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North Haven baseball Head Coach Bob DeMayo talks shop with assistant coach Lou Elia during a game from the 2019 season. This spring was supposed to mark DeMayo’s 62nd year in the Indians’ dugout, but the prospects of that happening remain uncertain. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior Dave Christoforo have provided plenty of pop at the plate throughout his career as a member of the North Haven baseball squad. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Center fielder Mason Balmer is one of seven seniors who was looking forward to leading the Indians on the field during the 2020 campaign. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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It’s hard for Bob DeMayo to believe that he isn’t out there on the ballfield, working with the athletes on the North Haven baseball team, and helping them become better players as they enjoy America’s pastime together. DeMayo has been North Haven’s head coach for the past 61 years, a time during which he’s recorded 915 victories, while winning five state championships. However, with the world still in the grips of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Coach DeMayo is spending plenty of sunny days on the inside looking out, wishing that the Indians had an opportunity to play ball.
“It’s been my life. If you’re a baseball player or a baseball coach or connected to the game like I am, it becomes part of your life. So, to have that taken away is terribly disappointing,” DeMayo said. “I feel like it’s been something that’s been taken away from me, but I’ve had a lot of years. But for our senior class, they haven’t had a lot of years. If you’ve played any kind of sport in high school, you find that, as you get older, a lot of your best memories come from that high school situation. So, if you are taking away the memories that everyone else has had, that is a tough thing for kids to deal with and for anybody to deal with.”
On March 18, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) announced that it was postponing the start of the 2020 spring season as a result of COVID-19. Then on April 23, the CIAC announced that there would be no State Tournament games or State Championship meets this year, but still left open the possibility for some games to be played in June. Schools would have to reopen in order for there to be any chance of that scenario panning out. As of now, school doors will remain shut until at least Wednesday, May 20.
Coach DeMayo said he’s “hoping beyond hope” that North Haven can enjoy some type of season this spring. Still, the Indians’ skipper knows that will be hard to pull off considering all the logistical difficulties that would come about while trying to maintain social distancing guidelines on the diamond.
“There is a glimmer of hope for a shortened season, so that these kids would get an opportunity to have some kind of season this year, particularly the kids who have worked so hard to get to their senior year. It doesn’t look that good, but it may come about,” said DeMayo. “Even though we’re hoping to play, we have to ask if it’s really worth it in reference to the dangers of being exposed and close together. I’m trying to figure out how I would conduct a practice with social distancing. It would be hard to do. It’s safety first in my mind.”
One of the reasons DeMayo feels so bad that his seniors may not get to play is the fact that many of them were penciled in to be big-time contributors on the varsity field. North Haven graduated 13 athletes from last season’s team that finished with a record of 12-11, including the majority of its infield and pitching staff. DeMayo was looking for each one of the Indians’ seven seniors to hold down prominent positions this year. He said they are a group of kids that anyone would feel proud to coach.
“All of the seniors are very close-knit. They’ve been playing with each other for many years, many since Little League, and they know what our program is all about,” Coach DeMayo said. “Our seniors set a great example for everyone else. They are team players, and that makes all the difference in the world. Some of our seniors waited four years to be able to show their wares by being named starters, and to have this all taken away from them really bothers me.”
Senior Matt DeRosa came into 2020 as North Haven’s lone senior captain. DeRosa put together an outstanding junior campaign that saw the infielder earn All-SCC Quinnipiac honors and make the Junior Select All-Star Team after posting a .319 batting average with a .400 on-base percentage (OBP), 17 RBI, and nine stolen bases. DeRosa was expected to move from second base to shortstop this spring, but if even if the Indians do play some games, he is out for the year after undergoing knee surgery during the offseason. The good news for DeRosa is that he will get to continue his career at the collegiate level at Quinnipiac University next year.
“Matt is the kind of the kid that never loafs, never takes it easy. If he is out there practicing and fielding ground balls, he will dive for the ball,” said DeMayo. “Matt is one of those individuals that sparks the team. He’s a clutch hitter and can turn a double play as fast as any second baseman I’ve ever coached. He’s a great all-around player and a great kid.”
While DeRosa is the only captain, DeMayo said that every member of his senior class displays solid leadership qualities. One of those players is Dave Christoforo, who batted .344 with a .440 OBP in his junior season. After suiting up as North Haven’s catcher last year, Christoforo was most likely going to start at first base this season, while seeing some occasional time behind the plate. Next year, Christoforo will join the baseball program at UConn.
“Dave is a big lefty who can hit the ball a mile,” said DeMayo.
The Indians’ other returning senior starters are center fielder Mason Balmer and left fielder Owen Silk. Balmer had a .293 batting average with a .423 OBP in 2019. Aside from playing the outfield, Silk was also expected to take the mound this spring, along with fellow seniors Daniel Meyers and Jaden Luedee. Senior Anthony Cretella was slated to get playing time at catcher and first base for North Haven.
One of the notable underclassmen on the Indians’ roster is junior JJ Mazzaro, a right-handed pitcher. Mazzaro notched two wins to go with one save on the bump last season.
In addition to praising his players, DeMayo added that North Haven has “the best coaching staff in the state.” The Indians’ coaching staff includes Justin Falcon, who is head coach of the JV team; Mike Proto, who has been coaching the freshman team for the past 35 years; Lou Elia, who was an assistant coach on DeMayo’s first state title team 1975 and then came back to the program two years ago; and Tim Binkoski, a program alum who is joining the club as a coach this year.
While he awaits the CIAC’s final verdict on any potential season, DeMayo offered some advice to North Haven’s players in case that doesn’t come to fruition.
“When bad things happen, you handle them. You accept the situation that you cannot change,” said DeMayo. “If you can’t control it, you don’t worry about it. You handle it.”
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