Poly Prep Baseball: Specialization and Success

Poly Prep’s baseball team has been exceptional for over a century, but more recently, the team has been taken to another level.


TJ Iannelli, Contributing Writer

The Poly Prep Blue Devils have started out their 2023 season 3-0, but this winning way isn’t new. On April 27th, 1911, an article from the New York Times said “The Poly Prep baseball team defeated the DeWitt Clinton High School nine in a fast and one-sided game yesterday afternoon on the Poly Prep field in Brooklyn by the score of 7 to 2.” 


This success continued four and a half decades later, the same year the New York Yankees secured their 17th World Series. On May 24th, 1956, another article from the New York Times read, “Poly Prep won the Ivy Prep League baseball championship by defeating Horace Mann 8-0.”


Some might argue that the team is in its best form ever today. On December 9th, 2021, the New York Post published, “The Blue Devils continue to set the standard on the diamond under coach Matt Roventini. Poly has won 13 straight Ivy League titles and nine NYSAIS state crowns.”


This status has been elevated through new facilities and more challenging tournaments. Including the newest addition; The Matt Roventini Field, a large and costly addition to Poly Prep’s campus. 


Although mostly consistent, this success has not come without parallel lows. There was even the 2004 season, where the team only won three games. The team’s recent glory has brought much attention to Poly’s athletics, with some students stating that their main reason for coming to Poly was baseball. How did Poly become the baseball destination, and more importantly, what has kept the team so consistently good?


One of The Best:

Starting about 50 years ago, Athletic Coach Michael Junsch, former Poly Prep baseball player and 1971 graduate, describes his team’s success from the early 1970s. “As far as everything [went], we could play anybody in the city, public, or Catholic… We were definitely the premier team in the Ivy League for many years.” The Poly Prep baseball team went 14-7 in 1971, only losing inter-league games. The team also won the Ivy League Championship against Riverdale that year, the most prestigious trophy the team could get at the time. Furthermore, Junsch led the team in hitting and stolen bases, and he was first-team all-league that year. 


Junsch attributes much of the team’s success to his coach, Harlow Parker. “When the Athletic Director is your coach, right? We played a game; it snowed on Easter Sunday a lot. Monday afternoon, we played, and I think the Mets didn’t. Our grounds crew got the fields ready,” said Junsch. 


This support was seen in the supplies of the team as well, “The Pittsburgh Pirates were the first team that year [1971] to come out with the knit uniforms. They used to be one hundred percent cotton; you would look like Ty Cobb. [Along with] the Pittsburgh Pirates, Poly Prep was the only other team in the country — professional, high school, or college — that wore these uniforms.” 


According to the American Baseball Coaches Association, “during his forty-year coaching career at Poly Prep, Harlow Parker garnered a remarkable combined career total of 509 wins, 232 losses, and 14 ties. Poly’s baseball teams won an extraordinary 19 Ivy League Prep School Championships during Parker’s tenure.” 


This success continued a decade later as well. Arnie Mascali, former Poly Prep baseball player and 1984 graduate, recalls the strength of the team under Parker. Mascali’s team finished with an 18-2 record and won the Ivy League Championship. Mascali added, “The number one team in the city at that time was Archbishop Malloy. We played them twice and we beat them twice.” 


Mascali also noted, “Most of the athletes in my year played three sports… I think that one of the distinguishing features of our team was how talented in terms of athletics our group really was… [we were] very committed to one another.” This contrasts with the team of today, which seems to be much more specialized and focused only on baseball.


Mascali said there are differences today but emphasizes the team’s continued passion: “The talent level has obviously continued to increase over the years, and it’s just been amazing to watch… The pride that we had in Poly baseball, I could see absolutely similar pride in today’s team.” Mascali continued, “The similarities I saw between our team and Matt’s team is the enthusiasm, the teamwork, the commitment. You can just tell that they work very well together.” This idea of working together throughout the year is seen in the current team’s year-round baseball training, rather than spending time on multiple sports.


From Player to Coach:

Matt Roventini, current head coach of Poly Prep baseball, former player, and 1992 Poly graduate, remarked on his time as a high school player, “We had a lot of depth, everybody played baseball back then.” Roventini added, “Sal Cappuchi was a very good coach, we had a lot of really good players.” Throughout the history of the team, there has been an emphasis on dedicated players and respected coaches.


“After I graduated college, I had a job, as I like to call it, ‘in the real world,'” said Roventini. He continued to talk about his various careers in the corporate world, many involving sports, working for big names such as Major League Baseball and The New York Mets. Roventini then explained how his career shifted: “I was about 28, I decided at that point that I was looking to go back into coaching because I was going away from sports and more into the business side [of the job].” He added, “My first coaching gig at Poly, before I coached baseball, was an assistant football coach. Then I got hired the next year to be an assistant baseball coach, and the year after that [2005] I became the head baseball coach.”


When Roventini became the head baseball coach, he said Poly Prep football was exceptional: “It was hard to try and compete with football, so that was the focus, even within the school.” The year before he became coach, the baseball team had a 3-14 record. 


The team Roventini stepped into as a coach did not have the same drive as the team he had once played for. Roventini believes this failed inaugural season was because “There was no commitment to baseball. It was a three month activity. Not that specialization needed to occur, but baseball was just roll out in March and play through May and that was the end of that.” Roventini continued, “It was very secondary; nobody cared.” 


Roventini said, “I was very fortunate to have a strong group of boys that were freshmen. The one decision I made that helped us springboard to a different level was with all those kids that were very committed and very good. I decided to start the freshmen over the seniors.” Regarding the players, Roventini added, “I got lucky they were here… They’re the group that lit the torch that all these guys get to carry.” In 2007, the team went 27-0. 


Another factor that upholds the team’s success is the players that come to Poly Prep for baseball. “As a coach, you’re always trying to see if there are student-athletes… we would love to see kids who are really good at baseball and really good [academically],” said Roventini. He added, “I’m now fortunate enough that people reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, I have a kid that I think is a really good fit for Poly Prep.'” 


Roventini emphasized, “We don’t recruit, we don’t have the luxury of saying ‘Hey come to Poly Prep,'” which differs from other schools some of these players are considering.” He went on to express how some of these players went on to play in the MLB but didn’t have the academics to come to Poly Prep. Roventini did clarify, “I don’t think Poly should or ever change. I think it is great because you end up getting the kids who really understand why they should come here and the kids who really want to come here.”


A New Way of Playing:

“Somewhere along the way there was a transition to more specialized athletes,” said Roventini. This specialization differs from the team’s past years, where nearly everyone was a two or three-sport athlete. 


Roventini said, “The specialization, as much as I am not a huge fan, I do understand why [it happens]. [The players and parents] understand the highly competitive nature of trying to play college sports.” This theme is consistent with the team’s ever increasing talent. Though the team has always been successful overall, the consistent success the team is seeing today is unprecedented. 


Although he doesn’t love specialization, Roventini continues, “There is something to be said when you spend a lot of time with your team, that you build relationships and bonds that you don’t if you just show up for the three months of your season.” This idea of specialization and working year-round is one of the distinguishing features of today’s team. Poly Prep baseball has always had the facilities, coaching, and athletes, this focus on baseball year-round may have contributed to the team’s consistent success over the past decade and a half.


Current junior baseball player Stephen Playford said, “Before preseason even started, Coach Roventini wouldn’t even have to tell us to come in. The whole team, the upperclassmen, especially the senior captains, they would set a good example.” Playford also added more about the team’s leadership, “[The captains] would come in and everyone just got to work, everyone was really dedicated, everyone is dedicated… Every year, the new captains that come in, they’re really the ones who set the example of how hard we have to work. They’re doing double the work anyone else is doing.” 


In closing, Roventini said, “At the end of the day, my job is to keep the ship in the right direction. The kids, they work hard because they want to work hard, not because they’re told to. They want to win.”