By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Patrick Auteri said that he has been basically auditioning for the role that he currently owns for the last 14 years – that being the head baseball coach at his alma mater, Lyndhurst High School.
You see, Auteri, a former standout player at the school, spent that time as the understudy or assistant coach to long-time Lyndhurst baseball coach and athletic director Frank “Butch” Servideo, who retired at the end of last season.
“It has definitely been a smooth transition,” Auteri said. “I’ve been here so long that the kids all know me. I had chances to coach elsewhere, but it never felt right for me to leave. Butchie told me that I had to be patient, that I would get the chance. And to his credit, he let me do a lot of the coaching. He let me do most of the teaching.”
But still, Auteri is coming in and replacing a legend who spent more than 40 years of his life as an athlete, teacher, coach and administrator at the school.
“That part is very tough,” Auteri said of replacing someone who won more than 500 games, three state sectional championships and the overall NJSIAA Group I crown in 2008. “Butchie really set the standard and in the back of my mind, I feel like I have to live up to that standard. I have to be the one who keeps the program where it was. I have to be myself, but I also have to keep the tradition going.”
Auteri said that he has remained in contact with Servideo, who now spends some of his time in Florida.
“We’ve become good friends over the years,” said Auteri, who played for Servideo at Lyndhurst. “He’s really been a great role model for me, not only in baseball, but in life. As a matter of fact, most of the time that we talk, it’s not about baseball.”
The Golden Bears have played three games in the Auteri era thus far, posting a 1-2 record.
“We have only four starters back from last year,” Auteri said of the team that went 20-8 last spring. “So there has been a little bit of a transition on the field. We had some jitters Opening Day (in a loss to Becton Regional). We need to make the little plays and shape up a little better on defense.”
Auteri said that he expected some tough spots early on.
“I knew we’d have to get through some growing pains,” Auteri said. “Right now, we’re very inconsistent. My main focus will be trying to find some sort of consistency. We’re preaching fundamentals. Our pitching has been pretty decent, but it’s not where we want it to be. If we keep the morale up, we can get things going, once the weather warms up.”
Leading the way on the mound is senior right-handed pitcher Nolan Kelly, who had a great year last season, winning six games and saving an additional seven more.
“Nolan definitely eats innings for us,” Auteri said. “He throws three pitches for strikes and his change-up is his best pitch. He’s very consistent and I’m going to have to lean on him.”
Senior right-hander Jordan Lopez also returns. Lopez won four games on the mound last spring.
“He has a little better grasp of what it takes to pitch,” Auteri said. “He understands that he just doesn’t have to throw the ball and mechanically he knows how to pitch. His walks are down. He has pinpoint control now.”
Senior John Leonard is another Golden Bears starting pitcher.
“He’s going to need to step it up for us,” Auteri said. “He’s not an overpowering guy but he can get people out.”
Sophomore Nick Carnevale, a transfer from Paramus Catholic, is another right-handed hurler.
“He throws hard,” said Auteri, who might use Carnevale as a closer.
Junior Andrew Fitzgerald is another quality pitcher.
The Golden Bears will receive a big boost when senior Christian Camilo becomes eligible. Another transfer from Paramus Catholic, Camilo is a right-handed pitcher who can give Kelly some backup at the top of the rotation. Camilo has to sit out the first 30 days of the baseball season due to the NJSIAA’s transfer rule.
“Once we get him back, we’ll be good for the stretch run,” Auteri said.
The catcher is junior Edwin Rivera, who has developed nicely into a solid backstop.
“He’s a very solid kid,” Auteri said. “He has a good work ethic and has put the time in to become a good catcher. I am looking for a lot of big things from him.”
Lopez will spend time at first base when he’s not pitching. Junior Matt De- Marco and sophomore Ryan Donohue will also see time at first. Lopez and Donohue were both members of the Lyndhurst state championship bowling squad.
Junior Vincent Dorio is the team’s starting second baseman.
“He’s had a great spring and has become our No. 3 hitter,” Auteri said of Dorio, whose older brother was a great Golden Bear infielder before moving on to play at William Paterson. “Vincent has been hitting the ball hard.”
Senior Brandon Karlok has moved from third base to shortstop.
“He is just a great athlete,” Auteri said of Karlok. “He can go and get it. He’s more of a natural at shortstop.”
Carnevale is the starter at third base. He has already made some spectacular plays at the hot corner over the first three games of the season.
“He’s going to be a very good player for us,” Auteri said.
The outfield situation is a little bit of a logjam. De- Marco is in the mix, along with seniors Anthony Ferulli and Andrew Khantzian and sophomore Max Vigliotti. That group will rotate both in left field and right.
Junior Evan Kelly, Nolan’s younger brother, is the centerfielder. Kelly is a solid defensive centerfielder with excellent speed.
The Golden Bears have tough games this week against New Milford, Wood- Ridge, Secaucus and Harrison, so Auteri will have a better idea of how his team shapes up after this week.
“I really think we have a good team,” Auteri said. “I like the team chemistry, the camaraderie. They’ve all been together since Little League. A good core group of this team comes from Little League days. They’re a good group of kids who are very baseball oriented. But they also hang out together, enjoy each other. We are going to be fine.”
As long as the new head coach doesn’t get frustrated early, the Golden Bears are generally always golden in the spring.