Nick Merullo has had quite a journey with the game of baseball and now it comes full circle as he returns home in a new capacity.
The Madison native and resident was primarily a catcher while also playing a little third base and outfield for the Tigers. Nick graduated in 2010 before earning a baseball scholarship to play at James Madison University in Virginia, where he was a senior captain. After being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Baltimore Orioles and competing in the minors in the Gulf Coast League, Nick hung up his cleats and decided to give coaching a swing. Now, he’s the newest addition to the Hand staff as an assistant coach for 2015.
“I finished my undergrad degree this past fall and just decided that I had enough of the playing days, but I’ve been wanting to try my hand at coaching as it was something I always saw myself doing,” says Nick, who has done a lot of work with catchers and hitters thus far. “I’m lucky enough to have a great relationship with the school and the coaches [having been coached by Hand skipper Travis LaPointe while playing American Legion Baseball] and [Hand Athletic Director] Craig Semple asked me about my interest in coaching with the baseball team, so I jumped at the opportunity.”
In terms of his ideals and what he wants athletes to get out of their athletic experience, Nick is about building better men out of sluggers. That’s why it seems like he’s found the perfect match with his hometown Tigers.
“It’s truly about the kids for me and trying to get them to be not only better baseball players, but also people. You can learn so many valuable life lessons from baseball, so it’s about getting them to have fun while getting better,” Nick says. “Travis is as a passionate and enthusiastic coach as there is out there. He is an example of a fine coach that does it for all the right reasons.”
The diamond provided Nick with so much in his days as a competitor, leading him to take pride in instilling strong skills to this current crop of Tigers—a squad that has created quite the positive preseason stir around town.
“The game of baseball gave me so much in a valuable college education, so it’s a joy to give back and teach the kids things that they may haven’t been exposed to,” says Nick, who also played football at Hand. “It’s an exciting time to get involved with Hand baseball. Even when I played here, I haven’t seen the same kind of buzz or excitement with any team like this one. They have a mold and personality to them. They are a good and talented group of kids ready to work hard.”
Coach LaPointe praises Nick for being a player’s coach who relates well to athletes, has a strong influence on his players, and who also eats, breathes, and sleeps the game of baseball.
“Nick has been an incredible addition to our coaching staff. He brings so much knowledge and baseball experience. The most impressive thing about Nick is his ability to relate to the players. The players respond to him and get better almost immediately after having a conversation with him or working with him in a drill,” says LaPointe. “Nick is the kind of guy who wakes up in the morning thinking about baseball and that passion shines through at practice, at games, and even on the bus rides. More importantly, Nick is just a great role model and someone who the players can look up to. We are working so hard to try to build this baseball program into a legitimate contender in the SCC year after year.”
With plenty of personal goals in his new position, Nick wants Hand’s ballplayers to possess that same exciting fire from when they first got a glove. Looking at his first spring with the club, he feels there is nothing holding this group back from contending for one of the top spots in the SCC.
“I haven’t thought too much about goals, yet I am just trying to pass down the knowledge I have to them. Baseball is a game of failures, though I want them to get back to playing with the same enthusiasm they all had when they started the game in Little League,” Nick says. “We have a good group here this year and playing in the SCC is always tough with good programs. Yet we have a chance to compete with anyone and there is no reason why we can’t be in that upper echelon of teams.”