In between thoughts about how tough he thinks his league is going to be this season, Mamaroneck coach Mike Chiapparelli would shout out another command to a gym filled with kids wearing orange and black.
“Get your gloves!” the Tigers’ eccentric leader yelled mid-sentence, seamlessly coming back to what he was saying without skipping a beat.
“We’re still pretty good; I just think that they’re playing well,” Chiapparelli said. “Both (New Rochelle and White Plains) coaches do a really good job, and they compete. If you have a Mamaroneck in your league, you have to learn how to play against them. As a coach, the better the coaches are around here, the harder you work, because you want to compete against them.”
Chiapparelli loves a challenge, and while was quick to mention some of the up-and-coming teams that he’ll have to play at least twice this season, everyone around the area knows who the top dog has been in recent years. His team was humbled by a controversial ending in its Class AA quarterfinal against eventual section champ Arlington—a 3-2 loss which was called after the field was deemed unplayable before the final out had been recorded—which has Mamaroneck eager to get back at it.
“It definitely makes us hungrier,” said senior SS Mat Marino, who was at the plate with a runner on the first in the bottom of the seventh when the thunder first struck that day. “We can’t believe it happened like that, and we just want to work every day to make sure that doesn’t happen again. We don’t want that to be the way that our season ends.”
• The Tigers have won six consecutive league titles, which is why some may shake their heads when they hear Chiapparelli pumping up their league rivals. They’ve established themselves as one of the top programs in Section 1 with a tremendous overall record in the last 15 years or so. No matter who they’ve lost to graduation, it’s a next man up philosophy at Mamaroneck, and the next guy up tends to produce. “In practice, the second strings and third strings have to keep up with the first strings,” Marino said. “Everyone has the expectation to be on par with everyone else. There’s no letdown.”
• Chiapparelli raved about Marino, who he said laced three doubles in yesterday’s scrimmage. He’s considered to be the best player on the team after hitting .440 last year, and looked like he’s bulked up a bit. The added pop might tempt Chap to move him into three-hole, but he sounded as if he likes the idea of letting him hit where he did last season. “Right now, I see him as a two-hitter because he’s so good there with his speed, but he’s definitely swinging the bat the best of anyone on the team,” he said.
• Marino said he’s comfortable wherever he is needed, but did note that it will be more difficult to get pitches to hit with former 3B Matt Mezansky having graduated. “He was a good one,” Chiapparelli said. “It’s probably going to be very tough,” Marino said. “We’re going to have to see how it works out. I’ll do whatever I need to do for our team to be successful; whether that’s hit two, or be an RBI guy.”
• Marino is one of five returning starters for Mamaroneck, along with C Ryan Orgielewicz, 1B Connor Bingham (pictured to the right), CF Matt Mohr and OF Gabe Makarem. 2B/OF Alex Sposito also received playing time last year, so Chiapparelli sounded pretty confident about how he’ll put his lineup together. “Gabe Makarem, the kid who moved in from Miami last year, I think he’ll hit in the middle, as well as Ryan Orgielewicz,” he said. “He’s got a big bat and he’s been driving the ball. Bingham will also hop in there, and we have Mohr, who will probably bat leadoff.”
• While Chiapparelli said his biggest question mark is who will replace Brett Poniros at second base, he also said that he has a good problem at the catcher position. Orgielewicz started last year and showed that he could do some very good things, but Chiapparelli said he has two others that he believes could start for most teams in the section. Junior Richie Barrella and sophomore Andy Karlan are also pushing for the spot, and because of their ability to contribute offensively, Chap says he thinks he’s going to have to find spots for them. “I have three really good catchers, so I have to find a place for them all to play, because they all hit,” he said. “I’m working on that. It could be one at third base, one at catcher and one at DH… I don’t lose anything with any of them (defensively). They all have cannons. Nobody is stealing on us.”
• On the pitching side, Mamaroneck will rely heavily on right-handed senior Will Hofmann. He emerged last season to form a great one-two punch with Mike Williams, but now will have to shoulder the burden of being the team’s ace by himself. His offseason didn’t go as planned, as he partially tore his labrum over the summer. He’s been throwing a bit, but sounds like he hasn’t really cut loose yet. “Not entirely, but I’m getting there,” he said. “I haven’t been able to throw bullpens that are 100 pitches yet, but within the week I should be fine… Not as many intense bullpens as I would like to have right now, but I’m hoping to be ready to pitch in Florida (in two weeks).”
• While all indications are that Hofmann (pictured to the left) will be ready to go to start the season, I couldn’t help but wonder how the injury affected his ability to work on his game during the offseason. “I just started in January,” he said. “Last year, I started probably at the beginning of December, so a whole month is a lot. I would have liked to work on my curveball and slider a little bit more, but I think I have my changeup down, and my fastball.”
• With Hofmann is slotted in as the ace, the question is who will be No. 2? Williams is gone, as is last year’s No. 3 Parker Thelander. “Hofmann is coming back after going 7-1 and pitching in a lot of big games last year,” Chiapparelli said. “He’s big to have at the top of the staff, and then the kid who was our No. 4 last year, Brandon Fitzgerald, actually beat New Rochelle in that extra innings game with three scoreless innings. He won his start, and he’s looking to step into that second role. And then I have four kids from JV stepping up, and I have a nice lefty, Mike Adler, who was on the varsity last year as a reliever. I think he’s going to be a starter for us this year.”
• Despite some uncertainty with the pitching staff, Chap seemed very pleased with the depth that he’s assembled. There certainly were a lot of pitchers in the gym today. “I think the arms are really good,” he said. “It’s the strength of the team. I’ve got 10 of them, and I don’t need that many.”
• I’ll have my report from my visit with New Rochelle posted in the morning, but I do expect this league to be tremendously competitive. New Ro lost by one run to Mamaroneck twice last year—including an extra innings game—while White Plains came one run short in one of their meetings. The Tigers are still one of the strongest teams in the section, but their neighbors may be catching up. “They’re intense,” Marino said of the league games. “Every time we play White Plains, New Ro, Scarsdale, all of those teams, it’s an intense rivalry. It’s the best baseball. I think every time we’re on their schedule, they circle us and they’re ready to play us.”
File photos from The Journal News