The bus ride from the South Bronx to Mattituck was two hours long, but it might as well have been a world away.
It would be hard to find two more disparate places than the concrete jungle that is the Bronx and the rural open spaces of Mattituck. Pat Claire might understand that better than most people, given his connections to both locations.
Claire, who was an all-county shortstop for the Mattituck High School baseball team before graduating in 2006, coaches the Samuel Gompers High School baseball team. The school is located a couple of miles from Yankee Stadium.
Last Thursday Claire brought his team to his alma mater to practice with and scrimmage the Tuckers. It was an experience for both teams — players and coaches.
Claire, 28, said the visit back triggered “a lot of good memories. The things that you learn in the Mattituck baseball program, you learn work ethic and you learn how to be a leader and you learn the intangibles that make you successful in life.”
Claire, in his second year coaching the team, said his entire squad is Hispanic, but all his players understand English.
“The year before I took over, they won maybe two games and I think one of them was a forfeit, so coming back I knew it was going to be a little bit of a struggle,” he said. “We went 6 and 9 [in 2016], so we got better … missed the playoffs by a couple of games.”
The Panthers, who play in the PSAL A Division, split their first four games this season.
One of the biggest challenges for Gompers is practice time. Claire said the Panthers share a field with other schools. “It’s a struggle every single day to get practice,” he said. “We’ll go out to practice and there’ll be two teams trying to practice and there’s only so much that you can do.”
“It’s definitely challenging,” he continued. “A lot of the things that we take for granted here, you work with things in the South Bronx that you would never really imagine.”
Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro said he clearly recalls the time Claire came in as a relief pitcher and saved a game against Pierson/Bridgehampton for DeCaro’s first county championship in 2005.
“He’s the same exact Pat that I remember,” DeCaro said. “I don’t think Pat has changed too much, to me at least.”
Claire, however, has noticed a mellower DeCaro.
“I’m not going to lie,” Claire said. “I told one of the players, ‘Is he always this nice? Because I remember a lot more yelling.’ ”
• These arms come with bats
The pitching has been everything it was cracked up to be for Southold. What has been a pleasant surprise for coach Mike Carver, however, has been the offensive production. The First Settlers are getting plenty of it.
Heading into this week’s games, Southold had outscored the opposition, 96-6.
That’s right, 96-6!
No wonder the team’s overall and League IX record was 9-0.
“Our hitting has been very good,” Carver said. “Obviously, we’ve been scoring a lot of runs. We’ve been hitting one through nine.”
The top five batters in Southold’s order — Pat McFarland, Luke Hansen, Billy Burns, Dylan Clausen and Doug Fiedler — have been particularly consistent.
And if that isn’t enough, Southold’s three starting pitchers have been light’s out. Through nine games, Clausen (3-0), Hansen (3-0) and McFarland (2-0) all had ERAs well under 2.00.
Southold had trailed only once this season, for a half-inning against Pierson/Bridgehampton, and was one win shy of sealing a playoff spot for the 15th time in 17 years. The First Settlers are bidding for a third straight league championship.
“All three of our pitchers are number ones,” Carver said. “It’s definitely a one, two, three punch, with some bats behind them.”
• Sage is still a believer
Don’t count Greenport out of the playoff chase just yet, said coach Mike Sage.
At the same time, Sage said the Porters have to right their ship and do so quickly because time is running short.
Greenport was 1-6 overall and in League IX heading into this week. A suspended game against Stony Brook (with the score tied at 6-6 after seven innings) remains to be completed.
To reach the postseason, the Porters must buckle down, though.
“We got to start soon,” Sage said. “We have a little wiggle room, but not much. We have to start closing out games.”
Sage said he has been getting good pitching from Jake Skrezec, Jordan Fonseca, Jack Webster and Tommy Tsaveras, but the defense and run support has not been what it needs to be.
“We need to hit more for our pitchers and we really need to stop making silly errors,” Sage said. “We make one or two silly errors a game and that’s really costing us.”
In order to reach the playoffs, Greenport would need to win nine of its final 13 games. That’s a tall order, but Sage is still a believer.
“It looks bad for us right now but I’ll go on the record and tell you I don’t think we played our best yet,” he said. “Our best is yet to come. All things being equal, we still have a shot to make a run. I still think we can surprise some people.”
Photo caption: Samuel Gompers coach Pat Claire shakes hands with Mattituck coach Steve DeCaro following last Thursday’s scrimmage. (Bob Liepa)