Baranek: Lewis softball coach George DiMatteo retiring
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org May 12, 2014 8:34PM
George DiMatteo | Supplied photo
Updated: June 14, 2014 6:30AM
For 31 years, George DiMatteo was all about a lot of things during his career as softball coach at Lewis.
Passion for the game. Passion to compete. Compassion for his players. Making it fun.
According to Flyers junior pitcher Ali Brems, he had a sixth sense for softball.
“I remember sitting in the dugout when I wasn’t pitching and he’d be like, ‘This ball is going to Carol (Norjiri).’ And it did,” she said. “Or he’d say, ‘I’ll bet Japanese steakhouse that this ball is going to left field.’ And it would.
“He positioned players so well that it worked out for us every time. It was crazy how much instinct he had for the game.”
Instinct now is taking him in another direction.
DiMatteo announced his retirement, effective June 30, to the team during the recent Great Lakes Valley Tournament.
Along the way to a 1,032-539-6 record, DiMatteo led the Flyers to 13 NCAA Division II tournament appearances, including two College World Series berths. In 2001, Lewis finished second in the nation.
“Is there ever really a good time to retire? I don’t know,” DiMatteo said. “But I hit 60, and that’s enough. I don’t want to die on the field.”
DiMatteo is a Lewis graduate (1976), and played baseball on national championship teams there under the legendary Gordie Gillespie. After playing for one-plus years in the Cubs minor league system, he became the baseball coach at Aurora University.
In 1982 he returned to Lewis as the assistant to baseball coach Irish O’Reilly. His long-range plan, though, was to replace O’Reilly.
Things changed when DiMatteo was asked if he’d take over the softball program in 1984.
“First, I asked my wife for permission,” he said of Deb DiMatteo, a former Hall of Fame Flyer and an NJCCA Hall of Fame coach after a 26-year career at the College of DuPage and Illinois Benedictine. “She gave me full confidence. So I said absolutely, but I told them I always wanted to be the baseball coach at Lewis, so if Irish ever decides to leave I want to be considered. Well, you know that story.”
O’Reilly didn’t retire until 2007. By then, DiMatteo had created his own legend on the school’s softball diamond.
Through the years, DiMatteo developed a reputation as a great X’s and O’s coach, but also as a man who cares for his players.
“To me, family comes first, academics second and athletics third,” he said.
His favorite team, he said, was the 2001 squad that, led by Stagg graduate Laurie Markatos, won 55 games before losing to Nebraska-Omaha in the NCAA Division II title game.
“That team stands out just because of what they accomplished and how they remain friends today,” DiMatteo said. “We get together at Christmastime. Laurie is living with her husband in London now, and we still stay in touch. I’m planning to visit there.”
DiMatteo takes perhaps his greatest pride in the fact that in the 31-year history of the program, the Flyers never failed to quality for the GLVC Tournament.
That leads to one more story.
The 2014 Flyers lost their first five games of the season, and April 20 were 10-20.
“We were staring down at, ‘Uh-oh, this season is going to go down and we’re not going into the tournament,’ ” DiMatteo said. “So right then I laid down a challenge. I told them, ‘What we need is 13 out of 16.’
“After each game, I remember distinctly asking the players after every game, ‘What’s the magic number?’ And they’d say it.”
Lewis won 13 of its next 14 games. What a fitting final countdown.