The LiferMay 31, 2023 01:31PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
In the United States, there is a general line of regional demarcation that separates early-season baseball games played in moderate temperatures from those that get underway in a manner that turns a ballpark into a wind-blown icebox.
Delaware falls in the latter category.
As Delaware Blue Hens’ starter Bryce Greenly begins his warm-up tosses at Bob Hannah Stadium in Newark on the afternoon of March 31 against the College of Charleston, he does so before dozens of fans huddled in the Nanook of the North fashion of overcoats and blankets, who come prepared to see baseball through fabric.
Growing up in a dugout
When Johnny Ray was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 31, 1981 for Phil Garner, he became the teams’ second baseman for the next six-and-a-half seasons.
When measured purely by statistical analysis, there was very little about Ray’s career that could be categorized as spectacular. At a time when baseball was becoming known less for its small ball strategy and more for its bombastic home runs (“Chicks dig the long ball”), the switch-hitter’s achievements on the diamond seemed carved from the culture of discipline, not from a Madison Avenue marketing campaign.
When he was a kid growing up in DuBois, Pennsylvania – about 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh -- Greg Mamula carried one of Ray’s baseball cards in the back pocket of his Little League uniform. The connection and similarities to the ballplayer were natural: Mamula, like Ray, was a second baseman and also relatively small in stature. Like Ray, Mamaula relied heavily on using the lost artifacts of the game: getting on base, putting the bat on the ball, hitting behind the runner and playing the field at a level of consistency that earned few headlines but protected leads and saved games.
DuBois was also where Mamula learned the game under the watchful eye of his father Larry, a long-time high school baseball coach. In the shadow of the Mamula family house, the boy would field ground ball after ground ball his father hit to him, and then join Larry at the high school, maintaining the high school’s field and serving as the team’s batboy.
“From that early age, I believed I was destined to do something in baseball, and by the time I was about ten, I had grown up in a dugout and wanted do nothing but play baseball,” Mamula said. “I was fortunate that I grew up in a generation where we still played wiffleball in the backyard and pick-up football and basketball and rode bikes, but baseball was always my favorite.”
For Mamula, who began his first season as the new head baseball coach at the University of Delaware this season, his love of baseball has been a nearly life-long journey that took him from the ballfield at DuBois Area Senior High School to a four-year career at St. Bonaventure and then over the last two decades through the collegiate coaching ranks, with stops at Division II and Division I schools.
After beginning his coaching career as an assistant coach at Division II Shippensburg University from 1999-2001, Mamula served as an assistant coach at Delaware under long-time head coach Jim Sherman from 2002-06. During his five recruiting classes at UD, Mamula helped recruit 20 All-Conference players, two All-Americans, and saw 13 of his recruits later selected in the MLB Draft. He got his first head coaching job at West Chester University from 2007-09, where he guided the Golden Rams to an average 41 wins per season, was named PSAC East Coach of the Year and Atlantic Region Coach of the Year in 2009, when WCU reached the D-II College World Series and finished the year ranked seventh in the nation.
After six years at the University of Cincinnati from 2010 to 2013, Mamula spent seven years at Florida Atlantic University (2016 to 2022), where during his tenure he saw the teams reach the NCAA Regional tournament three times and was named the 2019 Conference USA Assistant Coach of the Year.
‘Delaware Baseball is surely in good hands’
“I had waited a long time for the opportunity to be a head coach again,” Mamula said. “When I made the decision to leave West Chester after three seasons to become an assistant at Cincinnati, I kept believing that I would get an opportunity not only to be a Division I head coach, but a successful one.”
“We are extremely excited to have Greg join Delaware as our next head baseball coach,” said Chrissi Rawak, UD’s director of Athletics and Recreation Services. “He is a proven winner and a talented recruiter with strong connections to the East Coast. Equally as important, he is a terrific person and has been instrumental in developing young men in the classroom and on the field.”
“I'm very excited for Greg Mamula to be the next head coach of Delaware Baseball,” Sherman said of Mamula. “He is extremely hard-working and as committed a coach as I've ever had. Greg’s baseball knowledge is outstanding and he’s the complete package. He has a very calming personality and is a real players’ type of coach.
“Delaware Baseball is surely in good hands.”
Dominant and crafty, Greenly has not surrendered a single hit to Charleston over the first four innings, while being the beneficiary of offensive support. Second baseman Dan Covino triples in the first and scores on Greenly’s sacrifice fly, and right fielder Brett Lesher crushes a three-run homer to left in the third that gives Greenly a 4-0 cushion. In the stands, behind parkas and glove-cupped hands, fans offer encouragement and strategy to the Blue Hen players and refer to them by their first names, as if they are members of the same family.
A culture of winning
Over the last 50 years of Blue Hens baseball, the program has become known for its many conference championships, its post-season appearances in the NCAA tournament, for the number of players (more than 80) who have been drafted by Major League teams and by the number of former Blue Hens (more than one dozen) who have played – and continue to play -- at the Major League level. Much the way the school’s football program was shaped and molded by the triumphant legacy begun by coaches Bill Murray, David Nelson and “Tubby” Raymond, the modern Blue Hen baseball program was constructed by head coaches Bob Hannah (1965-2000) and Sherman (2000-2022).
For most of the last decade, however, the program has hovered around the .500 mark and often finished in the middle of the pack in the Colonial Athletic Association.
It’s a fixable problem, Mamula said, pointing to two remedies: effective recruiting and finding players who truly love to play baseball.
“Winning breeds winning and confidence breeds confidence,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to dig deeper and find those players who wish to be a part of a winning program. I am trying to cultivate a culture of winning here, and with my coaches, determine a method of restoring a program that has been relatively mediocre over the last several seasons.
“That’s the challenge – to take a group of players who are used to playing nothing better than .500 baseball and encouraging them to create a championship-level program.”
Over the long course of his collegiate coaching career, Mamula has had only one season without baseball. Following the 2015 season, Mamula and several coaches were terminated from the University of Cincinnati baseball program after the Bearcats compiled a 15-41 record. During that year away from the game, he asked frequently asked himself if the life he had chosen for himself when he was ten years old was truly what he wanted.
“I asked myself if I was really as passionate about the game as I thought I was, but after a year away, I was hungrier than ever to get back to the game,” he said. “Baseball has always been my passion, and nothing has ever distracted me from that love, and college baseball for me is like a drug and that is what brings me back to the University of Delaware – to embark on a constant challenge to see how good we as a program can get.”
Greenly departs after five innings of one-run pitching, as Mamula hands the ball to reliever Eli Atiya, who surrenders a solo homer in the eighth and little else. With one away in the sixth, Andrew Amato and Lesher draw walks, and both come around to score on a double by JJ Freeman, who then scores on a single by Covino to give the Blue Hens a 7-1 lead. Delaware tacks on three more runs in the eight for a 10-2 victory, moving their overall record to 11-14. On April 2, the team completes a three-game sweep of Charleston on a walk-off, bases-loaded single by pinch-hitter Eric Ludman. After the game, Mamula tells a reporter, “Our focus has been on getting better and growing as a baseball team and I think you’re seeing the signs of that. We’ve got a lot of guys who are pitching better and playing really good baseball and growing as a baseball team.”
To learn more about the University of Delaware baseball program, visit https://bluehens.com/sports/baseball.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].