Around the Horn baseball column: In Swampscott, the DeFelice Diamond is forever (2024)

How best to sum up Frank DeFelice’s impact on the game of baseball on the North Shore?

The man could be his own Immaculate Grid.

Think of the number of categories alumni of his Big Blue baseball program could fill: State champions, Northeastern Conference champions, North sectional finalists and champions, league and area batting champs, professional ballplayers, Division 1 collegians, Ivy Leaguers, Patriot Leaguers, “Power 5” conference players, All-Americans, Division 3 national champions ... the list is endless.

There are even enough guys that fit the bill that one could pursue a solid ‘rarity’ score.

Saturday morning in front of a big crowd of family, friends and, yes, many all-star players that could fill an Immaculate Grid, DeFelice was very grateful as the town of Swampscott formally dedicated its varsity baseball field as the Frank DeFelice Diamond.

“I always had a passion for baseball,” said DeFelice, now 82.

A member of the Winthrop High, Swampscott High and Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association Halls of Fame, DeFelice’s accomplishments are second to none.

As Big Blue head baseball coach for 35 seasons until 2006, he won 465 games and a Division 3 state title in 1993. Despite having one of the lowest enrollments in the Northeastern Conference, his teams won the league crown eight times and went to 10 North sectional finals in Divisions 2 and 3 (winning four).

“The numbers are the numbers. But that doesn’t tell the whole story of coach’s lasting impact,” said Paul Halloran, an assistant coach under DeFelice for many years and who also guided Swampscott’s American Legion team to state championships in 1995 and ‘96.

Discipline was the name of the game under DeFelice. A lot of programs have a right way and a wrong way, but in his dugout there only the Big Blue Way.

“He held everyone accountable,” said Halloran. “A lot of his players will look back say, ‘Boy, was he tough. But I’m glad he was tough.’”

The idea to name the field after DeFelice came about when Big Blue alum Steve Bulpett (who famously chronicled many Celtics world championships for the Boston Herald) was watching games at the adjacent Little League field. Every so often he’d see DeFelice at the games, still watching with intent eyes just as he did while scouting future talent in the 1980s, ‘90s and 2000s.

“He’s still contributing to the community, and isn’t that the exact essence of what a community is?” Bulpett said.

In concert with Swampscott’s current head coach (and another graduate of DeFelice’s program), Joe Caponigro, the ball got rolling at the town level.

With some help from Gino Cresta in the Swampscott Public Works department, a formal proposal was brought to the Select Board. It was approved this past winter, and DeFelice was honored at a boys basketball game against his alma mater, Winthrop.

On Saturday, members of this year’s Big Blue baseball team unveiled the huge sign reading “Frank DeFelice Diamond”, which was paid for in part by the Jauron Family Foundation. (Another potential Immaculate Grid row could be pro football players DeFelice coached: Dick Jauron, Bill Adams and Tom Toner, to name three just at Swampscott, never mind his time at Boston College).

“This is a permanent reminder of a person loved by this town, who truly loves this town,” Swampscott selectman David Grishman said.

What was it like to play for DeFelice? For starters, the uniform always had to be clean and perfectly kept; he once remarked that a rival school’s threads looked like pajamas.

The dugout was to be in good order, too, as was the bus. Current Swampscott Middle School principal Jason Calichman, who played for DeFelice and was Swampscott’s head baseball coach in the mid 2010s, recalled being told to pack lunch for one doubleheader.

“Coach said ‘You can’t eat on bus or in the dugout, but you’ll figure it out.’ It’s decades later and my friends and I will say that to each other all the time, almost like a rallying cry. ‘Boys, figure it out’,” Calichman said.

DeFelice was of the old school mentality that if you weren’t early, you were late (Saturday’s ceremony appropriately began at 9:59 a.m. for that reason). He didn’t like night games, preferring the sun to shine on his baseball team and to get home for dinner with wife Susan and their three kids.

But he also had a famous saying: The game doesn’t start until we arrive.

“I remember he said that to us before we had our prom: ‘Remember boys, the dance doesn’t start until you arrive’,” Caponigro recalled.

Competition, repetition and preparation were hallmarks of Swampscott’s success under DeFelice. Longtime friend Nelson Woodfork (father of one of Swampscott’s all-time greats and the current Senior Vice President of Major League Baseball, Peter Woodfork) recalled being enthralled just watching Swampscott’s practices.

“You know in baseball that when there are runners on first and third with less two outs, that’s when all the fun starts. I’d sit there and watch them work on that for hours ... the only practices that never bored me were his baseball practices,” Nelson Woodfork said. “Those teams were always prepared because that’s the way he did it.”

It was fitting that Saturday’s ceremony took place just after the Swampscott Little League parade because DeFelice was so involved with baseball at every level, be it young kids, high school or Legion ball. Every kid in town was important to him, and the fact that there are 50 kids in Swampscott’s program today (more than many bigger schools in the region) is a credit to what he built.

“Coach helped make men out of us,” Caponigro said of his time playing for DeFelice. “Discipline, teamwork, dedication, loyalty ... those were the lessons he taught us that carried through our entire lives.”

This year’s Big Blue captains presented some gifts to DeFelice, and the coach was thrilled to learn Luca Croft would be attending Boston College next year. Besides coaching there, DeFelice also coached football at Bentley and helped out the baseball team at Endicott College.

The number of kids he helped mold into good citizens is staggering.

“There are generations of people who have Deef stories,” Calichman said.

Now, thanks to a fitting dedication from a proud town, that will continue for generations to come.


Swampscott’s last NEC championship came back in 1997, when DeFelice was still coaching. Wouldn’t it be serendipitous if the drought ended in the year when the town honored him?

The Big Blue (5-4) can take a major step towards that goal when they face Peabody Friday; going into this week’s action, just one game separates those two, Salem and Saugus in the NEC Lynch standings.

DeFelice has been impressed with what he’s seen from the 2024 club thus far.

“They won that 16-inning game against Winthrop. That was impressive,” he said. “I remember Dick Lynch used to say that the good teams will usually find ways to win those one-run games. Joe’s been doing that.

“Joe is a real baseball man ... whether it’s high school or running the town North Shore Baseball League team (the Swampscott Sox), who he played for until he was 35 or 36. I marvel at what he’s done.”

For Caponigro’s part, he’s simply proud to follow in his coach’s cleats.

“A lot of time, I feel like a band that’s trying to pay after The Beatles,” Caponigro said.


Two milestones at Bridgewater State last week: Bishop Fenwick graduate Scott Emerson broke the program record for runs scored in a career with 148 (and counting), and senior captain Cam James of Ipswich also recorded his 100th career collegiate hit.


Belated congrats to Essex Tech head coach Sean Sullivan for earning their first win as members of the Cape Ann League, 8-4, over Amesbury last week. Liam Waterman has been pitching well for the Hawks with Mike Pesce, Xavier Parsons, Cole Waterman and Jose Pagan doing damage offensively.

Around the Horn, a column on North Shore high school baseball, appears in The Salem News and Gloucester Daily Times each Wednesday during the spring. Contact Matt Williams at and follow along on Twitter/X @MattWilliams_SN

Around the Horn baseball column: In Swampscott, the DeFelice Diamond is forever (2024)
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