THORNWOOD, N.Y. – James Puma and his coaching staff of college baseball players are the perfect match for the Mount Pleasant Hardball 18-Under summer baseball team – a mix of Mount Pleasant, Thornwood, Pleasantville and Peekskill high school athletes playing in the New York-Connecticut Wood Bat League.
"Having coach Puma and the other coaches who play college baseball helps, because we can learn from players who recently went through high school and know what we need to work on," Hardball first-baseman Louis Marinelli Jr. said. "I'm learning to play first base, footwork, how to handle throws and game situations. Coach gives everyone a chance to play, and that really helps get game experience."
Puma, a senior pitcher at Mount St. Vincent College and a Westlake High graduate, is assisted by Mount St. Vincent teammates Anthony Granitto, Kevin Coogan and Rob DeLuca, who complete the young coach-young team baseball connection.
"I want the kids to have fun while they are learning the game," Puma said. "We can relate to teenage athletes, because we just went through the same experience. The goal is to teach them as much as we can, help them by communicating on their level and have fun. I think we have a great group here."
While Hardball has played to a record of 6-8, Tuesday's 10-9 victory over Pro Swing Pride on a walk-off suicide squeeze bunt by Jeremy Joseph with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning proved that Hardball will use any means to get the job done.
"The pitch was high, but I have to get the bunt down, because the runner is coming home," Joseph said. "I got it down, so I'm happy."
Puma shows his youthful enthusiasm for team bonding by working his players three times a week and mixing in bowling nights, laser tag and game nights to build a strong bond between players and staff.
"I know the practices are important, and we work the kids hard," Puma said. "But doing the social stuff keeps everyone enjoying the summer. I do some things on the field that are a little crazy, but that also keeps the players interested."
Coogan and Granitto, two Bronx natives and seniors at Mount St. Vincent, try to add some balance to the coaching staff.
"We want to help the kids learn the right way to play and to be aware on the field at all times," Coogan said. "As college players, they can see us and know they can have the same goals – to improve and become better players."
For Louis Marinelli Sr., a parent, team scorekeeper and manager, having Puma and his staff coach the local players has been a rewarding experience.
"James is very involved, always here with the kids, and really gets them all playing," Marinelli said. "I enjoy being a part of the team, helping where I can and seeing my son and the other players get experience. James is a great role model."
The Hardball players also include Mike Dragonetti, James Brentano, Mike Sanchez, Vincent Bizzocco, Evan Grossman, Roger Abbate, Phil Cohen, Connor Doherty, Derek Petfield, Chris Puma, Mike Cerrato and Louis Ingrassia.