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Horsehide Honchos

New baseball and softball coaches arrive on campu

By John Gearan ’65

Holy Cross baseball and its little sister, softball, come from vastly different athletic traditions. Baseball, once crowned at the palace dance, has sashayed with the sport’s royalty and enjoys a fascinating 117 year history. Softball, 23 years old, is still looking for its first big date.

The Crusaders have cultivated more than 75 major leaguers. Indeed, the Cleveland Indians may have been named in honor of Louis Sockalexis of the Penobscot tribe, the first inductee into the Varsity Club’s Hall of Fame. Jack Barry, the College’s longest serving coach (40 seasons), played for Connie Mack’s famed $100,000 infield and later managed and played for the Red Sox. He hung out with Babe Ruth, who considered Barry a big brother. Barry’s 1952 team won the NCAA Championship. The hardball lore is bountiful.

Softball, though, remains Cinderella before the Ball.

However, baseball and softball walk hand-in-hand in this era. There is little disparity between them. The men and women are searching for athletic respectability to accompany their academic acumen. Holy Cross tends to 27 varsity sports while competing largely in the Patriot League—which John Feinstein’s book title aptly describes as “The Last Amateurs.” Contemporary press releases crow about Holy Cross having 20 teams with a 100 percent graduation rate and 12 teams with a perfect NCAA (1,000) Academic Progress Report. Students playing baseball and softball are true scholar-athletes, receiving only need-based financial aid like everyone else.

*
Enter Greg DiCenzo and Brian Claypool, respectively the new Crusader baseball and softball coaches. Their challenges are equally and painfully obvious. Last season, the baseball team was 12-23; the softball team was 5-38.

DiCenzo and Claypool possess similar attributes. They are self-made achievers in their early 30s. They have played sports with passion and gotten very dirty while learning the nitty-gritty of the games they adore. They are self-starting, non-stop workers. They value education first and foremost. And, thankfully, they are eternal optimists.

*
You would have to go back some 88 seasons—to baseball Hall of Famer Jesse “The Crab” Burkett—to find the last Crusader coach hired who was not an alum or assistant.

Associate Athletic Director Rose Shea ’87 fielded more than 100 job applications for head baseball coach. Greg DiCenzo, the overwhelming choice of Shea and her team of campus consultants, quickly won the stamp of approval from Athletic Director Dick Regan ’76.

DiCenzo has what the College needs: a strong background in coaching, with an emphasis on pitching and a special talent for recruiting. In his bat-bag, he also totes two master’s degrees—in education and administration—from his alma mater St. Lawrence University of Canton, N.Y.

“We were struck by his focus on the academic success of his players,” says Shea. “He relates well to prospects and their parents. He knows Holy Cross is not a pro baseball factory. He understands the Holy Cross way.”

DiCenzo also comprehends that Holy Cross hasn’t made the NCAA tournament in 30 years. Getting back there, he vows, is his primary goal. DiCenzo is well-prepared for the task. He is a sports devotee from Duxbury, a tony seaside town a little upwind from Plymouth Rock. In high school, DiCenzo played soccer for the incomparable Frosty Cass; he played hoops and excelled as a crafty lefty and slick first baseman in baseball. He still wishes he had time for hockey. He’d play tiddlywinks in a blizzard.

In college, DiCenzo added football to his repertoire. He joined the St. Lawrence Saints, emerging as an all-conference kicker and punter. How good was he? Suffice it to point out that DiCenzo booted a 49-yard field goal against Union College. His baseball mentor became Dr. Tom Fay, now 36 years at the Saints’ helm.

He is a man in perpetual motion. DiCenzo played football and baseball while earning his bachelor of science degree in 1998. He continued to play football (on a medical waiver) and coached baseball while receiving his first master’s degree in 2000. DiCenzo served as interim head baseball coach while winding up his second master’s in 2002. During his four-year pursuit of two master’s degrees, he taught physical education full time at the local high school. And, on autumnal Sundays, DiCenzo would drive seven hours back home to play football for the semipro Quincy Granite.

That kind of energy and determination impressed Northeastern University where he served five years as a pitching coach and top-flight recruiting coordinator. His skills as a closer became apparent as he signed three young guns who were selected in the Major League draft. In his inaugural season, the Huskies won the first of three straight American East titles (2003, 2004 and 2005) and advanced to the NCAA tournament.

In the summertime, DiCenzo coached in the Cape Cod League for the Falmouth Commodores, helping to develop the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox) and Jensen Lewis (Indians).

At Northeastern, DiCenzo learned how to construct a program as a recruiter with a keen eye for talent, as a practice organizer, as a game strategist.
“I’m recruiting kids for biology, not the Red Sox. I know that, but I want to win now,” he says.

His first move was a wise one. Instead of traveling during an abbreviated fall season, DiCenzo kept his Crusaders at home. He held a series of intra-squad scrimmages.

“That allowed me to evaluate our talent better. You can teach much more during a controlled scrimmage. We weren’t worrying about the other guys, but concentrating on ourselves,” DiCenzo explains.

“Our objective is to challenge and push each other and to create energy amongst ourselves,” he adds.

Turning the program around will take time, DiCenzo concedes. “Right now, my guys are on campus—in the library, in the cafeteria, on the field. I want them to know I care about them and this season. We have a great school in a great league playing in the best college park in New England. We will draw smart athletes with a real work ethic and the winning will come.”

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Horsehide Honchos, continued >>

 

 

Greg Di Cenzo (left), and Brian Claypool
Greg DiCenzo, new Crusader baseball coach (left) and Brian Claypoolnew Crusader softball coach

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