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Baseball mastermind, beloved coach

Q&A with Tom Caputo

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Everlasting Long Islander and baseball mastermind Tom Caputo grew up in Valley Stream, graduating from Valley Stream Central High School in 1994. Caputo then took his talents to collegiate baseball, serving as the team captain at Hofstra University, alumnus of the Class of 1998. Caputo, who bats left-handed and throws right-handed, spent three seasons playing third base for the Long Island Ducks in the early 2000s and has provided much benevolence in his two-decade career in coaching.

Beloved by all for his bountiful generosity in coaching and giving lessons to a wide variety of age groups at many levels, Caputo was the head coach at Dowling College in Oakdale for numerous years and in 2014 led his club to a 36-win campaign with a .679 winning percentage. The 2014 Dowling Golden Lions had a tremendous run flourishing as the ECC Division runner-up, earning the gratification of being named NCAA Regional Finalists.

Caputo has run programs such as Long Island Sports Academy, Diamond Baseball, and currently serves as the director of program development at Pro Game Athletics located in Bay Shore, simultaneously the overseer of the Long Island Junior Ducks. Since 2019, Caputo has been an assistant coach for St. Joseph’s University. The Golden Eagles of Patchogue is happy to have Caputo as an asset to their staff, especially due to his immense baseball knowledge, genial demeanor, and benignity.

Suffolk County News: What are some of your best memories as a player that stand out the most with Hofstra and the Ducks?

Caputo: It’s just the guys. You’re going to get that answer from any baseball player that you talk to. That’s what sticks out. You can ask me what happened in this game or that game. The memory of that fades, but it’s the guys you played with, the clubhouse you know, and I still have real good friendships with a lot of those guys that I played with there and staying in the baseball world all these years, there are a couple guys that I played with, the Ducks memories are still there. As far as my personal experience with the Ducks, it was good to be there in the beginning of the franchise. They started in 2000. I got there in ‘01. I stretched it out to ‘03; unfortunately, after I left, they won the whole thing in ‘04, but it is what it is. But I still have a real good relationship with their front office, the training staff. We run our camps and stuff at the stadium from time to time. So, it’s been a 20-plus year relationship for me, which is a really special relationship I’ve had.

SCN: Talk about how the game of baseball has changed since your playing days and how that impacts the way you train young players.

Caputo: The analytics has changed every level. It started obviously with the big leagues and it’s trickled down into travel baseball. Eight- and 9-year-olds are doing rhapsodo and hitting trax and exit velo and launch angle, so it’s definitely changed. There’s no way around it. However, the eye test to me is your playing the game that’s in front of you. I know you have charts and books and percentages, but you still need to see what’s there in front of you. There’s one analytic that you can’t measure, and that’s a person’s heart and work ethic and all that stuff. It still at this level has changed, obviously, but at this level and anywhere below varsity, JV, and travel ball, you’re still coaching that individual, regardless of what might be on the chart somewhere.

SCN: Being the entire St. Joseph’s roster consists of local ballplayers, do you see any big-time potential of the current players to potentially make it to the professional level?

Caputo: We have a few athletes. The hard part here is trying to get somebody down here to see them. So, what we try to do is get them out and play some summer ball where they’re thrown into a mix of Division 1, Division 2, and Division 3, and there are a few guys here that have the skill-set that in my personal opinion can play on another level. However, they have to be seen and they have to convince somebody else that’s not with them every day that they can compete on that level.

SCN: In recent times, Long Island has become a plethora for hard-throwing pitchers. Can you discuss why there is more focus around here on pitchers than position players as far as making it to the pros?

Caputo: No matter what level you’re at, pitching is going to be a premium. So even if we go to a showcase or a recruiting event, it’s the arms that you wanna see. When I came through, we had a couple decent pitchers but maybe two or three that threw upper 80s, never anybody in the 90s. And I’ll credit that to the training that’s provided to these kids—they’re not just playing Little League; they’re dedicated throughout the year, so I’m assuming that with the workout program and arm program and velocity programs that they’re building these arms from a younger age and you’re starting to see some of the results of that.

SCN: The last question I want to ask you is what advice would you give to a young kid reading this that wants to play baseball?

Caputo: Work. Work. And just because you’re not the best player at 9, 10 and 11 or 12, 13, or 14 doesn’t mean you can’t develop yourself and be where you wanna become 16, 17 and 18. From a recruiting standpoint, you see these 12- and 13- and 14-year-olds that are the best players on their team and I’m happy for them, but a lot of those times it’s the late bloomer—that kid that bumps 8, 9 miles per hour between junior and senior year or senior and freshman year. A good example of that is John Rizzo over at Adelphi right now. I coached him from when he was 13. He was 70s, low 80s, and all of a sudden 88, 90 senior year and he just set the strikeout record at Adelphi for freshman. You know it’s that late bloomer and just because somebody tells you, you can’t at a certain age doesn’t mean that’s it. If you have a work ethic and you’re willing to put the time, in you can develop yourself later on past 15 or 16. 

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