Hamilton resident David Iorio has found a key role with Hopewell Post 339 this summer. Iorio played scholastically for Pennington, which qualified him to play for Post 339. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

David Iorio is a thinking man’s ballplayer. It’s part of what has kept him enjoying baseball since the time he shed diapers.

“I love the mental aspect, there’s so much thinking that goes into it,” Iorio said. “Even though something looks like such a simple play—a bunt or a steal—so much goes into it. There’s so much hidden language and all that kind of stuff to throw somebody off. You try to get the slightest edge over the other team, it’s kind of what keeps it interesting for me.”

Of course, there is something to be said for the physical aspect.

“There’s nothing like hitting a baseball, squaring it off the wall or over the fence,” Iorio continued. “It’s one of the hardest things to do.”

The Hamilton Square resident made it look easy this summer, as he led Hopewell Post 339 in hitting with a .444 average during the regular season and continued to come up with key hits in the state tournament. And that was the unexpected stuff.

When Iorio joined Post 339, which reached the World Series last year, manager Mike Coryell was mainly concerned about him plugging an outfield gap.

“He played a sensational centerfield for us,” Coryell said. “He really has the ability to go and get most balls in the gaps which really helped us out. We didn’t have a lot of speed in left or right. David played center, left center and right center for us. What he lacks in arm strength, he makes up for by getting to the balls quickly, getting rid of them quickly and hitting the cutoff man.”

One of Iorio’s biggest strengths is his ability to go back on a ball with good speed, allowing him to turn bloop singles into outs.

“I play a little more shallow then most centerfielders,” he said. “I can get to the ball pretty quickly. So playing a little more shallow takes away from my less strong arm and allows me to throw guys out at second and third. It also takes away those base hits – balls that you think are automatic hits but if I’m playing more shallow I can take those away and still get back on those balls over my head.”

He not only took away runs, he produced them. Iorio’s 24 hits were responsible for 13 RBI and a team-high 22 runs scored. He also stole six bases in eight attempts. All that from the number eight spot in the order.

“He’s been hitting at the bottom of the lineup all year and never complained,” Coryell said prior to the states. “Quite a few of his hits were bunt singles but he also hit a whole bunch of timely hits into the gaps. When he was on base he was a really a threat at all times. We certainly didn’t expect him to hit as well as he did. That was just an added bonus.”

Iorio felt it was his best sustained stretch of pitching at the high school level. The only streak more impressive was when he was 12-year-old with the Hamilton’ A’s and went 28-for-31 in a tournament in Cooperstown, New York.

As a junior at the Pennington School he hit .352 and this past season he slipped to .317. His legion averages for North Hamilton were not nearly as high as this year, but he made some adjustments with Coryell.

“We’d been working on sort of moving away from what we call a locked elbow swing for less power and more contact,” Iorio explained. “I’ve been moving towards kind of throwing my hands at the ball a little harder. He’s been helping me work with that.

“It was a real easy transition for me and it’s helped me a lot. It definitely let me square up more. I’m also a lot quicker so I can see pitches a lot deeper, so it’s helping with pitch recognition and just seeing the ball that much longer helps so much.”

Coryell felt the biggest difference is that Iorio began getting his entire body into the swing, rather than just using his arms.

“We got him to bring his body to the ball and use his whole body to hit it,” the manager said. “He just felt ‘Oh well, I’m just a singles hitter,’ but he had the ability. We saw it in practice a lot, where he could drive the ball into the gaps. He started carrying that with him into the games. He’s a skinny little cuss but he just plays the game. This is not a game where you need to drive the ball over the fence, just need to be able to square up the baseball and David’s done that as well as anybody this year.”

It didn’t hurt that he hit so low in the lineup, as Iorio did not feel a lot of pressure and was able to see a plethora of fastballs.

“So many of our big innings started with the bottom of our lineup getting on for when the hammers came up,” Coryell said.

Iorio has been hammering his way up the baseball chain since playing All Stars for Nottingham Little League and Nottingham Babe Ruth. He also helped his Hamilton Little Lads basketball team to the Senior Lads title in his final year and played varsity basketball for the Red Raiders.

In four varsity baseball seasons at Pennington he had a career average of .289 with 22 stolen bases, 27 RBI and 41 runs. He had Coryell as a head coach during his freshman year, and was happy to have him again this summer.

“It was definitely a different feel,” he said. “At Pennington, I had three different coaches in four years, so it was kind of a familiar face going back to him. I didn’t play that much, this was the first time playing every day for him. So going back to the beginning was kind of nice.”

In legion, Iorio played sporadically his first year at North Hamilton. He was a semi-regular last year but bounced around to different positions and was plugged into spots depending on who was pitching.

And while Iorio said “they’re all great kids, I loved playing for that team,” the urge to play legion with high school teammates Luke Blair, Nick Psomoras and Chad Brunner proved powerful.

“The four of us were kind of the top of lineup for Pennington, so I knew them really well,” he said. “I knew a couple guys on Hopewell because I used to play for their Junior Legion team. I knew their outfielders were leaving. I didn’t know if I would hop right into center but if they needed an outfielder, I’d be ready to play any of the three spots. It worked out there was a hole in center and I jumped in and locked up a spot.”

It was the first time in a while that Iorio was able to stick to one position for the entire season. Coryell said, “he was all everything at Pennington. They asked him to play center, third, second. If they asked him to catch he would have done that too. For us, it was just, ‘Go out there, play center and keep that locked down.’ Then to hit as well as he did was just a pleasant surprise.”

Iorio was also charged up to join a team with a winning pedigree. Hopewell reached the American Legion World Series last year, and this year won the regular-season title and was 4-0 in its first four post-season games as it was threatening to win another state title.

“The atmosphere, expecting to win is a lot of fun,” said Iorio, who will attend the University of Delaware in the fall and is pondering playing club baseball. “I’m a competitive person myself, just having a group around me that wanted to win and was confident enough to win was really awesome.”

It’s definitely something pleasurable to think about it, which is what Iorio loves most about baseball.