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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | May 7, 2022

Bentley baseball coach Bob DeFelice's retirement after 54 seasons marks the end of an era for DII baseball

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When Bentley's DII baseball team wraps up its season against Stonehill on Sunday, May 8, it marks the end of an era. Oh, it's not just the end of an era at Robert DeFelice Field in Waltham, Massachusetts, nor is it simply the end of an era in NE10 baseball. Bentley head coach Bob DeFelice will bring out his final lineup card after 54 years of being a DII baseball head coach.

He has been a DII baseball staple since 1969. The man has seen a lot.

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The year is 1969. It would turn out to be a pretty monumental year in U.S. history: The Beatles recorded their last studio album together, Woodstock invented the music festival, The Miracle Mets and Joe Namath's Jets made headlines, and the U.S. landed on the moon. While so much has changed since then, one thing has not.

Bentley's head baseball coach.

That same year, Bob DeFelice began his tenure at Bentley and would coach every season until 2022. Fifty-four years at the helm doesn't leave much time before his DII baseball story started, but DeFelice made sure those early years counted. 

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For DeFelice it was always about baseball, and the earlier he could start as a pro the better. There was one roadblock, however: His father. As the first son of a first-generation Italian, when it came time for college, DeFelice didn't have much choice. "Out of high school, I didn't want to go to college. I had no interest in it," DeFelice said. "I was the first son, so it was 'you're going to college.'

"So, I went. I wound up playing on a couple of teams that were pretty successful at Boston College. We went to the Men's College World Series two years in a row β€” actually went to the semifinals one year. That was 1960-61. We were probably 23-5 and Southern Cal was 66-4. I remember playing against them and remember three of the guys on their team went right to the big leagues after the College World Series."

As if that wasn't thrilling enough, DeFelice was able to fulfill a childhood dream. Growing up a fan of the Boston Red Sox and the great Ted Williams, DeFelice got a chance to play in the system. "I signed with the Red Sox and played a couple years in the minor leagues. I realized that the Boston Red Sox were really good to me, but I wasn't really good enough β€” at least I didn't think. Then, the athletic director [at Bentley] wanted to start a baseball program. They asked if I would be interested, and I said absolutely. That's how it started."

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DeFelice had already been coaching; however, it was a high school football team a few years prior to Bentley. Now ready to field a DII baseball team, DeFelice needed a number. It was a no brainer: No. 9, Williams' number and recently retired by Bentley (although DeFelice joked he felt they would burn his number before retiring it), whom one could say DeFelice mildly admired. "Are you kidding? Williams was a god to us as kids," DeFelice said. "You could take a train to batting practice and just watch him hit the ball out of the park. After he gets through playing, and I sign with the Red Sox, and he comes to spring training and was always working with us in the minor-league camp... you just sat there spellbound."

Naturally the game was a lot different then. For one thing, seasons were much shorter. "We only played about 20 games, and there were no playoffs. We're a New England school, we probably played the month of April."

That first season, DeFelice and his Falcons went 9-4. And while there haven't been any DII baseball championships, his career has piled up well more than 800 wins with plenty of memorable wins along the way. As seasons have gotten longer, the Falcons have started to travel south to start the season without mounds of snow from those Northeast winters. Two February wins against DII powerhouse Tampa are two of the more memorable trips to the Sunshine State in recent years.

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By 1991, DeFelice had racked up 283 wins. He also racked up something else: a new position. DeFelice β€”while remaining head baseball coach β€” was named Director of Athletics, a position he held until 2020. "I never realized how difficult it was," said of moving to college baseball's version of the front office. "It made me find out what a great job just being a coach was."

One thing DeFelice was a big advocate of was the wooden bat. A controversial topic for sure among the college ranks, DeFelice championed the use of them and for 15 years under his watch, the NE10 was the only regular-season league in the country to use wooden bats. Perhaps that is why just three years ago, Max Troiani, one of DeFelice's star hitters, tore up the Cape Cod Baseball League β€” the renowned wood-bat collegiate summer league β€” in an All-Star summer. 

"Oh, is that a sore topic," DeFelice said with a laugh. "We started with wood and went to aluminum, but 15 years ago I helped convince the league to go to wood bats. It was tremendous. It made our league better. They voted to go back to aluminum two years ago, but the game is 200 times better with wood bats."

A catcher in his playing days, you would think it was all about the lineup and big hitters, but DeFelice has spent much of his time with the pitchers. He compares them to the football quarterback or the goalie in hockey. "They run the game. It's all about pitching, it's the reason you are going to be successful."

DeFelice looks for skill and isn't concerned too much with the hard throwers of today's game. "They put a gun on you and if you throw 90 [mph] you're a prospect, and if you throw 89, you're a suspect. Greg Maddux didn't break 85 and was one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He knew how to pitch."

The bats weren't the only changes to the game in his years. In fact, he thinks it is a much better product now. "The intensity and competitiveness of college baseball is at an all-time high and I think that's terrific," he explained. "There's no question the quality is improved dramatically. If you were a college kid when I was playing β€” they wanted to sign all high school kids. Why would scouts take a college kid playing 25-30 games a year? Now, they want kids to go to college, because the game has improved so much. There's a lot more interest in college kids these days."

If wooden bats weren't a controversial topic, how does the age of analytics translate to the old-school style of a head coach around the game as long as DeFelice has been? It's a topic of conversation veteran coaches like DeFelice can't escape. "Everybody says, 'you're a dinosaur,'" he said. "I'm not a dinosaur. All the dinosaurs are dead and I'm not dead yet.

"There is a stigma attached to us. But you also won't convince pure baseball people that this is the only key to baseball getting better. I look back and laugh at all this conditioning, weightlifting. Ted Williams is the greatest hitter of all time, never lifted a weight in his life. Look at Babe Ruth in all his pictures, he looks like a brawler."

Coming home: The final curtain call for Bentley's legendary coach

In speaking with DeFelice you immediately can tell this is a man that absolutely loves the game of baseball, and college baseball specifically. During his five-plus decades as skipper, he has developed a comical, witty banter and brutal honesty β€” always delivered in his thick Boston accent β€” which he's certainly earned. As the saying goes, DeFelice has seen more baseball than most will ever learn.

So, after 54 years, what is DeFelice's biggest takeaway from the game? "It got me to be 80 years old," he said. "You got to stay young, stay with them. You got to do things when you get to that retirement age and most that get into their 70s don't."

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All joking aside, DeFelice is leaving a game β€” specifically DII baseball β€” that is as much a part of his story as he is a part of its.

"You're getting a kid who really wants to play," DeFelice explained about why he loves the DII mentality. "At Bentley, you need to have Harvard grades to get in here. That commitment they have to make is significant. I'm amazed at how many DII schools are in the same boat and do so well.

"On my way out, I look at the teams I've coached. I take my hat off to the commitment that they made and the responsibilities. In my day, we didn't have all these distractions. They have to go to school, they got to put in extra time. And the quality of play at DII doesn't change β€” if you're a baseball nut and go to a DII baseball game, you'll always see high-quality baseball."

So for the first time in 54 years, DeFelice has to answer a question he's never had to before: What's next?

"I haven't got there yet," DeFelice said jokingly. "I don't know why; I haven't been able to look back and have those memories and I just don't know what the next thing is. I didn't know I was going to go to college, I didn't know I was going to play professional baseball, everything just kind of happened. I know you've heard it a hundred times, but I was one of those guys who happened to be at the right place at the right time. I do know one thing... I'm ready. I'm ready to do whatever I want to do now."

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