until his AAU coach suggested he test his mettle behind the plate. Nick came to love the position and, prior to his junior year with the Indians, Nick told Head Coach Bob DeMayo that he had some catching experience under his belt. DeMayo—who caught in his own playing days—didn’t even know that Nick could catch, but after keeping a close eye on him through the preseason, one thing DeMayo knew for sure was that Nick was the guy he wanted to don the gear and man the dish.
Fast forward one year and Nick is now in his second season as North Haven’s starting catcher and first as one of the club’s senior captains. Next year, he will play Division I baseball on scholarship for the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks.
“Nick is a natural leader and he and Rich DePalma have done an excellent job of keeping the team together. If you know Nick, he’s a friendly, sociable individual who has a personality where he can mix with everybody and the personality of both our captains is a big reason why our team is so connected,” Coach DeMayo says. “Nick is also a natural athlete with a professional arm. He can throw the ball through a wall. He hits with power and he’s only struck out two or three times this season. This kid’s a prospect. He’s the whole package.”
Nick enjoys playing baseball so much that he describes it as “a lifestyle to me.” Of course, the lifestyle of a catcher isn’t an easy one as it often involves getting hit by a foul ball or, sometimes, a base runner charging down the line. However, Nick says the bumps and bruises are certainly worth it as he loves playing the catcher’s position while serving as an Indians’ captain—a role he coveted for years.
“I always wanted to be a captain and it means everything that my teammates showed faith in me by nominating me,” says Nick, who’s best friends with fellow captain DePalma. “I love being a captain because it allows me to be an outgoing guy. I’m definitely loud out there. I’ll pick up the guys when they get down, I let them know the situation with how many outs there are, and, if our pitchers start walking batters and look stressed, I’ll go out there and keep them calm so they can regain their composure, focus on the next batter, and get us through the inning.”
But Nick does a lot more than just talk the talk and, when it comes time to step up to the plate, his bat speaks much louder than words. Through 18 games this spring, Nick has 24 hits in 59 at-bats for a hearty average of .406. He’s also slugged his way to five doubles and three triples and has scored 11 runs while driving in 14. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound righthander will look to make a similar offensive impact next year, when he embarks on the next chapter of his baseball career at The University of Tennessee at Martin. While Nick was dreaming about wearing the captain’s hat for Coach DeMayo’s squad, he also had designs on playing college ball at the highest level. Nick’s mother Pam, who attends all his games, sent out a highlight video and it wasn’t long before some schools came calling. One of those schools was Tennessee-Martin and, after Nick paid an official visit, he had no doubt that was where he was going to go. Nick will study education with hopes of becoming either an English or physical education teacher.
“I’ve wanted to play college baseball ever since I first started playing and I knew I wanted to play DI because I don’t want to settle for anything less. I’ve been down in Tennessee for a few [AAU] tournaments and it’s a place I like to be,” says Nick, who thanks his mother, in addition to his dad Nick and grandfather John Tortora, who both coached him in Little League. “The official visit went great. They have great facilities, great academics, and I couldn’t have picked a better school. It’s exciting to know I’ll be playing against schools like Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. It’s a dream come true to get to play at the next level.”
However, before Nick ventures down south to live out that dream, there’s still one more thing he wants to achieve to close out this phase of his career. The Indians are having a pretty fine year with 11 victories thus far and an Oronoque Division title. North Haven is about to open play in the postseason and there’d be no better way for Nick and company to conclude the campaign then by hoisting the Class L state championship trophy.
“Winning the Oronoque was a huge accomplishment for us. We wanted to do it this year and that was our first goal,” he says. “But what I definitely want to say is that North Haven wants to win the state tournament. We have a great shot this year. We have great team chemistry. If we make the routine plays and everyone’s arms are healthy, we should be in good shape. I’d love to graduate high school with a state championship win.”