For the College of Staten Island men’s baseball team, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Excellence has been the long-standing expectations surrounding the unit, and the 2015 installment will be no different under seventh-year Head Coach Michael Mauro.  The team is coming off a 19-16 campaign a year ago, but is retooled, revamped, and recharged for what could be a season for the ages.

The trek for the Dolphins will begin on Saturday, March 7, when the Dolphins travel to Myrtle Beach, SC, to take part in the Cal Ripken Division III experience, a swing that features five games in three days before the team’s home opener against Maritime College on March 15 at Noon at the CSI Baseball Complex.  By that time, Mauro hopes the snow will be gone and the bats and glove will come alive at CSI.

“We definitely have cabin fever being in the gym for the last five weeks,” said Mauro, whose team hasn’t fielded a live ground or fly ball and likely won’t until they line up against Grove City College on Saturday. “At this point 40 degrees feels like 80 to us.  We know we will be up against it early, but just getting outside is going to help us immensely, and we are very excited to get started on what can be a great year.”
The reason for the overwhelming optimism partly rests on a budding roster that features the return of four CUNYAC All-Stars and 15 letterwinners overall.  The cluster includes Joe Palmeri, who paced the Dolphins with a robust .376 batting average a year ago, and ace pitcher Mike Fitzpatrick who rode an all-star nod to a 2.09 ERA in over 50 innings pitched a year ago.  They anchor a unit who’s calling card a year ago was its tremendous defense, which sported a program best .965 fielding percentage a year ago and collective 3.87 team ERA, which ranked them in the top quarter of the NCAA Division III ranks a year ago.

“Defensively, we could not have asked for anything better than what we did a year ago,” Mauro said.  “We were inconsistent last year offensively and that hurt us, but we laid a foundation to winning baseball games, and that includes good pitching and guys behind them who are doing their part defensively.” 

The Dolphins did graduate all-star Will DiFede and lost CUNYAC Pitcher of the Year Chris Falcone, but Mauro appears unfazed given the infusion of 14 new faces to the roster, including six new pitchers who can all figure into the mix.  For Mauro, 2015’s recruiting class is his finest yet, and the sky is the limit as to the upside of the young cluster of talent.

“This is definitely our finest recruiting class in terms of numbers and talent,” he said.  “Everyone has a role and a real mind for the game.  It’s refreshing and something we are really banking on.  I feel comfortable saying this is the strongest unit we have brought in, especially next to what we have already.”

Look for several new Dolphins to make an immediate impact, with hurlers Brian Russell (St. Joseph by the Sea HS), Ryan Kennedy (St. Peter’s HS) and Juan Rodriguez (HSTAT) seeing plenty of time on the hill, while the bats of Elijah Rodriguez (Grand Street HS) and Bobby Drake (Moore Catholic HS) will join slugger Mike Milazzo, who missed all of 2014 due to injury, will be sought after to improve on what was a lineup that lacked some pop in 2014.  CSI sported just 55 extra-base hits, with no homeruns, and slugged just .334 a year ago.  The lack of explosive firepower hurt the Dolphins at times, but Mauro thinks the team is better for it, learning how to manufacture runs and lean on its defense and pitching to win games.  Now, with a bit more zing at the plate, CSI could be poised to make serious noise.

“The old quote that says that defense and pitching wins championships is simply not true when you don’t hit, and last year we just didn’t have the consistency we needed,” Mauro said.  “I definitely see us having more opportunities to score this year, and coupled with adding three legitimate aces from their respective high school’s to our pitching staff, we have the makings of a strong unit.  Obviously, I’m worried that we haven’t been outside a single time leading up to our first game, but I am encouraged of what we can be over time.”

All told, CSI’s roster of 29 sports just a pair of seniors in pitchers Robert Jannace (1-1, 1.77 ERA in 20.1 IP) and Anthony Storz (3-0, 4.84 ERA in 22.1 IP), making the unit both extremely talented and awful young, a great combination for Mauro, who thinks he has the perfect mix.

“It’s a very young mix,” explained Mauro, “But what I like most is that they all come with the same mindset and how to play the game the right way.  That really makes things easier as a coach, and we can focus on simply getting better.”

As talented as they are and more importantly, as talented as they can be, Mauro knows that there are plenty of roadblocks set up in front of his unit.  The program has never shied away from playing some of the best teams in the region and the nation, and 2015 is no different, with stops against Stevens Institute (March 21-22), Kean University (March 31), Ramapo College (April 7), SUNY-Cortland (April 11), Farmingdale State (April 22 & May 5), and Salisbury University (May 2), littered in the schedule.  For Mauro the adage is simple: to be the best, you have to beat the best.

“Even indoors, we are constantly trying to get our kids mentally prepared for how rigorous things are going to be once we get started,” he said.  “We do our very best to prepare and then it’s simply a matter of getting out on the field and competing.” 

No matter what the future holds, CSI’s mission is simple, to get back to the CUNYAC Championship and win the tournament, something the Dolphins have done three times in six seasons under Mauro, and a CUNYAC-best 16 times overall since 1981.  Without the benefits of an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Championship even with a CUNYAC title, the Dolphins vision is still to muscle through each game of its schedule with that target in mind.  CSI has been shut out of tournament play since 1992 despite some fantastic seasons.  For Mauro, that means that every game on the schedule is important, and is also what makes the season a great challenge and a lot of fun.

“We lay it out there very early,” explained Mauro.  “We need to win the conference, close in on winning 30 or more games, and take out a few big programs along the way.  It’s a great challenge.”   As much as the Dolphins have it mapped out, Mauro knows he will have to take things one game at a time, but he is certainly anxious to see what’s in store in 2015.  “I would like to say with confidence that we are close to getting to our goal of making the NCAA’s but the truth is we have many new faces and so little time that no one truly knows until we get out there.  its part of the reason we can’t wait to get the grass underneath our feet again and start playing baseball.”

All CSI home games are FREE and CLUE Certified (PG) for all students.  Notable games on the schedule include the 12th Annual Grace Hillery Breast Cancer Awareness Night played on Tuesday, April 21, at 7pm against Drew University and CSI’s first-ever matchup against NYU at MCU Ballpark in Brooklyn on April 26.  The season culminates in the CUNYAC Championship played from May7-9, also at MCU Ballpark.