If breeding counts for anything, Mike Moceri is definitely the right man for the Hamilton West baseball coaching job.
After six years as an assistant to John Costantino and Mark Pienciak, the man known as “Mo” or “Little Mo” (depending on if his dad is in the room) brings a wealth of knowledge learned under some of the state’s best coaches as he replaces Pienciak as head Hornet.
One of those is Kean University’s Neil Ioviero, who oversees one of the nation’s premiere Division III programs. Moceri played for Ioviero from 2008-10 and still holds the Cougars single season hit record (82) that he set en route to making first-team All-American as a junior. He graduated from Kean second in career hits, RBI and doubles; finished with a .384 career average and struck out just 21 times in 146 games.
Ioviero feels that three-time All-American Frank Beckhorn is the greatest baseball player in Kean history, but quickly adds, “Michael was the second best. And we’ve had some unbelievably great players here during that time, so that’s really saying something.”
Can that translate into a great coach? In this case, Ioviero believes so.
“Sometimes when you’re that good of a player and it comes so easy, it’s hard to relate to people who can’t do the same stuff,” Ioviero continued. “It’s like Michael Jordan. It was so easy for him he couldn’t explain it to other players.
“But I think Mike will do really well. The kids today are a little bit different, it takes a little bit different mannerism or approaches to get through to everybody. He knows the game in and out. He’s been a part of winning all his life, playing for the legion, the high school. Those guys won a lot, we won a lot. I expect him to be great at it.”
Moceri is a Hamilton Township baseball guy through and through. He came up through Sunnybrae Little League and Hamilton Babe Ruth before moving on to Steinert and Post 31, playing under Brian and Rich Giallella and Rick Freeman. He still holds Steinert’s single-season record for hits (56) and is tied for the season home run mark (6). In Mo’s final high school and legion seasons, Steinert and Post 31 won state titles.
‘You’re talking about a baseball maniac who comes from a baseball maniac family; and obviously I mean that in a great way.’
He played one season at Mercer before a storybook career at Kean, which featured two World Series appearances. By that time he had begun helping his dad, Mike Sr., with the Hamilton Babe Ruth All-Stars.
After graduating from Kean, Moceri got a teaching job in the district and began helping Dave Gallagher in his travel program. He was constantly working clinics with Gallagher and current Nottingham coach Jim Maher, and also became an assistant under Costantino at West. Moceri remained with Pienciak when Costantino became an athletic director.
Moceri eventually hooked up as Jim Petersohn’s assistant with the Hamilton Little Lads and Petersohn couldn’t find enough superlatives in the dictionary to define Moceri’s value. They stayed together through last year, when the Hamilton-Northern Burlington Babe Ruth All Stars reached the 14-year-old World Series.
Throughout his career, Moceri studied his mentors.
“My father obviously had a huge impact on me, the way he coached, the way he went about everything; I definitely took some things from him,” Moceri said. “Some things you take from Richie G — the demand he had for his players to be as perfect as possible. Obviously, you’re not gonna be perfect, but he demanded you be as close to perfect as possible. My father was one of those guys where even if you’re not the best player, you always play the game hard. I was small growing up, I had to work hard. He always demanded play the game hard, play the right way and I think I’ve taken that into my coaching career.”
It wasn’t just those two. Moceri has borrowed from Brian Giallella, Freeman, Maher, Gallagher. Nothing major, but subtleties.
“I just tried to take in how they went about keeping their team under control and little things here and there; especially my college coaches,” Moceri said. “Even when I was playing I was taking in things they were saying and how they went about things to hopefully make it my own one day. It’s not exactly what they were doing but you take different pieces from coaches that you’ve coached with and played for. I think that makes an entire coach.”
Moceri takes over a program that won a sectional title in 2014 and reached the sectional semis in 2015 before lingering at or around .500 the past two seasons. Moceri obviously knows about the talent he has from serving as an assistant and also coaching many of them on Babe Ruth. His staff includes pitching coach Matt Mayo, Tim Kline, JV coach Alex Hager and Pienciak, who stays on as the freshman coach.
They will rely on a strong junior class, but it’s a senior laden pitching staff with Adam Drosos, Mason Fitzpatrick and Tim Sharpley, who went 6-0 for Broad Street Park last summer. A nucleus of everyday players includes Ryan Beczo, Tyler Springett, Justin Wiltsey and Steve Meckel.
“I think we can compete with anybody for sure,” Moceri said. “We’ve got a good core of seniors on the mound and a good core of juniors that have been with us since they were freshmen. They were good last year but if they can turn the corner I think we can do some really good things this year.”
Like pretty much every coach in the Delaware Valley who has a team not expected to do great things, Moceri is drawing on the Eagles’ Super Bowl run as inspiration.
“The way they embraced the underdog role is kind of what we have to do this year,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to get back to 2014. All your teams are going to be different so you’re never gonna say ‘I want you to be like the team from 2014.’ But if we can play half as hard as those kids played in 2014, I truly believe we can do something really special.”
Not surprisingly, since he was a scrappy player, Moceri wants the same from his team. He preaches doing the little things correctly, hustling all the time and being on time. Not just on the field, but off it.
“Being on time is a big part of this game and a big part of life,” he said. “As a coach you want to teach life lessons and being on time is one. Giving 100 percent every single day is another. There’s always somebody looking to take your position or your spot in the real world. Somebody is always trying to one up you. If you give it 100 percent every single day, if you’re on time every single day, it’s tough for a coach to take you out of the lineup. But when you’re constantly late, constantly not doing the right thing, it makes it easier for me to say, ‘Hey this guy is giving 100 percent behind you, that’s it for you.”
One of Mo’s biggest rules is for a player to support the guy ahead of him. If the shortstop hits a home run, he wants the back-up shortstop to be the first one out of the dugout to slap his hand.
“If you’re not gonna be that guy, I don’t want you with us, it’s as simple as that,” Moceri said. “You need to have a good bench and you need to be a good team. I’ve played in state championships and college World Series, I know what it takes to get to the top. If they buy into what I’m telling them, I think we can do some special things.”
Moceri’s college coach feels the same way.
“You’re talking about a baseball maniac who comes from a baseball maniac family; and obviously I mean that in a great way,” Ioviero said. “He has an innate ability in him, where he just feels it, he knows what’s going on in a situation. You look at the minds he’s been around—that legion staff is better than a lot of college staffs. It’s nothing but intensity. They know what they’re doing out there and I’m sure it’s gonna carry over with Mike.”