If you show up to watch the Neumann-Goretti High School baseball team, there’s a great chance you’ll catch a smile from senior second baseman Salvatore Laimo.
When it comes to baseball and winning, Laimo is as serious of a competitor as you’ll find. But he just can’t help showing how much he loves to play the game, especially with the Saints.
“Some of the guys on this team have been playing together since tee ball, since we were 4 years old,” Laimo said. “It’s now 13 or 14 years that we’ve been playing together. It really puts a smile on my face every single day.”
Laimo has had plenty to smile about. He’s a four-year starter and he’s off to a hot start as Neumann-Goretti began navigating its tough Philadelphia Catholic League schedule. Through the weekend, the Saints were 3-0 in PCL play, which included wins over Roman Catholic, Lansdale Catholic and three-time defending PCL champ LaSalle. The Saints defeated the Explorers, 6-1, on April 13 to capture their third win in a row.
“Every game is a battle, no matter who you play,” Laimo said. “Even against lesser teams, you have to show up and take care of business. There’s no walk in the park against any team in this league.”
No one knows that better than Saints head coach Mike Zolk, A Neumann-Goretti grad who won Catholic League titles as both a player and as a coach. Zolk is an incredibly smart coach who knows how to get maximum effort from his players. He knows this year’s team is a scrappy one.
“We have guys who can pitch and can fill up the strike zone and we’re fast on the bases,” Zolk said. “We’re going to cut our strikeouts down. And we’re going to put pressure on the other teams. We’ll score runs by bunting the baseball or hitting the long ball. We’re going to find a way to manufacture runs and we have a good enough group to do it. It’s exciting.”
Laimo is heavily depended on as a pillar of the team’s success. His value is seen both on and off the field. The team regularly hangs out off the diamond, whether it’s playing some schoolyard ball or heading to a Phillies game nearby. They’ve already been to a few this year.
“I was there with all the guys from the team last week,” Laimo said. “Outside of practice, we really hang out a lot. I feel like a lot of other teams don’t do that, but we hang out a lot and we’re very tight together. We’re a close team.”
Some of those bonds were formed years ago at tee ball. Guys like Lorenzo Bocelli, Louie Del Brocco, Jameson Masino, Joe Brasky and Jimmy Gallo have known each other since they were practically in diapers. They are now the old guys on the team.
“We take these young guys under our wing,” Laimo said. “We have a half-senior, half-sophomore lineup so there’s a lot of young guys. We keep them in check. I feel like I’ve been ready for this role since I started playing baseball.”
His coach agreed.
“We talk a lot about our culture here,” Zolk said. “We talk about what it means to be part of Neumann baseball. Sal is a guy that leads by example and he epitomizes what it means to be a part of this team and a part of this program. He finds a way to make his team better and brings the energy every day.”
And he’s clutch in big situations. Laimo delivered a grand slam in the Saints’ first league game in a 5-4 victory over Roman Catholic.
“It was inside the park,” Laimo said. “It rolled all the way to left-center and I got to jog into home. It felt great, though. I gave my team a lead against a rival.”
One-in-a-lifetime experience, right? Not for Laimo, who hit a grand slam his freshman year. He was a little more prepared this time around.
“My first grand slam was my freshman year in the city championship against (Science and Leadership Academy),” Laimo recalled. “I hit one over the fence and it was awesome. Everyone was hype for me but I didn’t know what to do. I just ran around the bases with this big smile on my face. I didn’t know where I was going. I was on cloud nine.
There’s that smile again. It’s pretty noticeable each time he arrives at the field.
“It’s been an awesome four years for him,” Zolk said. “He was an everyday starter as a freshman and he’s been a blast to work with. If you watch him every day, he’s our Energizer Bunny. He’s our spark plug. He comes out and plays the game hard and he’s super emotional and he’s really easy to root for.”