CHATHAM, NJ - As if the expectations weren't high enough for Chatham senior baseball player Peter DeMaria, his coach, Todd Leathers, raised them even higher before the first game of the season last Saturday.
"Before the game, it was pretty funny, coach Todd came up to me and he was like, today, you'll go 3-for-4, with two home runs, one to center, one to right," DeMaria said. "I just looked at him like you're crazy, I'd be lucky enough to get one home run. I was very surprised by everything."
DeMaria had hit just one homer in his first three years of varsity play, but he tripled that home run total in the season-opener at Mahwah, belting two home runs, a double and driving in five runs in Chatham's 7-4 eight-inning win.
Peter DeMaria is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
The first baseman hit like he was following a script written by his coach, hitting a home run to center field in the first inning and then socking a two-out, two-run homer to right center in the 7th inning that tied the game at 4-4 and forced an extra inning. In the 8th, DeMaria delivered a two-run double to break the tie.
"The first home run, I was rounding the bases and he just smiled and laughed," DeMaria said of his coach's reaction. "I was laughing, too. The next one, I told him he was a guru to call that."
Leathers, now in his third year as the Chatham coach, isn't claiming to be a soothsayer. He just knows the game and the strength of his players. When he first took over the program, Leathers measured the exit velocity of the ball with his players hitting off a tee.
"It was pretty obvious from Day 1," Leathers said of DeMaria. "Most kids hit the ball in the 83 to 84 mile-per-hour range. On the first day, Peter was at 89. Last year, he was at 100. Once you see the big body and the quick bat, it's not hard to figure how well he's going to hit.
"You set the expectations. I knew that when things are going well, he hits the ball to right center. You don't want him going up there pull happy, so you say whatever you have to say to convince him to play to his strengths. When it works out, you look like a genius. When he's going well, I expect him to get a hit every single at-bat. He hits the ball harder than most people. He's very seasoned in the game of life and he's been a great guy to coach."
The 6-2, 205-pound DeMaria was so anxious to start the baseball season, that thoughts of the diamond used to pop in his head during fall soccer practice, where he played goalie. In fact, there were days he'd go straight from soccer to fielding practice with his teammates.
Chatham put together one of its best baseball seasons in memory in 2017, compiling an 18-7 mark and reaching the state sectional final. But DeMaria was forced to watch most of the postseason run because a hamstring injury that limited his participation to just nine games. His batting average in that brief time was .480. He had hit .438 with 11 doubles as a sophomore in 2016.
"It's fun to be a part of it, to see the whole community come out," DeMaria said. "I'll never forget the crowd that came out for the sectional final. We were 4-20 when I was a freshman and to go 18-7 shows how much we've done a 180. I'm excited for this year. I'm trying to stay healthy and make things happen."
DeMaria is being so cautious about preventing a repeat injury that his teammates have become impatient while waiting for him to complete his routine.
"It's a life lesson," he said. "I have to stay hydrated and stretched. I never want to experience that kind of injury again. The guys make fun of me because I take so long to stretch. I'm not allowed to lead the stretches anymore."
DeMaria will continue playing baseball at Tufts University and he'll be joined by one of his best friends, classmate Mac Bredahl, who originally was going to play lacrosse at Villanova, but decided on a playing both golf and lacrosse at Tufts.
"When Mac and I were growing up, we'd play every sport there was," DeMaria said. "We're both very competitive. We've been friends since U7 baseball. Before high school, we played baseball and lacrosse together. I chose baseball, he chose lacrosse. It's funny how we separated and now we've come back together at the same college. I'm excited.
"The one thing we still have in common is golf. He beats me all the time, but I did beat him once. Everything is going by pretty fast and I want to slow things down and enjoy what's left of my senior year."
Editor's note: The Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week is sponsored by the John Hawk Agency. John and his team have been protecting local families and business owners for over 12 years. Call them at 973-635-9494 for a new auto, home, life and business insurance quote this week and if you mention the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week they will make a $20 contribution to the Chatham Booster Club! To learn more, visit the agency website.