THOMASTON – Some people you remember. Then there are those who stick with you like a warm childhood memory. You can’t shake them. Little signs and experiences keep an already steady companion fresh and alive even as the days and years travel by.
Marc Damelio falls in the latter category. It’s been almost 20 years now since Damelio exited our physical lives at the age of 31 on Christmas Eve in 2003. First a kidney transplant followed by a parasitic infection and he was gone. The age alone still punches a hole in the gut. Thirty-one. Are you kidding me? On Christmas Eve? What is this some kind of morbid joke? If only. A cruel, cruel reality that was unfathomable then and hard to reconcile now.
For those who didn’t have the pleasure of Damelio either by age or lack of contact some background here. He was a prodigious baseball player. A beast with the bat. A guy with Popeye forearms he went to Mattatuck Community College and earned junior college All-American honors. In 1993 he earned New England College Player of the Year honors while playing with Sacred Heart University and bopping the ball all over the western hemisphere.
When Damelio became too old for college and tired of beating up young hurlers he moved on to become a sandlot legend with Modern Motors in Waterbury’s Twi-Met League and the Bethlehem Plowboys in the Tri-State League. He was 5-feet-8 inches, 170 pounds of teammate joy and unrelenting irritation and misery to opponents.
But here’s the cool thing about Damelio. Baseball was hardly the most impressive part of an accomplished and agonizingly short life run. The game introduced him to a wider audience and garnered him a wealth of honors and headlines not to mention a boatload of friends. I have yet to meet anyone who has ever had a negative word to say about him except an opponent after getting blistered by his potent bat one more time.
Yet, it was the classroom that called him and in his short career he touched more young students than he lit up beleaguered pitchers and that is saying something. An imposing presence at the plate was more than matched by his overwhelming aura in the classroom. Kids respected and loved him and he found as much joy in his role as he did ruining a pitcher’s day.
Damelio taught fifth grade at what is now Thomaston Center School. Big job, big smile, awesomely big presence. He made his mark on the ballfield but there was no bigger mark than the one he created in the classroom.
Damelio’s light still shines bright unfazed by the passage of time. There is still a golf tournament held in his honor that never has to advertise for participants. There is the P. Marc Damelio Memorial Scholarship given out every year to a Thomaston High graduating senior.
Damelio is never far away. His presence was even stronger in August when the Bethlehem Plowboys celebrated their 100th anniversary. So many of the veterans that were there from the teams of the 1980s to 2010 were friends and played with Damelio. Bob McMahon, John Pettit, Jason Harlow, Gregg Hunt, Jimmy Alberto and others reveled in the day.
And not lost on any of them was the presence and absence of Damelio. His name came up often, sometimes with a laugh, always with a background of wistful. The idea that time had been shared was mixed with the idea that so much had been cut short and at 51 Damelio should be here.
Friday night McMahon, former Thomaston High girls basketball and baseball coach who taught school with Damelio, was in a conversation with St. Paul baseball coach and good guy Vic Rinaldi. In the conversation Damelio’s name came up. After the memory had been bantered about McMahon kind of looked at me and with a deep sigh said, “Marc Damelio.” It was not a matter of fact reference. There was a fresh, touch of pain to it.
It was just two words – Marc Damelio. Not much in length. It didn’t have to be. It spoke volumes.
You treasure what was had. And struggle with what could have been. Marc Damelio sticks with you.