Many would say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. For College of Staten Island men’s baseball head coach Michael Mauro, that is quite alright, as he gets set to embark on a 2016 season as the CUNYAC’s defending champs, taking another solid step forward towards conference and regional supremacy that will lead to expanded postseason play.
That’s been the rub for CSI in the past. Without an automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division III National Championship, the CUNYAC teams need to scratch and claw their way towards a potential at-large bid into the elusive postseason dance, and for Mauro that usually means packing the schedule with strong out-of-conference opponents and offering his team a very small window for error. For CSI baseball that means that every game is a big one.
“It definitely carries its fair share of pressure and every game means a little more than the next,” Mauro said. “Let’s face it, you have to be nearly perfect and in a long season, that is hard to do.” The odds, however, make it enjoyable for Mauro, and he contends it’s made him a better coach. “It forces you to work harder. You have to think of every pitch, every inning. You realize very quickly that even in a 9-inning game if you make one mistake it can cost you a game, and if you make a few of those mistakes it ends up costing you a season.”
The road towards prominence will begin in Myrtle Beach, SC, this weekend to start a six-game swing before CSI ushers in the home portion of its season on March 12. Last year, brutal northeast conditions wiped out nearly the entire first three weeks of the calendar for the team. Temperatures this year still haven’t reached ideal conditions, so the trip south is a welcomed break for the team and a chance to simply be outside on real grass and dirt.
“We’re a couple of days away, but you can already see it on the player’s faces how excited they are,” the coach noted. “There’s only so much you can do in a gym or on a turf soccer field. Catching a real fly ball, turning a double play, stepping up to a real plate; these are things we will be doing for the first time when we get down there. Obviously you worry about the rust showing, but the talent that we have gives me comfort because we’ve been down this road before.”
Mauro has reason to be duly excited. His unit is comprised of a healthy core of returning talent, and although a collection of talent was lost, most notably in CUNYAC Pitcher of the Year Brian Russell, the team returns all-stars Nick Delprete, Joseph Palmeri, Frank Smith, Frank Muzzio, Ryan Kennedy and defending CUNYAC Rookie of the Year Glenn Glennerster. They comprise six of 21 returning Dolphins this season, and with still only seven seniors decorating the roster, the Dolphins boast plenty of experience and championship pedigree but enough youth to know that the best baseball is still yet to come.
“The best thing is having that championship experience and knowing that we achieved that with a lot of freshmen and sophomores giving big contributions last year,” Mauro stated. “These kids aren’t afraid of big moments and there are so many situations you can only be able to handle through experience and we had plenty of those situations these past couple of years. That will really make us that much better.”
Mauro will lean on that returning unit in a number of ways. Not only does he expect his team to hit the ground running, but the leadership, maturity, and mental game preparation is expected to guide the Dolphins towards a focus bigger than just a winning record in the conference. To rub shoulders with some of the elite teams in the region, Mauro contends it takes that veteran leadership to act as a voice beyond the coaching staff.
“I expect all of my seniors and juniors to emulate how we coach and to carry that expectation of excellence,” Mauro stated. “Our veterans are able to relay that to our younger players and it becomes pretty contagious as we roll along. The key to winning with a large team to make sure everyone is on the same page and our veterans are a big piece to making that happen. We all know what we need to do. ”
Of course, the success of Mauro’s teams are also contingent on CSI’s ability to continue to recruit some top-level players to wear the uniform each year. This season, 9 new faces litter the roster and Mauro is high on all of his first-year pupils. Look for players like Tom Musso (So., P, Tottenville HS) and Anthony Dimarco (Fr., IF, Tottenville HS) to earn their stripes early, with the rest likely to give the Dolphins the depth every quality baseball team strives for.
“We have some real difference makers, including Musso who can be a no. 1 starter on most teams we play, and all of our freshman have shown excellent baseball knowledge with raw ability that can really make a difference,” Mauro spoke of his new faces. “It’s very exciting to watch them develop into very good ball players and we expect that from all of the younger kids on our roster.”
After a championship season of a year ago and a return of its core in 2016, it’s hard not to look at CSI as a potential favorite going in. Still, the coach knows that the conference is only getting better, and he expects nothing but a feverish attack by the rest of the conference for the title that CSI currently holds.
“Every team has gotten better and that’s the bottom line,” said the coach. “Every team in our conference is committed to a tough schedule and recruiting and it really is starting to show. I think all of the CUNY coaches know that in order for us to get better that we all need to get better collectively, and every team is on board and grasping that concept. It makes the season tough but it really is great to see.”
On top of the conference slate, as usual CSI will play an impressive schedule against some of the area’s best teams. Stops on the schedule include a home-and-home with William Paterson, a date with NJAC-powers Kean University (April 5) and Ramapo College (April 20), and a road date against Farmingdale State (5/1). In their marquee date of the season, CSI will celebrate their annual Grace Hillery Breast Cancer Awareness Game against familiar foe Drew University on April 19. Mauro contends that the schedule is as competitive as it has ever been.
“Our out-of-conference schedule is as tough as anyone’s,” pronounced the coach. “We could certainly make our schedule a little easier and maybe sneak in an extra few wins but our schedule gives us a lot of character. We approach our season with little to lose. It demands our best and if we’re able to win many of these games it really helps us in the long run, even if we tale a lump or two along the way.”
With the pieces all computed, it’s obvious to see what the CSI team is being potentially groomed for, but the coach contends that the team isn’t looking at 2016 as an “NCAA-or-bust” campaign. Rather, he wants to see his unit show consistency and a winning mindset through 40 games, after that, the pieces will fall as they may.
“The bottom line is I want us to play as a team all season,” Mauro put simply. “We aren’t the type of team that puts our goals on paper. If we go out, if we do our best, play as a team, the rest will take of itself. We’ll go in with the same mindset, to win our next game and to win our final game. Pretty simple.”
CSI will get underway against Fredonia State on Saturday at 5:30pm in Myrtle Beach. A week later they will be home for weekend doubleheaders against St. Joseph’s College (BK, and Yeshiva University on March 5-6. They will open the CUNYAC portion of their season with a road doubleheader against Lehman College on April 2. The season concludes with the CUNYAC Championship double-elimination tourney which will start at higher seeds on May 5, and continue on May 6-7, at the College of Staten Island. Admission to all home CSI Baseball games are free and PG-CLUE certified for all students.