Baldelli, Mazzulla Look to Make Own Names at Hendricken

Thursday, October 24, 2013

 

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There are a pair of student-athletes at Bishop Hendricken High School that stand out even in a crowd of high profile athletes and good students wearing Hawk Green. They have name recognition that jumps off the attendance sheet, the roster, and the box score. They’re next in line in Rhode Island sports royalty.

Dante Baldelli and Justin Mazzulla walk the same halls Monday through Friday that their older brothers did years ago.

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Rocco Baldelli

For Baldelli, a sophomore, that means following his older brother Rocco, Hendricken’s most accomplished baseball player ever and a 1st round MLB draft choice straight out of high school in 2000. 

For the freshman Mazzulla, that means sharing the surname of older brother Joe, who won 3 basketball state championships in the mid-2000’s for the Hawks and then fulfilled a dream of playing in the NCAA Final 4 in college at West Virginia.

Both young men are close with their brothers and embrace the challenge of carrying around a last name that brings with it both expectation and constant comparison.

“It gets annoying. Especially with some kids that say your last name is what really does it for you,” says Mazzulla.

“Sometimes they like to compare and ask if you’re going to be as good, or how good you’re going to be, but I don’t like to compare that much because he [Rocco] was one of the best athletes ever in the state of Rhode Island,” says Baldelli.

To characterize either young man as simply “another Baldelli” or “another Mazzulla” doesn’t do them justice for their own accomplishments in their young academic and athletic careers.

Baldelli hit .650 last year for the Hawks’ freshman baseball team and played football and basketball as well. Many Hendricken students would feel fortunate to make one sports team at the school, but for Baldelli, focusing on one sport would be limiting his interests. 

“I think it’s good to play another sport because I probably wouldn’t be able to play just baseball, I’d probably get sick of it,” he says. Baldelli dropped football this fall as an injury precaution for his other sports, but he continues to excel in the classroom and hopes to make the Varsity team in both basketball and baseball this season.

Mazzulla hasn’t waited for basketball season to make a mark on Hendricken athletics, scoring 12 goals this year on the freshman soccer team. The speed that Mazzulla utilizes on fast breaks on the hardwood comes in awfully handy as a striker on the pitch, and he’s been called up to the JV soccer squad for the playoff push.

On the basketball court, Mazzulla is one of the most highly-regarded freshmen in the state and could compete for a varsity spot this season. Last year Mazzulla carried Ferri Middle School to the state finals before losing a tough game to Portsmouth (Mazzulla had 40 points in the loss).

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(Left to Right) Justin, Coach Dan, and Joe Mazzulla

Mazzulla was coached by his father Dan at Ferri and credits his dad with helping him become a better leader as well as a better player. At Hendricken, Mazzulla will be coached by Jamal Gomes, a man who was extremely close with Joe and has begun building a good relationship with Justin as well.

“He’s my guidance counselor, so he talks to me about my grades all the time,” says Mazzulla. “He also told me he will never compare me to Joe- as he did with the Barons. He never compared Billy to Jimmy or Jimmy to Billy, and he’ll never compare Joey to me or me to Joey.”

The Baron to Mazzulla connection is an interesting one because even though they were closer in age than the Mazzulla brothers, the Baron brothers (both of whom went on to play Division 1 hoops in college after illustrious careers at Hendricken) had very different styles of play. The Mazzulla brothers are a little closer in style.

“My dad, he doesn’t like to compare us but the one time I asked him he said that I’m a better shooter than Joey. Joey had better footwork than I did, but he said we both have great court vision, we both like to penetrate the ball, and we both have love for our teammates, we’ll share the ball at any time,” said Mazzulla.

Baldelli on the other hand has a much wider age difference with his older brother, and he’s a different type of player. 

“I don’t run as fast as my brother did so I’d say I lack speed,” says Baldelli. “I don’t have the greatest arm but I have a great eye and hit pretty well.”

Dante Baldelli is a natural hitter and is still developing into his body. He grew several inches and added some weight this past summer, and he’s hoping to see more power numbers from himself this season.

“I probably lack the power a little bit, I don’t hit many home runs yet, he said. “I’d say I definitely have to gain some more weight still. It’d help with my speed, hitting, all aspects of the game.”

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Dante Baldelli

Like his brothers before him (Nick Baldelli is the middle brother and played college baseball for Trinity in the early 2000’s. Nick attended Mount Saint Charles in high school) Baldelli takes batting practice year-round in “The Dungeon” batting cage under his father’s pawn shop in Woonsocket.

Baldelli says he enjoys playing in front of larger crowds, and especially likes when his older brothers are able to come to some of his games.

“I like to see them at the games because they aren’t usually home too much,” he said. “So when I see them at the games that gives me, I guess you could say a little bit of a chip on my shoulder to do well in front of them.”

You’d think the youngest Baldelli would have loved to see his older brother playing in the big leagues as he was growing up, but unfortunately a serious peanut allergy prevented Dante from seeing as many of Rocco’s games as he would have liked.

“When I was really young we had to get like press boxes, those kinds of seating arrangements so I could go to the games. As I got older I could sit in the stands with the rest of the fans but we’d ask people around us not to have it [peanut products] or if they had that stuff if they could eat it somewhere else.”


Baldelli’s allergies don’t prevent him from playing high school ball at all since there are rarely any peanut products present and fans aren’t capable of getting close enough to the dugout to cause any harm.

Conversely, Justin Mazzulla cheered on his big brother from his days at Hendricken all the way to the Final 4, serving as a water boy at West Virginia during Joe’s tenure there. In recent years however the brother-brother relationship has transitioned from fan-player to player-mentor.

“I went away to West Virginia to work out with my brother, he worked me out all summer,” says Mazzulla on his last summer vacation. When asked who was tougher on him- his father as a coach or his brother as a trainer- Mazzulla offered no hesitation.

“He’s [Joe] definitely tougher. It’s different for a dad with a son and a brother to a brother. My brother will treat me like a brother. He starts to yell more. He wants me to be better than he was, and he knows what he’s talking about because he’s been through my Dad coaching him.”

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Justin Mazzulla doing a defensive drill with his brother Joe (foreground)

Soft-spoken but assertive, the younger Mazzulla stays composed as he describes some of the “tough love” he gets from Joe.

“He’s definitely intense. He’ll definitely push me farther than he’ll push anyone else. He wants to see me succeed and that’s why he’ll push me to the best of my ability- and he knows what my abilities are. He wants me to do the things he did plus the things he didn’t do. So like win a national championship at the college level, go to more Final 4’s.”

Baldelli also has an older brother to turn to for advice, guidance, and coaching.

“He’ll [Rocco] text me once in a while; we’ll talk about how school’s going, if I’m practicing at all for any sports. But if he’s home he’ll definitely dedicate some time to help me out with basketball, baseball, especially baseball.”

Both Baldelli and Mazzulla are following the footprints of Rhode Island high school athletic icons. Both have a great support system in place by way of their older brothers, and both were coached by fathers that have seen sons make it big time (Dan Baldelli coached Dante in Little League and AAU). Both of them have bright futures ahead of them in the classroom and in their respective sports. Both are excited to see what the future holds for them.

“I always wanted to come here just because it was the only school that I knew of just because I knew Rocco had come here,” says Baldelli. “Just being a Hendricken Hawk is an unbelievable feeling. It’s awesome, all the great kids, the teachers, the sports.”

Both are proud to follow the brothers that came before them, but both are ready and eager to beat their own path to success in sports and in life.

“I want to win 3 championships or 4, that would be fun,” says Mazzulla. “I’d like to make Honors over my 4 years, or High Honors. I want to accomplish similar goals as my brother but I want it to be because of me and not because of my last name.”

“I feel like that also,” adds Baldelli. “I’m my own person so I’d like to accomplish my own goals.”

I wouldn’t bet against either one of them.
 

 

Related Slideshow: Power Pack: RI High School Boys Soccer: October 22nd

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