NORTH HAVEN >> Just like the thousands of times he’d done it before, North Haven baseball coach Bob DeMayo had a simple message as he walked to the mound to chat with pitcher Preston Young in the seventh inning of a tight game Wednesday night, something he probably also said in 1959 or 1979 or 1989, all well before Young was born.
“I told him to have positive body language and get his fingers on top of the ball,” DeMayo said.
Eventually, Young got a strikeout to end a 10-9 North Haven win over visiting Guilford at Bob DeMayo Field, DeMayo’s 862nd career victory in this his 58th season in charge. It was a big one for the defending state champion Indians, who are only 6-10 and probably need two more wins to qualify for the state tournament.
But Wednesday was also special because North Haven honored all five of DeMayo’s state championship teams with players from the 1975, 1982, 1985, 2003, and 2015 squads coming back to say hello and swap stories. And all of them involved DeMayo, of course.
In North Haven, you don’t need six degrees of separation to get back to Bob DeMayo. In athletic circles, you most times don’t need one.
Tom Jermine starred on DeMayo’s first state title winner in 1975 (DeMayo was already in his 17th season at the helm by then) along with his brother Bob. By the time DeMayo was winning his fourth title in 2003, Jermine had two sons on the team, as well as an older son who had graduated three years before.
“I know him as a coach, but I also know him personally,” Jermine said. “I’m fortunate enough to see him outside of baseball. He’s an incredibly good person. I don’t think he realizes the effect he has had on so many young men and now older men off the field.”
In fact, DeMayo said Jermine — a plumber — was at his house earlier in the week to help him out, and his former players are often willing to give back to both himself and the community when the opportunity arises.
“Those guys are phenomenal,” DeMayo said. “I’m glad we came away with the win with everyone here. It was great for the kids to see all the former players. There are kids on the team now whose father or someone in the family played for me. There’s always somebody’s uncle or some relative who played for me.”
Dave Mikos, who played on DeMayo’s 1985 title team and helped organize the festivities Wednesday, is one of several longtime residents that have had three generations of their family play baseball for DeMayo.
“My father Joe played for him in 1961, and there’s many of us that have similar stories and can talk about our fathers and sons,” Mikos said. “Our children all had the opportunity to play for the same guy, so we get to share stories. He links all the generations together.”
One thing that hasn’t changed much through the years are DeMayo’s signals, which still bring chuckles and a bit of clairvoyance from his former players gathered near the dugout decades later.
“The signs are still the same, Jermine said, “so when I started hearing them again when my oldest son started playing, I turned to my wife and said, ‘Watch this.’”
Said DeMayo: “No one has stolen them, I guess. We have some different ones, but a lot of them don’t change.”
When North Haven won the Class L title in 2003 over Seymour at Yale Field, it was DeMayo’s 700th career victory, already smashing the previous state record in his 46th season, which seemed like a good retirement point for most. But 13 years later, DeMayo is still out there questioning home-plate umpires who won’t check with their partners on check swings and throwing his hat to the ground when his teams botch rundowns.
“Part of me is not surprised at all that he’s still coaching,” Tim Binkoski – who starred on the 2003 team before playing at Quinnipiac – said. “He always commented that he was going to be here as long as he possibly could. Some people expected with the most recent state championship that he’d be done, but it’s hard to give up something you’re so passionate about and when you watch and listen to him, you can tell he’s still very passionate about it.”
DeMayo still hasn’t fully recovered from a severe knee injury that kept him sidelined for much of the 2014 season, but even well into his 80s now, he is able to handle all the head coaching duties, including visits to the mound and coaching third base when North Haven is batting. And even six decades into his head coaching career, there is still room to improve.
“It’s hilarious, I was playing tennis, playing golf the whole bit, but then I ripped my knee up pretty bad. I’m dying to get back on the tennis court, but it still buckles. I’m still trying, though. I’m not giving up on it.”
The people of North Haven and his former players know better than to doubt him.