jfbrlb77.jpg

Salem State junior Bobby Celentano of Peabody hits fly balls for the outfielders during practice on Thursday.

SALEM | Anthony Palmieri, Bobby Celentano and Matt Mello have found a home at Salem State.

The three former Peabody High baseball players went their separate ways after high school graduation, but have since reunited to help lead the Vikings this spring. They have been friends and teammates since their Little League all-star days, and later as members of the talent-laden Peabody 14-year-old Babe Ruth World Series champions.

"We've been friends forever," said Palmieri, who plays both right and left field. "We all roomed together on the Florida trip. It's nice having people you feel so at home with on your team."

Palmieri started out at Plymouth State and made the baseball team, but was medically red-shirted after needing Tommy John surgery on his left arm. While recovering, he transferred to Salem State. Now, he's a junior majoring in physical education with plans to teach and coach.

Celentano went away to UMass Amherst figuring he'd never make a Division 1 college team | he was only 5-foot-6 and 145 pounds as a senior in high school. But by the time he came back to the North Shore after his freshman year of college, he had shot up to 6 feet and added 30 pounds of muscle.

"I loved the social atmosphere at UMass, but the academics didn't go well," said Celentano, who batted .433 last season for the Vikings. "There were so many people in my classes that I just couldn't concentrate. I figured I'd go to Salem State, and if I didn't like it go somewhere else after getting my grades up.

"I was still a freshman because I didn't have enough credits to transfer, and I decided to give baseball a shot. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would hit .400 or be one of the best hitters on the team."

Celentano played center field last season, but has been moved to shortstop this spring to take over for All-American Derek Lyons of Danvers, who turned pro and is playing in Belgium.

"I was a little rusty at first, especially since I had shoulder surgery last August. I didn't play at all for nine months, not until our first game in Florida (this season)," he said. "I've been an infielder all my life and felt confident I could play anywhere except shortstop when Derek was there."

For second baseman Mello, the road from high school went straight to Salem State, where he made the team as a walk-on. He said he has never regretted his college choice.

"I wasn't in a real rush to get away from home, and knew I wanted to play," said Mello, who is majoring in education, with the intention of teaching and coaching in the future. "I love the college, and having Bobby and Anthony on the team makes things a lot easier. I know them like the back of my hand. We've been teammates since we were nine or 10 years old and been through a lot together."

Bursting onto the scene

Celentano, a tri-captain, was always a spray hitter, using his speed to hustle down the line and beat out a play for a hit. But now he's developed into a home run threat as well.

Nobody is happier for him than his two old Peabody buddies.

"He's unbelievable," Mell said of Celentano. "It seems like he went from 5-feet to 6-feet overnight. He couldn't get the ball out of the infield, and now he's turned into a great college player.

"His confidence is unbelievable, and there isn't another kid more deserving because he has always been such a hard worker. To see what he's done is unreal."

Celentano, who carries a 3.4 grade point average as an accouting and finance major, started playing baseball in his backyard when he was five. While he could always put the bat on the ball, seldom striking out, he knew he lacked power.

"I couldn't get it out of the infield," he admitted. "I never had a home run in my entire career until college. But I had five last year and already have three this spring."

It took him a while to get used to hitting the long ball, though.

"The first one I hit out, I sprinted around the bases," he laughed. "I think it took until after the third until I learned to relax and jog around in a home run trot. Now I look at the ball, really appreciating each one."

Celentano, who, like Mello, was a reserve on Peabody's 14-year-old World Series champions, said he worked hard to hone his game, going to batting cages often and playing summer baseball.

Last year Celentano was named All-MASCAC Second Team, an ECAC First Team All-Star, a New England Division 3 All Region Second Team All-Star and the NCAA Regional team shortstop after taking over when Lyons was injured late in the season.

Tough act to follow

The Vikings are coming off an incredible season | one that will be tough to equal. That team tied a 20-year-old school record for most wins by going 34-8 and won a Division 3 NCAA playoff game for the first time ever.

But this year's squad is different, with only three seniors back and some key players gone. They started out 6-1 in their annual swing through Florida, but had a few setbacks in their final four games to come home 6-5.

"People have such high expectations for us," said Celentano. "Once we lost a couple of games, some of the younger kids started to panic. But they've got to realize last season was something that comes along only one in every 10 years if you're lucky. We won games we weren't even expecting to, without our top pitchers going. We were on a hot streak all season, which is tough to do playing 40 games.

"We're going to be all right this year; we have to take it one game at a time. Our big games are in the MASCAC, because you have to win those (league) games to go on."

Veteran head coach Ken Perrone is happy to have landed all three Tanner City kids.

"Anthony had a pretty good southern trip and hit with power," said Perrone. "We're hoping he'll come into his own this season. He hit three homers and would have had a couple more in average size parks. Mello is in the race for his life at second base, which is our most hotly contested position. He's a left-handed hitter who plays against right-handed pitching, is an effective base runner and came off the bench to win a couple of ball games with clutch hits last year.

"Celentano is one of the best pure hitters I've ever coached. He hits with power to all fields. He has good range and can help out wherever we need him."

Field of dreams

The long-awaited, new state-of-the-art ballfield on the Salem State campus is supposed to be ready in September, barring any last minute delays. No longer will they have to travel off site to play at windy Palmer Cove after this spring.

It will be a dream come true for all the Viking players | especially the boys from Peabody, who will get to play on it as seniors.

"It will be great," said Palmieri, a left-handed hitter. "For me, Salem State has been a great fit. It was close to home, has real good baseball, and money-wise was what I was looking for. But not having our own home field was tough, and finishing up at a beautiful new field will be perfect."

Celentano has been playing at Palmer Cove for so long, he now considers it his home away from home.

"I think we all started playing at the Cove when we were 13, and it's still a decent field," he said. "They've been teasing the new field in front of us for two years. I sure hope we get a chance to be the first team playing on it."

"To be actually able to play on it before my time is up would make everything compete," added Mello.

"Last year was a dream season, just awesome. We have a lot of core guys back, and need people to step into the leadership roles this season."

Trending Video

Recommended for you