When it comes to baseball, the Hood College program has barely graduated from toddler status. It’s embarking on its fourth season of existence and has failed to post a winning season in its first three campaigns.
So far this season, though, the Blazers are, well, blazing through the competition — winning their first 13 games heading into a doubleheader today against Messiah College in Florida.
How does a program that seemingly just learned to walk suddenly start sprinting through a baker’s dozen of games unblemished?
Start with a former groundskeeper turned first-year coach and move on to an all-conference outfielder cast aside by another Division 3 program in Maryland.
That’s two leaders – one who has learned the game literally from the ground up and another who came to Hood with a chip on his shoulder and has used it to help carry his teammates to an improbable but tremendous start.
Important field work for Impellittiere
Before arriving in Frederick as an assistant at Hood, first-year Blazers’ head coach Michael Impellittiere spent half a decade picking weeds, watering grass and grooming the infield at Dutchess Stadium, the home of the Hudson Valley Renegades, a Low-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I learned a lot from the Tampa Bay organization,” Impellittiere said. “I picked up on little things while I was just picking weeds. I’d listen to certain things the infield guys were doing and it was really interesting. When the Staten Island Yankees would come in or the Aberdeen IronBirds would come in, I’d hear a couple of things while I was floating around the stadium, and I was always learning.”
Prior to being named head coach, Impellittiere spent two years as an assistant on former Hood head coach Cory Beddick’s staff.
Beddick, who left last summer for Washington College after leading the Blazers to a 20-20 record in 2017, was Hood’s first baseball hire, beating out about 60 other applicants for the job, according to Athletic Director Tom Dickman.
“Our first victory was hiring Cory Beddick as our first head coach,” Dickman said. “I felt that Cory was ready to place his stamp on a program – so why not Hood? He did a great job recruiting not only quality players but also quality assistant coaches.”
Hired in the summer of 2013, Beddick begin immediately recruiting for the Blazers’ inaugural 2015 season. Hood saw improvement in each of Beddick’s three seasons, increasing its win total from 14 to 16 to 20.
“Coach Beddick did a great job recruiting high-caliber players,” Impellettiere said. “I was just around as an assistant. I knew a lot of the guys, and they were familiar with the style of person that I was. It was a really helpful – smooth – transition. We have a special group of guys this year.”
Senior outfielder Cam Esposito is one of the talented players that Beddick recruited and Impellettiere has helped develop.
The left-handed hitter from Columbia, N.J., has become one of Hood’s most consistent players. Heading into this week, Esposito has 164 career hits and a career batting average of .357. He’s also made back-to-back appearances on the Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth’s first team.
Not bad for a guy who was cut from the baseball team as a freshman at McDaniel College.
Something to prove
Thanks to his relationship with Hood first baseman Nick Meyer, however, Esposito gave college baseball another shot at Hood.
The two friends have played together since the fifth grade. Esposito’s father, Tom, coached the two with North Warren Post 258 – an under-19 legion team in Blairstown, N.J.
“Originally, I went to McDaniel College, but I didn’t make the baseball team,” said Esposito, pictured above. “I got put on the practice squad. I had a friend (Meyer) at Hood, so I came and visited and came to one of his games, and I was like, ‘Okay maybe I can play here.’ And then I ended up transferring.”
McDaniel’s doubt in Esposito has motivated him. The uncertainty of joining a first-year program didn’t intimidate Esposito; he wanted to go somewhere he could play and make an impact.
“I was a little aggravated I didn’t make the team (at McDaniel),” Esposito said. “I wanted to come back and show (McDaniel) why I felt like I should be playing for them. That helped motivate me to be a better player – just to prove to them and myself that I am good enough.”
The annual game against McDaniel is one that Esposito circles on his calendar every season. Although Hood has dropped the three previous matchups, Esposito is batting .461 with four runs scored against his former school. He’ll square off one final time against McDaniel on March 28.
“My mindset is different before that game, because they didn’t think I was good enough,” Esposito said. “I get pumped to show them that they made a mistake passing on me. But once the game starts, I just treat it like any other game.”
Esposito takes command of the outfield and leads by example. He’s seen firsthand how much Hood’s program has developed, and he isn’t surprised by Hood’s historic start in 2018.
“We were such a young team, but we’ve progressed so much,” Esposito said. “All of the seniors have gained so much experience. Going forward into our senior year we thought we could be at the top of the food chain.”
The Blazers’ 38-man roster consists of 19 juniors and seniors. Esposito recalls the learning curve he and his teammates faced in their freshman and sophomore seasons.
“We were just trying to figure out what’s going on or how to compete in this conference – it’s a really good conference,” Esposito said. “In the early days coming out of high school, we weren’t used to getting baseballs hit to us by grown men.”
Blazing new ground — and more
Hood is already one win away from matching its win total from the inaugural 2015 season. And the program is receiving national attention now. The Blazers received seven votes in the American Baseball Coaches Association/Collegiate Baseball NCAA Division 3 Baseball Poll this week. It’s the first time Hood Baseball has garnered votes in the poll.
However, Impellettiere and Esposito won’t be satisfied with a little recognition, or even completing the school’s first winning season.
“I expect the most out of these guys,” Impellettiere said. “I hold them accountable for certain actions and they understand exactly what I’m looking for on the field.”
The Blazers are hoping for their first playoff appearance in program history, but the dream doesn’t stop there. When asked to describe a dream ending to his senior season, Esposito summed it up in five words.
“Dogpile on the pitcher’s mound.”
BaltimoreBaseball.com’s Top Performers of the Week
Richard Miller, INF, Towson University
Junior/East Amherst, N.Y./Bats/Throws: L/R
In two games against Ohio University and Delaware State University, Miller went 7-for-9 with eight RBIs. Despite a two-run home run in the ninth inning by Miller, Towson fell 10-9 to Ohio. Miller carried his hot bat into the Tigers’ next game versus Delaware State. He had five RBIs including a grand slam in Towson’s 12-2 victory.
Tommy Goodridge, RHP, U.S. Naval Academy
Freshman/San Diego, Calif.
Goodridge was named Patriot League Rookie of the Week following his outing versus University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. In his second collegiate start, Goodridge threw 4 1/3 innings of perfect baseball. Ultimately, he pitched seven innings, allowing three hits and one run. Goodridge struck out four in Navy’s 16-1 victory.
Nick Popolizio, RHP, Washington College
In two relief appearances last week, Popolizio did not allow a single baserunner. He struck out one batter, earning a win against Western Connecticut University. Popolizio has yet to allow an earned run this season in eight total innings across five relief appearances. He has retired the last 16 batters he has faced.
In a recent matchup versus the University of Scranton, Hood had 11 walks. Senior third baseman Brooks Warrenfeltz walked five times, setting a school record. … The University of Maryland is mourning the loss of six-year-old Mason Mazzuca. Mason lost his battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The Terps signed Mason in October through Team IMPACT – an organization that matches children facing serious or chronic illnesses with college programs. … Towson University announced the signing of Jack McCoy as an honorary member of the baseball team. McCoy, 21, is currently in the Postsecondary Functional Academic Learning Support (PSFALS) Program and will be graduating in the spring. Towson head coach Matt Tyner held a press conference inside the Tigers’ locker room to announce the signing. … UMBC beat Towson, 6-4, Wednesday thanks to a five-run, ninth-inning rally that was boosted by three Towson errors.
Matchup to watch
Hood looks to carry its win streak into conference play against Messiah College. The teams are scheduled to meet in Fort Pierce, Fla. for three games, starting today.