There’s never a dull moment when it comes to a trip to Immaculate Heart Academy.
The school’s highly successful softball coach. Anthony Larezza, is a whirlwind, shagging down foul balls, taking the occasional phone call, teaching his players about history and quoting famous lines from classic movies and television shows. (Usually ‘The Godfather’ or the ‘Sopranos’).
IHA generally hosts the Bergen County Tournament softball quarterfinal round, and today was no exception. Larezza’s team, the defending champion, played the first of four games, so the coach had the rest of the day to oversee the tournament as a site director, as well as meet and greet members of the media, players parents and, of course, the legendary Ed Bates.
Larezza recalls a day at the IHA Tournament a while back, when an amateur umpire handed me a softball and said to tell Anthony, ‘make sure Anthony throws this ball out. This ball is no good. I’m a certified ump. I know these things.”
I relayed the message to Larezza, who smiled, looked at me and said about the ump, “Who’s he, Nestor Chylak?”, referring to the legendary Major League umpire.
The ‘Memorial Day’ speech always comes up. It goes back to a IHA game against Livingston in early April of 2010. The Lancers played Larezza’s team in the annual IHA Tournament, and had won a 1-0 decision.
“(Jess) Peslak didn’t even pitch that day for Livingston,” Larezza recalled of Livingston’s now-legendary hurler who was a freshman that season. “But she beat us at the plate by hitting a RBI single and we lost 1-0.”
Bear in mind, IHA had won the 2009 state championship a year earlier and had finished as the state’s top ranked team. So when it lost an early season game to a good Livingston squad the following spring, Larezza wanted to send his team a message.
He carried on a conversation with a former IHA player, in clear earshot of a few current players, who were sitting a little to the left of home plate.
“It’s going to be one of those seasons,” Larezza said (and I’m paraphrasing) to the former player. “These kids don’t care. They won a championship last year, (so) let’s take this season off, right? We’ll go 22-5 and our season is over by Memorial Day weekend. Let’s go down the shore. Works for me. Play the younger kids now. Memorial Day is coming, right? Season’s over.”
Anyway, this year’s visit brought about a comparison to a former major league pitcher, when he saw someone at the game wearing a baseball jacket.
“Who’s he, Jerry Ruess?” Larezza said.
Larezza couldn’t believe he actually remembered Jerry Reuss, and quickly, the conversation sparked a debate on how good Reuss was. When told that the former Cardinals, Astros, Dodgers and Pirates pitcher won over 200 major league games, and had a career era of 3.64, Larezza was impressed.
“Hall of Fame numbers to me,” he said.
Larezza then talked about a chicken or a pig, and which animal analogy worked better for his players when it came to team work and sacrifice.
“When producing a dish made of ham and eggs, the pig provides the ham,” Larezza said. “That requires (the pig’s) sacrifice, and the chicken provides the eggs, which are easy for the chicken to produce. The pig is really committed in that dish while the chicken is only involved, yet both are needed to produce the dish.
“After the kids heard it, they all wanted to be the pig.”
Horse racing analogies always come up. I call his pitcher, Stef Thomas, Affirmed, because she’s a stud player. Larezza likes to talk about a horse named ‘Upset’ and how that horse once defeated the great Man O’War in a 1919 race.
“That’s where the term ‘upset’ came from in sports,” Larezza said.
When a rain delay occurred in the tournament today, Larezza saw it as a good opportunity for the IHA concession stand to make an extra sale, or three.
“Always thinking sales,” he said. “That’s capitalism, right? Made our country great.”
Always the politician, Larezza thanks a local writer for “the great interviews”, even though he admits the writer asked and answered the questions, not giving the coach much of a chance to respond.
When the umpire thought he heard thunder, necessitating an additional 30 minute delay in a quarterfinal game today, Larezza quickly tried to explain that it wasn’t thunder, and that he knows about thunder.
But that didn’t work. The game was postponed until Sunday.
Just another day at IHA.