NORTH HAVEN — You can certainly say the first day of the high school baseball season in nearly two years featured a coaching matchup certainly from opposite ends of the spectrum.
On one side of the field, there was the wily 88-year-old North Haven High veteran, Bob DeMayo. And on the other side of the field, in the odd for him green and white, 29-year-old rookie head coach Nick Merullo of Guilford.
And Saturday morning with a couple hundred fans coming out, DeMayo collected his 915th career win in the opener of his 62nd season in maroon and white as North Haven beat Guilford, 8-3, at DeMayo Field. He’s been at it since 1959.
DeMayo admitted it’s hard for him physically and health-wise these days, but he refused to consider retirement after the 2020 season was scuttled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was pretty sure I didn’t want to go out that way,” DeMayo said. “I just love what I’m doing. I have great kids and I have the time, so why not? I have two coaches who are great, do the grunt work and I do the mental stuff. I’m enjoying it especially after a win.”
His wife, Bette, is always in the stands when he coaches. She was there Saturday.
“When she stops coming, I’ll probably quit,” DeMayo said. “She doesn’t miss a game.”
Right now, he has a bad back that cannot be operated on. While a cortisone shot has alleviated some of the pain, it makes it difficult for him to hit fungoes before games as he did for decades and he brings his own chair instead of sitting on the team bench.
“It wasn’t good today, but I have to suck it up,” DeMayo said. “I bring my chair, but I try not to use it. I also have dizzy spells now and then and I’ve got prostate cancer on top of that, so I’m just hanging in there.”
But if you ask his counterpart in Merullo, a former star quarterback and catcher at Hand in Madison, it was a debut he’ll always remember.
“It was interesting going against a legend today,” Merullo said. “He’s got hundreds of wins and we’re still chasing our first. You come in here and you’re playing on the field named after the coach and they have a statue in here, too.”
Merullo was impressed that DeMayo still remembered a ball he hit against him at Bailey Road Field 12 years ago when he played for Hand.
“Nothing sneaks by him,” Merullo said. “He’s still on top of everything, he does the mound visits and is coaching third. He’s still sharp and is a coaching icon in Connecticut. It’s fun to go up against him.”
Like Merullo as far as head coaching experience goes, the Grizzles are an inexperienced group.
“We’re making sure they get their feet wet,” Merullo said. “We have three guys who contributed in the 2019 season and had two guys get their first varsity innings on the mound. Hopefully by the time May comes around, we’ll be a lot better than we are in April.”
In the meantime, the win pushed DeMayo one step closer to what might seem impossible — 1000 wins.
“I’m over 1,000 between coaching baseball and football, but 1,000 wins in baseball isn’t realistic,” DeMayo said. “But who knows? Every year, I say it’s going to be it and I’m still out there.”
As for the game, it was typical North Haven. Guilford scraped together a pair of runs in the second inning to take an early 2-0 lead when Niko Tartagni singled in a run and Mike Buccaro drove in a run on a groundout.
After that, North Haven scored all eight of its runs with two outs. The hosts tied things up at 2-2 in the third thanks to a RBI double by Owen Pincince and a RBI single by Mike Anquillare. They took the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth when Ty Rooney doubled to right-center to plate both Chris Hager and A.J. Maggiore.
Hager made it 6-2 in the bottom of the fifth on a two-run double before Guilford right fielder Jack Palmer homered deep over the right field fence in the top of the sixth inning to close it to 6-3.
North Haven tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth inning on a two-run by Tyler Harger.
On the mound, Jason Mazzaro and Maggiore combined to allow just five hits for North Haven. Maggiore collected the win with three innings of one-hit relief as he allowed just one run on the Palmer homer.
“It was a typical first game after two years and we made some mistakes,” DeMayo said. “We bunt a lot, but we were awful today. But we came back and I’m pleased with the way we turned it around.”