By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
With the high school sports season suspended indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Citizen’s News is highlighting longtime coaches at Naugatuck and Woodland high schools who patrol the sidelines during the spring. This week, we shine the spotlight on Naugatuck High baseball coach Tom Deller.
NAUGATUCK — As the chatter of the players and the constant sound of bats and balls bouncing off the cement floor fill the dugout, the coach of close to 30 years remains silent, staring out onto the baseball diamond.
As Naugatuck High baseball coach Tom Deller stands in front of the dugout’s protective screen squinting into the sun with the wheels turning — always turning — in his head, he suddenly turns and shouts for a pitcher to start warming up and a batter to grab a bat to pinch hit. Watching this, it’s evident that baseball is not just a passion for him, it’s become a way of life.
For the past 23 seasons, Deller has been in charge of Naugatuck’s storied baseball program.
“It was never something that I was just interested in doing,” said Deller, who has a 314-200 record at Naugy. “I wanted to contribute a little bit to a game I loved. It was never about, I would coach while my son played and then that would be it.”
“Of course coming to Naugatuck was a bit intimidating,” he added. “With the streak and all that history and tradition of success, it had a little pressure to go along with it.”
Naugatuck High has had only three baseball coaches over the past 66 years — Ray Legenza, Joe Bojko and Deller. That’s some pretty heady company to be in.
Legenza, a 1971 National High School Baseball Coach of the Year, compiled a 376-86 record, and won four state championships to go along with 13 Naugatuck Valley League titles. Oh yeah, he also led the program during its 64-game win streak from 1970-72.
Deller is not that far removed from the Shelton team that broke the streak in the 1972 Class L championship game. He played in Shelton Little League with most of those players before moving to South Burlington, Vt.
It was in Vermont that Deller got the feel for coaching. As a sophomore at Bishop Rice Memorial High School, he coached a seventh- and eighth-grade basketball team that finished as the state runner-up.
As a two-sport athlete in high school (baseball and basketball), Deller said he was what Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess refers to as “a knot-head.”
Deller made his way back to Connecticut in 1981 and spent seven years as an assistant coach at Naugy for Bojko, starting in 1991. In 1994, Deller coached an AAU team and took the team to play in Minnesota.
“So baseball has always been a passion for me,” he said. “The manager of the Hartford Yard Goats, Chris Denorfia, was on that AAU team.”
Deller took over as head coach for the Greyhounds in 1997 when Bojko, who guided Naugy to its last state championship in 1977, stepped down after 20 years at the helm. Ron Plasky served as Deller’s assistant for the next 20 years, and the Greyhounds reached the state semifinals in 1999 and won the NVL championship four years running from 2003-06.
Along the way, Ben Schwartz and Greg Dean served as assistant coaches, and there have been plenty of memorable moments and players.
Henry Lee, an All-NVL home run hitter, hit a home run in his first at bat down at Rotary Field as a freshman and went on to set the school batting record (.583) as a senior.
Stephen Hiscock and Jeff Farrell pitched in the minor leagues, and Pat Dean made his Major League debut on the mound for the Minnesota Twins in 2016.
“We had a good run there in the early 2000s,” Deller said. “Had some fun seasons coaching Patrick and Stephen. I remember we were heading to a game at Wilby, sharing a bus with the tennis team, and (tennis) coach Anthony Mariano had Patrick’s first Major League game on his phone with an app for ESPN. We had about 30 guys trying to watch this phone and when we got there no one wanted to get off the bus.”
These days, Joe Iannotti (six years) and Scott Mastropietro (two years) serve as assistant coaches.
The players and coaches have changed over the years, but the game of baseball is still the same game that has become a passion and a way of life for Deller.