May 27, 2020

With PHS Baseball Creating Positive Culture, Core of Seniors Were Primed for Special Finale

THE RIGHT STUFF: Princeton High baseball player Jason Ramirez fires a pitch in a 2019 game. Senior Ramirez had assumed a leadership role for PHS this season, being selected as a tri-captain along with classmates Judd Petrone and Gautam Chawla. The trio has stepped up to keep the Tiger players on the same page after the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Heading into his second season at the helm of the Princeton High baseball team, Dom Capuano liked the vibe around the squad.

“We had 45 people try out and we had cuts; while making cuts is never fun, it is good that the program is growing,” said PHS head coach Capuano, who guided the Tigers to a 9-13 record in 2019 as it won six of its last eight games and advanced to the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals.

“We were excited. We lost some stuff from last year but I don’t think the team makeup was going to be that much different.”

Capuano credited his group of seniors — Jason Ramirez, Judd Petrone, Gautam Chawla, Brian Frost, Aidan Regan, Enoch Zeng, and Connor Parish — with setting a positive tone.

“I didn’t take over until basically almost February last year so there wasn’t the ability for those seniors to work in what we are trying to do now with the culture,” said Capuano.

“With this group of seniors, especially, the captains (Ramirez, Petrone, and Chawla) ran with it, leading the workouts and everything. They did an excellent job.”

A week into the preseason, the schools were closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and virtual learning began. By early May, the spring sports season was formally canceled. Despite working from home, the seniors continued to lead.

“I would put our weekly workouts and a whole practice plan for them day by day and the captains would facilitate that,” said Capuano.

“I gave them their own little subgroups of the team. Each of them had four or five kids to communicate with and they did a great job of keeping everybody together and going over what was expected every day.”

With no games on the horizon, Capuano has been concentrating on honing his players’ psychological approach to the game.

“I am focusing on the mental aspect of teaching them and how reflection is going to play a big part, especially for a game like baseball where you have the time to reflect from at bat to at bat or inning to inning,” said Capuano.

“We are trying to do that. They send me videos of what they are doing now so I can watch them and provide them feedback by e-mail. It has turned more into that. You have had four weeks of me giving you exactly what to do so now it is take what you know you need to work on and reflect on it and we will talk about it.”

In reflecting on the lost season, Capuano rues what might have been with his seniors leading the way.

“This is a group that you really like to be around, they are very fun to coach,” said Capuano, noting that some of the seniors are looking to play at the college level with Chawla having committed to play at Cal Tech while Ramirez is considering walking on at Princeton University, Regan at Hamilton College, and Zeng at Rutgers.

“When we took over last year, there was this vision of what our team culture could become and the whole senior class was really embodying that. I miss out on the opportunity to watch that unfold but also our roster has only three juniors and then seven sophomores. It would have been huge to have those sophomores learn from the seniors for a year and then take control next year where they are upperclassmen.”

Capuano has missed
being on the diamond with his players. “I didn’t realize how much I really love coaching until you take it away for two-three weeks and I am just jonesing to get out on the field,” said Capuano.

“This was my first full year where I was able to do August preseason workouts and I was able to really take control. That being said, it is definitely important that we didn’t have the season to keep everyone safe.”

In discussing the future with his returning players, Capuano is emphasizing the importance of making the most of every moment.

“Once it was officially canceled, I was talking to the juniors and sophomores and I said now we can all see firsthand how quickly this can be taken away from us,” said Capuano.

“I am trying to convey the message that it is hard to train right now at home but we still need to continue to do that and work towards next year. Everybody just lost a season so even though you still get another one, you lost that year of growth which is important. So don’t take this for granted and appreciate it because the seniors just lost their last season.”