Joe Tasman Takes Us Out to the Ballpark

Joe Tasman is the Chairman of Suffolk County High School Baseball and the Athletic Director at Hauppauge High School. He was head baseball coach at Hauppauge for seven years, from 1996 to 2002. His teams won two county championships before he moved upstairs. Joe played football at Salisbury College in Maryland, but he’s had a lifelong love affair with baseball.

Long Island Pulse: What makes a great baseball coach?
Joe Tasman:
A great baseball coach stays focused on making his kids better and constantly communicating with them. A coach has to prove to his kids that it’s not about him or his ego. It’s about them. After that, they’ll take anything—yelling, screaming, anything to get better. The great coaches work 24 hours a day, all year long. They are the face of the program and the liaison with the community, so it takes a lot of time. It’s hands-on, balancing people and agendas.

LIP: Who are your favorites?
For the great old-time coaches in Suffolk, you can start with Mike Canobbio at Lindenhurst and Sal Mignano at Shoreham-Wading River. Some of the red-hot new guys include Tony Gambino at Sachem North and Tony Frascogna at Patchogue-Medford.

LIP: Does it feel like swimming upstream to build a great baseball program in the heart of lacrosse country?
It’s obvious to parents that Long Island is to lacrosse recruiting what Texas and Florida are to football recruiting. Coaches come here first. All the other sports combined don’t produce as many signed college athletes from Long Island as lacrosse. At Hauppauge we don’t lose so many good athletes as other places, but we have a strong youth baseball program. Some places it’s a struggle. Softball has a problem, too, drawing the best athletes among the girls. If you don’t have a strong baseball coach, you will definitely lose athletes to lacrosse.

LIP: Is there any way to speed up the game for the modern, impatient American audience?
In high school, guys can’t leave the batter’s box and that helps move things along. I’d like to see that tried in the pros as well. Plus, in high school we don’t have a million relief pitchers, each ready to warm up for ten minutes to face one batter.

LIP: How tough is it to make it to the majors from Long Island?
Very, given the cold weather and the short season. But guys make it from here anyway. Off the top of my head, there’s Carl Yastrzemski, Craig Biggio, Neal Heaton, Paul Gibson, Frank Catalanotto, Tony Graffanino, Ross Gload, Tom Veryzer, Keith Osik, Pete Harnisch. I hope I’m not forgetting somebody. These guys have talent that beats the odds. Steve Matz from Ward Melville and Marcus Stroman from Patchogue-Medford have that kind of talent.

LIP: Does it help a recruit to play baseball year-round?
I’m not a fan of year-round baseball. I like three-sport athletes. I want guys on the field who have faced pressure in other kinds of situations. But being a great athlete doesn’t automatically mean you can play baseball. You go up to hit all by yourself. Nobody can help you. And it’s a difficult feat to hit a baseball or a softball.

LIP: Is the high school game sophisticated? Do teams steal signs?
Sure, it’s sophisticated. And, yes, guys steal signs. Guys on the bench can be very useful, to see what they can catch for the coach. Plus, it keeps them in the game. You play a team in a three-game series, by game three, one of your bench guys might pick something up that makes the difference between a win and a loss.

LIP: It used to be gospel that to understand America, you had to know baseball. Still true?
I think the world still thinks baseball is America’s pastime. The beauty of the game, the history and legends endure. American football is really popular, but only played here. Baseball is loved around the world. It’s played everywhere by everyone. Their dads played. They went to games together. Now, in America, dads and sons go to all kinds of things together.

john westermann

John Westermann teaches at Stony Brook University in the MFA in Writing and Literature Program. His novel Exit Wounds was a major motion picture starring Steven Seagal.