By Matt Jenkins
---- — DANVERS — It took climbing five flights of stairs at St. John’s Prep’s Xavier Hall to find a room number higher than former baseball coach Pat Yanchus’ 491 career wins.
Room No. 500, a conference room in Xavier Hall, was the setting yesterday morning as St. John’s Prep Principal Keith Crowley and Athletic Director Jim O’Leary announced Eagles assistant coach Dan Letarte would become Yanchus’ successor.
Letarte, a physical education teacher at St. John’s, played for Yanchus when he was a student-athlete at the school in the mid-1980s and served under Yanchus as a coach in the baseball program from 1994-2003 and 2007-2013.
Duplicating Yanchus’ win total is not realistic, said Letarte, but carrying on his winning tradition is the goal for a coaching staff that is virtually the same, outside of the retired Yanchus.
“We’re not going to replace that (career record); Pat did a great job,” said Letarte, who was introduced as coach alongside newly appointed St. John’s Prep water polo coach Connor Fortin.
“I’m really looking forward to continuing the tradition of playing the best teams and doing well, and practicing hard.”
The decision to hire Letarte and Fortin was easy for the St. John’s Prep administration due to the commitment to student-athletes they’ve already demonstrated.
Crowley said the focus of hiring a new coach came down to three things: understanding the mission of the school, the role of education in athletics, and the ability to work with a variety of students. Letarte and Fortin filled each requirement completely.
“They’ve been through the school as students, they’ve played in athletic programs here, they’ve gone on to college and come back to coach,” Crowley said. “We’re very privileged to have them joining our head coaching staff.”
O’Leary said Letarte and Fortin are great additions to what he feels is already an outstanding group of coaches at St. John’s.
“We all know how successful our programs have been, and I truly believe the reason for that is because we have outstanding student-athletes, but as well we have dedicated coaches who are committed and understand the mission of St. John’s Prep,” O’Leary said. “The expectations from the athletic department and the administration are certainly of the highest standard.
“Certainly both (baseball and water polo) programs are among the top programs in the state, and (Letarte and Fortin) are dedicated to continuing that legacy.”
Letarte has previous head coaching experience at St. John’s, having served as the varsity basketball coach from 1996-2008. He’ll be taking over a baseball team that went 22-2 last year, setting a school record for wins and single-season win streak (22).
The Eagles graduated a lot of talent from that team, including The Salem News Player of the Year Brandon Bingel, who will continue his career at Division 1 Bryant University. Still, there is a lot of young talent in the program; juniors Keith Leavitt and Nick Latham, plus senior pitcher Justin Snyder will be the likely building blocks in Letarte’s first year.
Letarte will also welcome back varsity assistants Ryan Leahy and Chris Conway.
“I know this: we’re going to practice hard, the whole program. A lot of seniors have passed on, but there’s a lot of talent and every year we’ll try to put our best team forward. Pitching is going to be important; that’s probably our biggest concern,” Letarte said.
Yanchus, in some ways, will still remain a very important part of the St. John’s Prep baseball program. Letarte hopes some of Yanchus’ best qualities will be present in his coaching.
“He’s really calm, passionate and had good relationships with the players. I think that is really important. It makes the players play really, really loose and strong, and I think his personality blends in with his coaching so well,” Letarte said. “I think that rubbed off on me as a player and a coach as well. He’s probably the nicest, most patient man I’ve met in my life, to be quite honest. If he comes out of the dugout you know it’s a bad call.”