Leaving base


Tom DeMarco can feel it every time he takes the field: The end is near. Sometime next month, the senior outfielder-pitcher will hang up his Philadelphia University uniform and say goodbye to a sport he has played since childhood.

The athlete, of the 2500 block of South Darien Street, wasn’t quite ready to talk about retirement while warming up for last Thursday’s game against Wilmington College. For now, the Rams team captain just wants to lead his squad to a winning season, something he hasn’t experienced on the college level.

"Hopefully, we’ll make the playoffs," he said, taking a break from batting practice at Veterans Stadium, where the Rams were playing in a tournament.

DeMarco, who turns 22 today, is trying to encourage that optimism in his teammates — including his brother Chris, a sophomore.

"It’s attitude more than anything," he said. "I try to tell them we have to bring it together and just have some heart and understand that the games mean something. This is a once-in-a-lifetime shot."

As of Tuesday, the Rams were 5-10 overall, which includes last Thursday’s 8-7 loss to Wilmington College. The game was part of the Third Annual Bill Giles Invitational, which features four area Division II baseball teams. DeMarco opened the game with a first-pitch double and later scored on a sacrifice fly. The player went hitless the rest of the game, but did contribute an RBI groundout.

Just as during his high-school days at Girard Academic Music Program, DeMarco likely spent Thursday night analyzing his performance.

"No matter what my stats say, I am never happy because I always think I can do better," he said.

But DeMarco’s record speaks for itself.

Through his first 15 games this season, the leadoff hitter ranked among the team leaders in just about every statistical category, including batting average (.339), runs scored (15), hits (19), doubles (four) and stolen bases (three). As a junior, he led the Rams in runs (45), doubles (13) and triples (five), while finishing second in home runs (seven).

None of this came as a surprise to coach Don Flynn.

"I knew he was an athlete," Flynn said. "He had a good arm, was tough and a good competitor. He is the type of player who can just take over a game."

When his team requires, DeMarco also can pitch. Last season, the left-hander was limited to 4.2 innings due to tendinitis in his pitching shoulder. In last month’s game against Millersville, DeMarco pitched five innings, giving up five runs and one earned run in a no-decision.

The athlete played both positions for coach Art Kratchman at GAMP and, in the process, earned individual honors, including Public League Player of the Year in 1999 and First Team All-Public and All-City recognition. His proudest accomplishment was leading the Pioneers to their first-ever Public League semifinal appearance in 1999.

Going to college in Philly makes it easy for DeMarco to keep his ties to GAMP. When the Pioneers won their first-ever Public League baseball title last June, he was among the crowd of hundreds cheering on the sidelines. DeMarco’s little brother Dominic, then a freshman, was a starting outfielder on the team.

"I think it was great," Tom DeMarco said. "I felt like I won."

The player credits Kratchman for having a major impact on his baseball career.

"Kratch is a great guy," DeMarco said. "He was more than a coach."

The athlete is trying to bring the playoff success he enjoyed under Kratchman’s tutelage to his current team.

"He knows the price you have to pay to develop into a winner," Flynn said.

DeMarco knows his squad could pull off a winning season if luck and ability come together. There are games where the team gets good pitching and doesn’t hit; there are others in which they hit and don’t have great pitching, he said.

If the Rams don’t change their losing trend this season, utility player Chris DeMarco will be around for two more years to chase the goal. Tom said he’s enjoying the time on the field with his brother.

"I love [playing with Chris]," he said. "I like to keep him straight and he keeps me straight."

Chris, an All-Public player himself, said Philadelphia University was his first choice because of Tom.

"He was there for everything," Chris said.

Now Tom is preparing for life after baseball. A marketing major, he would like to pursue a career in sports marketing or even the CIA.

"It hasn’t sunken in yet," he said of the end of his playing days. "Nobody wants to say goodbye."

Koplove makes D-backs’ roster

Since being drafted in 1998, Arizona Diamondbacks right-handed pitcher Mike Koplove, of 19th and Shunk streets, had never opened the season on the major-league level. That was until Sunday, when the defending National League champs named the 26-year-old athlete to their 25-man roster. The second-year pro beat out veterans Mike Jackson and Greg Swindell for the roster spot.

"Coming into spring training, I knew I was going to have some real tough competition," Koplove said in a phone interview prior to Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. "Starting this season on the big-league roster was my goal. It was a thrill just getting to experience the whole opening-day atmosphere."

His four saves during spring training tied for tops in the majors with Billy Wagner of the Houston Astros and Dave Veres of the Chicago Cubs. Koplove pitched 11.1 innings of spring training, compiling a .79 ERA while striking out seven. The Diamondbacks selected the 6-foot, 170-pound athlete in the 29th round of the 1998 free-agent draft.

Last season, "Kop" appeared in 55 games and compiled a 6-1 record with a 3.36 ERA. His first big-league victory came on July 11, 2002, against the Dodgers. The pitcher continued to enjoy success during a late August stretch, when he threw 8.2 hitless innings, as opponents went 0-for-24 with three walks. Koplove limited the opposition to a .150 batting average in his first 33 outings after the all-star break. The relief pitcher also saw time in the postseason, when he came out on the losing end of a 2-1 defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals.

"Obviously, I want to stay in the big leagues the whole year, and continue where I left off last year," Koplove said. "My goal is to maintain the same level of success that I had early [last season]."

Koplove pitched 1.1 hitless innings in Tuesday’s 5-4 win over the Dodgers, striking out two and walking one.