BRAINTREE — Steve Maze will never forget the last time he saw Ray Cattaneo .
It was June 18 — a Tuesday — and Maze paid his 82-year-old former coach a visit in his Quincy home. Cattaneo was ailing, toward the end of a long battle with cancer, and Maze was there to catch up and update him on Morrisette Post 294 baseball, the American Legion team Maze has coached since 2006, and the team Cattaneo has been the coach or general manager of since 1970.
“You know it’s OK, right? I got it,” Maze told his mentor. “If you want to go now, it’s OK.”
“Where am I going?” the ever-sharp Cattaneo replied.
“You know what I mean. I’ll take care of the baseball.”
“I know. Don’t worry.”
Two days later, Maze got a call from Nancy Connolly , a Cattaneo family friend who had been looking after the local legend. Cattaneo was not going to live through the weekend.
“Mr. C.,” as nearly everyone knew him, died Sunday, bringing an end to a life dedicated to the sport, and the town, he loved.
“You couldn’t describe in words’’ what Cattaneo means to Quincy baseball, said Maze. “If you were to ask somebody in Quincy about baseball in general — didn’t matter if it was Little League, didn’t matter if it was high school, Legion, whatever — Ray Cattaneo’s name would come up. Everybody knows him. He is baseball in Quincy.”
Cattaneo’s relationship with Morrisette dates back to 1945, when he was a member of the first Post 294 team. He signed with the Boston Braves in 1949, and after a four-season minor league career — which was interrupted by a stint in the Army during the Korean War — he retired from pro ball in 1954.
Cattaneo returned to Quincy, was hired by the city, and worked his way up to be executive director of the Park & Forestry and Cemetery Department.
All the while, though, baseball was his true passion.
He started coaching his former Legion team in 1970 and stayed in that role for three decades. He then became manager — every Legion team needs a representative from its respective post to serve as the manager, according to Maze — and will, on paper, maintain that role through summer’s end.
In the first game after Cattaneo’s death, his grandson, Ray Cattaneo III, 33 years old and one of Maze’s former teammates in the 1990s, threw out the first pitch, and the team donned black pins in his honor. Post 294 has also been hanging his No. 21 jersey by the bench and dedicated its Friday home game against Braintree to him.
Next season, Maze said, they will wear “Mr. C.” patches on their uniforms. For now, a simpler version on their hats will suffice.
Maze played under Cattaneo on the Post 294 team from 1996 until 1998. The former recalled one particular game, their last in 1998, against State College, Penn., with a trip to the American Legion World Series in Las Vegas on the line.
The team was understandably pumped up, and Adams Field in Quincy was packed. Cattaneo called them in for a pregame huddle.
A teenaged Maze and his teammates were expecting a thrilling speech.
“You guys remember one thing,” Cattaneo started, according to Maze. “I love all you guys.”
Morrisette lost that game, but in the end it didn’t affect Cattaneo all that much.
“It didn’t matter if we were playing, it didn’t matter if we were going to win,” Maze said. “The situation didn’t matter. . . . He told every team every year the same thing. ‘I love all you guys.’ ”
Braintree moves on, up
Steve Lee’s high school baseball career may have ended when Braintree lost to Bridgewater-Raynham, 12-0, in the Division 1 South quarterfinals June 4, but it didn’t take very long for the star shortstop and many of his teammates to get back out on the field.
Just two days later, they suited up as the Braintree Post 86 team for the first game of their compact American Legion season and mostly rid themselves of the bad taste the end of the scholastic season left in their mouths.
Braintree beat Weymouth, 5-4, in that summer season opener and has hardly slowed since, collecting a 9-1 record through Tuesday.
“We’re all off to a great start,” Lee said, adding that the quick turnaround worked to the team’s benefit. “It makes a short memory for everyone. Right after that first game [vs. Weymouth], we get the win and you forget about the B-R game and you’re moving on. It’s a whole different season — you just want to focus on this one. You don’t want to worry about what happened before.”
Coach Jim Joyce credits Lee, the owner of a .364/.432/.727 slash line and a team-high 12 RBIs, with carrying a Braintree lineup that some days has trouble scratching runs across, according to the coach. Braintree averages six runs per game.
The team’s true strength, Joyce said, lies in its sound defense and deep pitching staff.
Rising senior Matt Bickford , the Wamps’ ace, serves the same role for Post 86. He features a fastball and curve as his top two pitches, as well as a changeup that isn’t spectacular but is a serviceable third pitch.
“He gets ahead of batters, and when his curve is on, it’s on,” Joyce said. “Just knowing somebody who is going to be hitting spots and can throw three pitches for strikes, that’s scary for any batter.”
The Legion schedule is a grind, with 24 games by July 17, including a stretch of eight games in eight days through Friday.
Braintree, however, seems to be made for that sort of schedule. Joyce said a pair of performances in Tuesday’s 7-5 triumph over Quincy was indicative of the team’s gritty persona.
First, Mark Buckley , who attended but did not play at Mass Maritime this year, made a spot start and tossed five innings despite being in clear pain while suffering from leg cramps.
Rising junior Connor Columbus , after a pair of RBI base knocks, followed suit with two innings of relief in his first pitching appearance for Post 86 after not pitching all spring.
“That’s the workmanship, that’s the gritty performance I expect from all 18 guys,” Joyce said. “That’s why we won [Tuesday]. Not the tougher team, but the team that was a little more tenacious today, won. They have a lot of heart and they wear it on their sleeves.”Tim Healey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.