Thursday, June 24, 2021

Sports Person of the Week

Mazzaro Makes His Mark on the Mound


Senior captain JJ Mazzaro is sporting a record of 4-0 on the pitcher’s mound for the North Haven baseball team this spring. Photo courtesy of JJ Mazzaro

Senior captain JJ Mazzaro is sporting a record of 4-0 on the pitcher’s mound for the North Haven baseball team this spring. (Photo courtesy of JJ Mazzaro)

JJ Mazzaro found his home on the mound while growing up as a baseball player in North Haven. JJ is currently leading the North Haven baseball team as a senior captain pitcher and will continue doing what he loves when he joins the squad at Castleton University in Vermont following high school.

JJ began started playing baseball in the Max Sinoway league when he was four and immediately took a liking to the sport. JJ continued in Sinoway until he joined the AAU circuit at age 12, competing for teams such as Northeast Clutch and DiamondZone. When he was 14, JJ joined North Haven’s American Legion program.

By playing so much baseball throughout his youth, JJ has learned a lot about the game and formed many connections with people who are still his friends to this day.

“Playing AAU ball, I got to meet more kids out of town and grew more friendships,” JJ says. “I had friends on top of friends and met a lot of new people. I learned a lot of new things.”

JJ started pitching as soon as he was eligible. JJ felt a spark when he was on the hill and always wanted to be out there. A right-hander, JJ has exclusively been a pitcher for North Haven since his sophomore season.

“As soon as I was out of coach-pitch, I was a pitcher. I loved it. It just stuck with me,” JJ says. “Every game I was available, I would pitch. I loved it so much. I wanted to throw every day. I wanted to pitch every day.”

In his first year of high school, JJ joined the North Haven High School baseball program as both a pitcher and a utility man, playing for then-freshman coach Mike Proto. JJ’s first season showed him what the program was all about and what he needed to do to make it to the varsity level in Head Coach Bob DeMayo’s club.

“It was a great experience. I pitched and played anywhere they needed me to. It’s such a different experience, especially at North Haven,” says JJ. “It started with Coach Proto and then working my way up to Coach DeMayo. It’s different than any other baseball I’ve played. At high school, they call every pitch. You play their game, but they know what they’re doing.”

Heading into his sophomore season, JJ attended North Haven’s tryouts, and Coach DeMayo was impressed with what he saw from him. DeMayo walked up to JJ and asked him if he considered himself a pitcher. When JJ said that he did, DeMayo knew that the mound was where JJ was going to make his mark for North Haven.

JJ got the start in North Haven’s second game of the season and pitched four innings as the team earned an 11-4 victory over East Haven. It was a surreal feeling for JJ to take the ball for the varsity squad as a sophomore, but after giving up a few early hits, he settled down and began to find his groove.

“Coming into the game, I never thought I was going to start. I was just a sophomore, and our ace had thrown a complete game the game before. Who am I? I’m just a sophomore,” JJ says. “[DeMayo] called me and, like every kid getting their first start, you’re a little nervous. After I got the first hit out, it wasn’t that bad. The next kid hit one off the fence. I realized it was real. It was a great win and a great start to my varsity career.”

After seeing his junior season get canceled due to COVID-19, JJ returned for his senior year as North Haven’s Opening Day pitcher and earned the win in an 8-3 victory versus Guilford. JJ has picked up three more wins since then to put his record at 4-0 on the season. JJ feels proud that his dedication to improving his pitching skills is paying dividends as a senior.

“Freshman year, I had a decent fastball, and I would throw my curveball now and then. I realized that when I got called up to the varsity squad, I was going to have to get a bit more command of my pitches and work on my location a lot more,” JJ says. “The coaching staff helped me a lot with that. I work on it all the time. It has really helped me develop.”

Coach DeMayo saw JJ’s potential when JJ was a sophomore two years ago. As JJ has continued through the program, DeMayo says that he’s become an anchor for North Haven’s pitching staff, while providing excellent leadership for the team.

“JJ joined the starting rotation his sophomore season, and you could see his potential come along as he won a couple games for us. He is a captain this year and has been phenomenal in terms of leadership, especially in this crazy situation,” says DeMayo. “JJ can throw two pitches for strikes and hit spots. He doesn’t back down to anybody.

“He’s a fun kid and a good leader.,” DeMayo adds. “He is a typical North Haven baseball player.”

While returning to his role as a starting pitcher, JJ took on a new title as a captain in his senior season. JJ is currently serving as a captain alongside fellow Cole Zalegowski, and they are the only two seniors on the team. JJ idolized North Haven’s captains during his sophomore year and now feels honored to be the one holding that role.

“It’s crazy. I looked up to my captains when I was a sophomore, and it’s crazy to think that I’m in their shoes,” says JJ. “It’s a really good feeling.”

JJ gained some experience as a captain by leading the North Haven boys’ basketball team in that capacity this winter. JJ started playing basketball when he was six and feels that his experience in both sports has played a huge part in his progression as an overall athlete.

“In basketball, you’re always running. It helps keep my stamina up when I’m on the mound. It helps me with my legs,” JJ says. “Baseball is all about concentration and focus. It helps me focus on the basketball court if we’re running plays or I’m on defense.”

After he graduates from North Haven, JJ will attend Castleton University to major in business and compete for the school’s baseball team. With plenty of innings under his belt, JJ says that baseball has taught him many valuable life skills that go far beyond balls and strikes.

“Baseball has helped me in life, as well. It’s not just about being a player. It helps with a lot of life skills like communication,” JJ says. “Whether you’re talking to your coach or talking to your boss about something, I got a lot of that from baseball.”

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