College is an investment for most. Part of being a successful college program is to show recruits what you offer for their best future investment.
Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all spring college sports came to an abrupt end. Many athletes and coaches across the nation had to juggle the different emotions, including heartbreak and sorrow. While there may be bigger things going on in the world than sports, the toll that this has taken on college athletics, including Marist baseball, is still there.
Marist baseball has thrived on their ability to recruit talent and develop within their system. Like many Division Ⅰ programs during this time, it has become much harder to go out and find the best future recruiting classes as possible.
Since high schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, head coach Chris Tracz acknowledged that this may impact future rosters, specifically the classes of 2021 and 2022. “The first step is to figure out who will come back and what the roster will look like. We are going to take care of the guys in our program, and if that impacts recruiting that’s fine,” said Tracz.
While Tracz may be prioritizing the guys in his program, he did explain, “If we are 100 percent and they are 100 percent we will move forward.” Marist baseball currently has eight seniors on the team eligible to graduate, which would bring their college careers to an end.
The Red Foxes recruit heavily in the northeast region, leaning towards New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania as their heavy hitters. This will be no different in the future as Marist has brought over Andrew Pezzuto who spent the past two years at Iona College, to serve as an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator. Pezzuto, a New York native, has established many local connections, a big reason why Marist decided to bring him over.
In comparison to other DivisionⅠ programs, Marist’s recruiting staff is on a much smaller scale. Led by Tracz, Pezzuto, and assistant coach Mike Coss, all three spend the entire year searching for athletes to invest in. But like nearly everyone, Tracz and his staff have not been in a situation like this before. While some students are sending recent videos in, there are others with the latest film on them from a year ago, posing certain challenges. “You just try and do your best. The hardest part is pitching. You try not to rush things. Being patient and understanding there are limitations,” said Tracz.
There are several different things they assess in a player, but the two most important on the field, according to Tracz, are athleticism and competitive nature. On film, the athleticism may jump off the screen, but sometimes that competitive nature can be difficult to see. This is why they rely on physically watching players; something not possible at this moment. In terms of off the field traits, the biggest is academics.
Campus visits are incredibly important to Tracz and his staff. “We get to show them who Marist is and they get to show us who they are,” said Tracz. Since college visits cannot be held during this time, it makes it even more challenging to show recruits who Marist is.
However, the technological evolution over the last twenty years can serve some purpose during this hiatus. Before coaching at Marist, Tracz played baseball for the Red Foxes from 2001 to 2005. There are two big differences since that time when it comes to recruiting: communication and timing. When Tracz was being recruited by Marist cell phones weren’t what they are today.
Typically athletes will send videos and reach out via email to Tracz and his staff as a way to introduce themselves, but it is those next steps during the process where there is a massive roadblock standing in the way. When Tracz decided he wanted to commit to Marist it was the last weekend of October of his senior year of high school. Today athletes are committing a year or two earlier. While still unknown how, it is expected that the pandemic will have some sort of impact on commitments.
If Marist baseball is unable to secure the talent they want, there is a great deal of optimism from the coaching staff, down to the players on the success of future rosters. In what was a shortened season for Marist, the team went 3-9 in 12 games, a record not very appealing to the eye. From February 28 to March 1, the team traveled to Virginia to take on Liberty in a three-game series. During this time the team didn’t make much of the virus, according to junior infielder Robbie Armitage. It wasn’t until a week later when they traveled to Tennessee when they noticed it getting really bad and some sort of postponement was on the horizon. What they didn’t expect was a season cancelation. Armitage was disappointed about the season coming to an end stating, “I think we had a really good team. Our record didn’t really reflect who we were and offensively we were starting to come together.”
As every player is granted an extra year of eligibility, Marist is expected to have a large roster next year, similar to many other schools. Even though this year’s freshman class will be considered sophomores next year academically, when it comes to athletics they will still be considered freshman due to the loss of this season. Add that on to the additional freshman coming in and you may be looking at a team with 35 men on it, the maximum number of players allowed on a Division I baseball roster.
While athletes don’t need to be in baseball shape right now, guys like Robbie Armitage and junior catcher, Gene Napolitano haven’t let this stop them from playing the game they love. Armitage, whose twin, Reece, is also on the team, has been able to go out and throw with his brother as well as do home workouts together. Supplied by the coaching staff, everyone was given home workouts during this time whether that may be lifting weights, running, or bodyweight exercises. Like Armitage, Napolitano has been lifting weights and trying to stay active, even if it is limited.
The thought of next season has geared up a lot of excitement for Armitage, the team’s leading run producer this season. Not because of this season’s cancelation; not because he’s eligible for graduation; not because it may potentially be the last time he shares the field with his twin brother; but because of the team’s potential with an expanded roster. “With so many guys you are going to see a lot of one-on-one battles trying to win spots, which is only going to make us better as a team.”
Both Armitage and Napolitano’s takeaway from this experience: don’t take anything for granted.
Edited by Lily Caffrey-Levine
Photo by Marist Athletics