EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article was written by freelance writer Tom Layberger for The Times Herald and is posted here with permission from The Times Herald.
WHITPAIN >> If Lou Lombardo held on to the 1950s baseball cards of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford he might have had a small fortune. As was the case with most youths of the era, though, baseball cards were ultimately relegated to the attic, basement or the far reaches of a closet never to see the light of day again.
While he did not get rich off those cards of Yankees luminaries, Lombardo has a wealth of baseball memories from nearly half a century of coaching the game he loves, including now 25 seasons as head coach of Montgomery County Community College.
Lombardo was hooked on the game as a youngster and those cards were a part of the reason why.
"I remember at almost the age of four putting on a glove and having a catch with my dad," Lombardo recalled last Friday. "I also remember that in the 1950s my first baseball cards of Yankees and for some reason I developed a passion for the Yankees, which I outgrew by the time Gene Mauch became manager of the Phillies. I sure wished I had not lost or misplaced the Yankees baseball cards I had because they all were hall of famers."
It is safe to say that the 1950s Yankees and Phillies of the Mauch era achieved different levels of success. Alas, Lombardo greatly admired Mauch's managerial acumen and absorbed all he could about the game of baseball.
"I developed a complete interest in baseball with the history, playing the game, watching, everything," said the Pennsylvania American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame member.
Ultimately, Lombardo would develop numerous players and see many of them advance to four-year colleges, the minor leagues and even the majors.
"I have been very fortunate," said Lombardo of all the players he has mentored. "I have a plan and I tell them you do what I ask you to do on the field, and 99.9 percent will because they have that hunger and fire, but you have to be committed to my classroom strategies. I think had 140 or 150 kids that have transferred (to four-year colleges)."
Three players that suited up for Lombardo at Montgomery County, all pitchers, went on to the big time. Dorn Taylor appeared in 27 games over three seasons (1987-90) with the Pirates and Orioles. Andy Carter made 24 appearances in two seasons ('94-'95) with the Phillies and Scott Forster came on in relief 42 times with the Expos in 2000.
One of Lombardo's former Montgomery County players is Major League umpire Al Porter, who was the Mustangs' MVP in 1998. Porter, who worked his first MLB game in 2010, was behind the plate for the Washington Nationals' first-ever no-hitter thrown at the end of last season by Jordan Zimmerman. Porter then worked last year's National League Division Series between the Dodgers and Cardinals.
Numerous of Lombardo's former players have become coaches at various levels of the game, including Villanova head coach Joe Godri.
"I am very proud of all the guys that played at Montgomery County Community College that are now coaching," said Lombardo, who has won 583 games at the school. "It is very rewarding."
The 2015 season could be rewarding. If so it will be because several players have bought into the need to play multiple positions. Of the 20 players on the roster 18 were healthy and ready to start the season this week. Weather and field conditions permitting, the Mustangs will have played two games against schools in New Jersey before traveling to Myrtle Beach on Saturday where they are scheduled to squeeze in seven games in four days.
"Every fall we teach players multiple positions," said Lombardo, who taught history at Upper Dublin for 33 years. "If you are a first baseman I will evaluate you to find out if we can move you to third in an emergency. If you are a shortstop, can you also play second and third? I make pitchers take fly balls, maybe only for defensive reasons, but they go through the drills. It is going to be musical chairs and we have to do this for survival."
Chuck Delagol and Jake Hoffman, who hails from California, are starting pitchers returning from last year's squad and expected to anchor the staff. Many of the starter pitchers will not be asked to go deep into games, but provide a few solid innings before turning it over to the bullpen.
"We have a lot of back-to-back doubleheaders and at least seven different guys will start," said Lombardo. "With some of them I will be happy if they give me three or four innings."
The Mustangs should be strong in the middle of the infield with Jake Mascio (Plymouth-Whitemarsh) at second and Luke Pollock at short. Mascio was an all-conference selection as a shortstop in 2013 when he hit .336 before sitting out last season while recovering an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, which necessitated the move to second.
"He stayed on as a student assistant last year, trained through spring and summer and came back in the fall," said Lombardo. "We moved him to second base and we want to make sure his arm is 100 percent by summer."
A freshman who could help the pitching staff as well as play first base and the outfield is Vince Catagnus, a product of Norristown High. It is the need for such versatility that the season will require.
"They guys are improving tremendously and working through injuries and things," said Lombardo, whose team returns from Myrtle Beach to play a doubleheader at home against Penn State-Scranton next Saturday, March 14.