Plenty of people are enduring the same thing in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic: the normal day-to-day routine is gone. Physically going to work is something many people have done for years without giving a second thought.
Imagine going to the same job for 61 straight years. Bob DeMayo has basically done that as coach of the North Haven baseball team every spring sports season since 1959. He missed some time with a severe knee injury during the 2014 season. He has also been battling prostate cancer for more than a decade.
But he has been with the North Haven players throughout all of it, calling every single pitch and hitting fungos, although the latter might currently be an issue for a man in his late 80s.
“Day to day, I have had problems with my back, so I have had to have the young guys (coaches) do more of the fungo hitting,” DeMayo said.
Right now, there is no baseball, no sports of any kind at any level. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the CIAC to cancel the remainder of its winter sports championships on March 10 and to do the same to its spring championship events last Thursday.
The CIAC is holding out hope to have some semblance of a spring season in June, to provide closure for the student-athletes. But that only happens if schools reopen.
Schools are currently closed until May 20. If they close for the remainder of the school year, any chance at high school sports in June is also done.
“Like all of my other coaches, we want to get back on the field. The kids, and the seniors in particular, are being cheated out of their final year,” DeMayo said. “Having seen the same situation where Rhode Island closed schools and Massachusetts closed schools, I figured Connecticut would be next.”
In the age of zoom meetings — a way for groups to get together virtually — DeMayo, who has a CIAC-record 914 career victories and five state championships to his credit, remains old-fashioned. He communicates with this year’s captain, Matt DeRosa, who then does so to the rest of the team.
DeRosa said he does communicate with DeMayo by text (“He’s a pretty good texter,” DeRosa said). The captain was the starting second baseman each of the last two seasons.
“Coach loves baseball more than anyone I’ve met in my entire life,” DeRosa said. “It’s been tough for him and for all of us. Not being able to have a season would be a super-tough situation.”
So how does DeMayo occupy his time?
“I can only watch so much television and do so much yard work. It’s been frustrating,” DeMayo said.
Said Bette, his wife of 44 years: “It’s been very painful for him, trust me.”
DeMayo played a lot of tennis and even some pickleball before his leg injury. Now he spends some of his spare time playing golf at Sleeping Giant GC in Hamden. He uses a cart – by himself, per the social distancing rules due to the pandemic.
“It’s been great at Sleeping Giant. I don’t have to touch the flagstick. One person in a cart is pretty safe,” DeMayo said. “I could not walk nine or 18 holes. I used to laugh at people taking carts.”
DeMayo said his assistant coaches this year are Lou Elia, Tim Binkoski, Mike Proto and Justin Falcon, who is also the school’s varsity basketball coach. Binkoski is a former standout under DeMayo and then at Quinnipiac University and Proto has been with the program longer than anyone – except for the head coach.
Speaking of Quinnipiac, that’s where DeRosa said he will be playing baseball next year. He was supposed to be moving to shortstop for this season. But even if there was a full season, DeRosa wouldn’t have played. He tore his ACL and had knee surgery in March.
“For the seniors at North Haven who have been playing together since they were 10 or 11 years old, we are beginning to realize this may be the end for us,” DeRosa said. “It’s definitely difficult for a lot of the guys who want to go out and play.”
So like the players, DeMayo is holding out some hope that he will have a chance to go to the field named in his honor and coach in June. Otherwise, next spring will become season No. 62 for him.
DeMayo said he has never, and will never, make any decision on his future during the season – or the potential of having one. Assuming his health is in order, he likely will return in 2021.
“Right now, it’s year-to-year obviously,” DeMayo said. “I will speak to my wife in terms of physically being able to make it through another year. That usually comes in September or October some time. The way I feel now, I wouldn’t want to go out this way.”