Since Frank Jagoda took over the Dunkirk varsity baseball team in 1994, the Marauders have won eight league titles and five Section 6 titles. On Friday, Jagoda’s Marauders helped him reach another milestone – his 300th win as head coach.
“I think what it means is, we’ve been consistent for a long time,” Jagoda said after Dunkirk defeated Maple Grove 7-6. “And I think what I’m most proud of, is the fact that I’ve kept (the program) running. I’ve kept the motor running here and Dunkirk baseball, historically, has been good and I haven’t screwed it up.”
With the win, Jagoda’s record now sits at 300-165, including a 177-68 mark in league play through Friday’s rain-soaked win over the Red Dragons.
“There’s a lot of history here and a lot of expectations,” Jagoda said. “And some years it’s tougher than others, but the satisfying part about a lot of it is, over the last 20 years, I think we’ve really established ourselves as one of the strongest Class B schools in western New York. And not only that, we have never shied away from anybody. We have never tried to fix the schedule so we’re playing teams based on our pitching. If somebody wants to play us, we say, ‘yes’ and we go to battle.
“We take a lot of pride in the fact that teams call us to play,” Jagoda continued. “We don’t have to make calls to get a non-league schedule. (Other teams) call us. That just means they have a lot of respect for our program.”
From 1999 through 2013, the Marauders have made it to the Sectional Final Four all but two seasons, and in 2007 and 2011, his teams made it to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Final Four. In 2007 the team represented Section 6 in Class A while in 2011 the Marauders represented the Section in Class B.
“I appreciate the people that were the naysayers for years,” Jagoda said. “You always get somebody that disagrees, but do you know what’s important about that? If you can handle that as a person, you strive to get better as a coach every day. Because your goal is to make sure the naysayers understand what you’re trying to do, too.”
A LOOK BACK TO WHERE IT STARTED
Jagoda took the program over from Bill Walters in 1994 after the Marauders finished 7-13, and 4-8 in CCIAC play. Although his first team improved only slightly over the previous year – 12-10 overall and 6-6 league play – Jagoda was on the right track to becoming one of the most successful coaches in western New York.
“I wish I was a better coach my first 10 years,” Jagoda said. “I was a young buck and sometimes when you’re a young buck, you focus more on clashes with umpires and setting a tone for your team, or setting a tone for your team in a different way. I think I’ve improved as a coach in the last 10 or 11 years, where we’ve come up with a program that we think the offseason is important and having a philosophy that you have to work hard to get somewhere. And if you don’t (work hard), somebody’s going to beat you. And I think we’ve done that.”
Jagoda knows he couldn’t have gotten to 300 without receiving a lot of help from his assistant coaches, jayvee coaches and the players’ parents.
“They’ve just done an outstanding job for us and have set the tone for the program,” Jagoda said, before thanking Joe Puciarelli, Ryan Corbett, Jim Quinn, Mario Muscarella, Jim Bunge, Mike Curtain and Brian Crawford.
For the last 10 years, however, there has been one young man at his side that he could not be more appreciative of.
“Where would I be without Eric Gloss?” Jagoda asked rhetorically. “The kid bleeds maroon and if there’s one person that’s more proud of me than probably my Aunt Mary (Galardo), it’s probably Eric.”
Jagoda also knows that a good portion of his success has come from having adequate to excellent catchers behind the plate.
“I’ve always been blessed with decent catchers,” Jagoda said. “All the way back to Brian Fadale, who played for three years, to Todd Brenecki, to Andrew Horton and John Papierski. I’ve always had very, very good catchers.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Of the hundreds of players Jagoda has coached over the past 21 springs, two of them held a special place, as he coached his sons Frank III and Joe, who were a part of 99 of his 300 career wins.
“I never put my boys above the big picture in the baseball program,” Jagoda said. “Despite what other people tried to create. I’ve been there for everybody, not just a few. I’ve been there for all the kids. And the people who understand that enjoy what I’ve done. And the people who don’t understand that, haven’t enjoyed it.”
Jagoda noted, however, that it wasn’t always easy coaching his boys.
“Coaching your kids is the hardest thing in the world,” Jagoda said. “Some people don’t understand it and they think your kids get a better break. But you know something, they’re the ones that have to go home (with me) and put up with how they did because I’m the coach. And they would go over it and over it and over it. Unfortunately, it’s not fair to them, but at some point they understood.
“No one will ever believe it, but you’re harder on your kids,” Jagoda continued. “Not that I thought my kids were superstars, but I thought their abilities stood for themselves. They were both very, very good baseball players in this program. And we’ve had a lot of great baseball players over the years.”
As tough as it was to put aside the opinions of his detractors, it was equally as hard to make sure he managed his sons as best he could on the field. And that, Jagoda noted, was never as clear cut as people may have thought it was, and hindsight being what it is, Jagoda regretted not utilizing his sons in ways that would have better served their own baseball careers.
“He had the mentality of a catcher,” Jagoda said of Frank III. “He could call a great game and he understood the game. Catcher is probably where I could have and should have put him, to help him. But instead, because we had another catcher, that probably wouldn’t have gone over well. So Frank actually sacrificed a little more because of me and where he needed to play.
“And in regard to Joey,” Jagoda continued, “he probably could have been a super shortstop. But we had a shortstop and we needed a center fielder. And he became an outstanding outfielder. But I never pitched him too much, because I didn’t want to hear the wrath of putting my kid on the mound. So when Joey went to college, he was a weekend starter for (Jamestown Community College) and threw mid to upper 80s. But I never pitched him and I think that hurt him. And in the long run, because of who they were, I think I actually hurt (their chances), whereas other people thought I was always just helping them.”
THE ONES WHO WEREN’T THERE
Early in the season, Jagoda lost a very important person in his life, his Aunt Mary Galardo. She had been there for him his entire life, and perhaps even moreso after his father, Frank Sr., and mother Margie, passed away years before.
“Friday, I went to the cemetery where Coach (Al) Stuhlmiller’s plot is, my parents’ and my Aunt Mary,” an emotional Jagoda said. “And I made sure I stopped there (Friday) before I came to the ball park. (They) meant a lot to me.
“I wish Aunt Mary was here,” Jagoda continued. “It’s been a long two or three weeks without her. But I know she was up there (Friday) telling me to stay in the dugout, not to run on the field to yell at the umpires and bringing a can of Pepsi to the dugout.”
Jagoda, who helped Stuhlmiller win two Sectional titles, knows his old coach would be happy with what he’s done with the program.
“What would he say?” Jagoda said, thinking of his former coach, who finished his career with 360 wins. “First off, he’d say, ‘Juggy,’ and he’d look at me and say, ‘mental toughness, intestinal fortitude and guts. That’s what you’ve got to have.’ And that’s what he’d say to me. And I know he’d be very, very proud of me.”
When asked how many more years he felt he would be the varsity coach, Jagoda simply said, “It’s unknown.”
Regardless of that timetable, Jagoda is happy with where he thinks the program will be in the future.
“One thing I really liked about this year was we started hitting in November,” he said. “And I was able to get a feel for what’s coming up. And I’ve got some 8, 9 and 10 year olds coming up and I spent five-and-a-half hours every Sunday from November on with the young kids and the old kids. And I really, really enjoyed having the young kids. I’m talking about kids 9-13 years old that I had never met before, or had any contact with. So, I got to know their names and they worked hard to get better. It was a real treat to work with the young kids and give them an idea of what they need to do and where they need to go to be successful. And hopefully that’s going to pan out for us in the future.”
The one problem that Jagoda will face, however, is a decline in the number of kids who play baseball, as soccer has seemingly been the pastime of choice for kids in the summer in recent years.
“There’s a lot of concerns with numbers,” Jagoda said. “Even at the 13-16-year old Babe Ruth level there’s some concerns with numbers. But I look at that as you don’t need nine or 10 kids in every class. You need three or four kids in every class to mold a team together. And you don’t need the extras. So if you have the 12 guys or 13 guys there that want to be there and want to play ball, and put the time and effort into it, the numbers won’t matter.”
Whether or not Jagoda reaches 360 wins and catches his former coach is, as he stated, unknown. But one thing is for sure, as long as Jagoda is at the helm, the Marauders will be in good hands.
“The bottom line is, when you’re playing ball, you’ve got to be ready and prepared,” Jagoda said. “And when you get off the bus, when you leave a field, you want that other team to say, ‘Man they were good.’ Or, ‘Man, here they come.’ When you get on the field, you need to be prepared and when you get off the bus you need to be prepared, so the other team can say, ‘here comes Dunkirk.’ And I think we’ve done that for 21 years.”