A new era of Mattituck High School baseball — the first day of the Dan O’Sullivan era — began Monday in splendid sunshine and calm weather that saw temperatures reach the 60s.
Mother Nature isn’t always so accommodating this time of year.
“Last year, I recall, it was raining,” junior Connor Fox said of the first official practice day. “The year before that it was snowing. I don’t think it ever was above 40” degrees.
The Tuckers ushered in the unofficial arrival of spring with their first preseason practice under the guidance of O’Sullivan, the team’s third head coach in as many years. O’Sullivan, 27, takes over from Gene Rochler, who filled in last year after Steve DeCaro’s 16-year run came to an end.
One could see the excitement in O’Sullivan’s eyes and hear the enthusiasm in his voice. “It’s awesome,” he said after throwing countless pitches in batting practice and joking that his arm might fall off. “We’ve been planning workouts and stuff since like January.”
O’Sullivan is familiar with the players, having served as Mattituck’s junior varsity coach the past two years (the JV team went 13-3 last season). The two years before that he was the Center Moriches JV coach.
A product of Eastport-South Manor High School, O’Sullivan’s high school baseball career was cut short by a case of mononucleosis that cost him his entire junior season, and the removal of his tonsils, forcing him to miss the first month of his senior season.
O’Sullivan worked with the Center Moriches Battlecats, a club that played in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League in 2012 and 2013 and was owned by his father-in-law. He said he likes to think of himself as a player’s coach who his players can feel free to talk to. “I always liked to be a player’s coach,” he said. “You hear that in the major leagues. The kids, I feel, they like to come to me, they have questions, playing time, strategy, whatever they need. I like to be able to have those conversations with them, of course being firm when you have to be, but just for them to know that they can come to me, whether it’s school-related, outside of baseball.”
Players have nice words to say about him.
“He’s a great coach,” junior Nate Demchak said. “Yeah, he’s really good with all the players. He understands us. He gives us a lot of freedom, but he also knows what he’s doing.”
Fox, who like Demchak played for O’Sullivan at the JV level, said: “He’s really fun. He gets to know us real well. He just understands the game of baseball real well and he’s able to have fun with us while at the same time teaching us the game.”
What does O’Sullivan ask of his players?
“The guys that are here know the game,” he said. “I just want to see them work hard, try their best. We’ve been putting in the work … We’re in a gauntlet of a league.”
Mattituck went 17-8 last year and was swept in two games by Center Moriches in the Suffolk County Class B finals. The Tuckers have been bumped up from League VIII to League VII, where they will tangle with Bayport-Blue Point, Elwood/John Glenn, Mount Sinai, Center Moriches, Babylon and Southampton. O’Sullivan is one of four new head coaches in the league. “It’s going to be an infusion of young blood now,” he cracked.
O’Sullivan said the biggest difference in going from being the JV coach to the head of the program is the paperwork. “When you’re on the field, it’s all the same,” he said. “You’re hanging out with the guys.”
O’Sullivan will be helped by assistant coach Jim Finnican, who he said brings a “wealth of knowledge,” and the new JV coach, former Mattituck player Mike Onufrak.
The Tuckers worked on drills, baserunning and hitting, both on the field and in the team’s new outdoor batting cage. Even Mattituck athletic director Gregg Wormuth, a former college baseball player, took some hacks during batting practice, sending some balls warning-track distance.
O’Sullivan indicated it was an excellent start to the team’s preparation for its season opener March 31 at Glenn.
He said, “Everything’s been great so far.”