Hall of Fame Spotlight: Joe Apicella
By Chris Villani Sports Reporter/Columnist · August 28, 2013
More than six decades after it happened, Joe Apicella calls his indoctrination into the game of a baseball a true storybook tale. He grew up just steps from Fino Field, and saw baseball for the first time when he watched a priest named Louis Antonelli hitting baseballs to a group of kids.
"I was only five-years-old, but I begged my mom to let me play and one day she took me over there," he said. "Father Antonelli made me the team's water boy and, during the last game of the summer, he put me in right field, figuring a ball wouldn't be hit to me.
"In the last inning, a high fly ball was hit to me and, with the sun in my eyes, doesn't the ball land in my glove?" he said. "From that time on, every time I gripped the baseball, it was like the baseball was gripping me."
Sixty-six years later, after a standout playing career at Milford High School and with the Milford Legion and a 48-year coaching career, baseball has landed Apicella a spot in the Milford High Hall of Fame.
"I felt honored to make it into the hall because I played so much baseball at Milford High and I started to really look back and remember the players and coaches," he said. "Those guys are the reason I am still in the game."
Apicella played basketball and ran cross-country during his four years at Milford High, but it was on the baseball diamond where he truly shined.
"My senior year, we were 19-2 in basketball, but we didn't go to the tournament because all of the seniors didn't want to delay the baseball season another two weeks," he said. A four-year varsity player, Apicella was co-captain of the 1959 legion team that captured a state championship and also captained the 1960 Milford High squad to a state title.
"We had a great team in 1960," he said. "We had gone to the semifinals the year before and that season was a culmination for us. Unfortunately, that summer, we were all too old to play legion ball."
Apicella said his high school coach, Charlie Espanet, and his legion coach, Pep Morcone were particularly influential in his early baseball life. "Charlie was my mentor," said Apicella. "He motivated me in the classroom and on the field and I learned more baseball from him than anyone. I still learn from him, he's 95-years old but I can call him on any given day and I still call him coach. That's the kind of respect that's bred at Milford High, it's one coach after another setting a good example for his players."
Morcone urged Apicella to start his coaching career, which is now in its sixth decade.
"I was playing every day, with the Milford Town Team, in the Park League, in the Suburban League," said Apicella. "Pep called me in the spring of 1966 and asked me to coach, so I reluctantly didn't play and I fell in love with coaching,"
Apicella coached the Milford Legion team for 17 seasons. He has also coached the Milford Town Team and the legion teams in Marlboro, Framingham, Grafton Hill of Worcester, and East Side of Worcester, where he currently coaches. His East Side squad advanced to the Northeast Regional final this summer. He has coached 20 players who went onto play in the major leagues, but said one of his toughest coaching assignments was coaching his son's tee ball team and walking a dozen five year olds out to their positions so they all didn't run out to right field.
Today, Espanet is still a source of baseball knowledge for his former charge. Father Antonelli, now in his 90s, is still mentoring young people at his mission on a small island in the South Pacific. And Apicella continues to provide today's players the kind of leadership and direction he received from the men who taught him the game.
"I love it, I still throw batting practice and hit infield and outfield every day," he said. "I work with coaches who are younger than me but always have a sore this or that. I've never had a sore arm in my life and I hope I can continue to do it. After 66 years, baseball continues to be my love."
The Milford High School Hall of Fame will induct a new class on November 17. In each issue until then, the Town Crier will profile one of the inductees in the Class of 2013.