T.J. McGuire raked the slop on Curtis Field’s first-base line. Dylan Rooney tamped the mound, packing the wet dirt tight in front of the rubber.
Around the infield, their Bayport-Blue Point baseball teammates completed various maintenance tasks for about 15 minutes after a recent practice on a damp, gray day.
“We’ve got to keep it nice for the whole season,” said Rooney, a senior third baseman and pitcher, “so we start on Day One and don’t stop until the last day of practice.”
Said senior first baseman McGuire, “We know this is one of the nicer fields in Suffolk County, and we take pride in it.”
The love between the Phantoms and their field is not unrequited.
Not a single player on this year’s roster has ever lost a varsity game on Curtis Field. Shoreham-Wading River was the last team to leave with a win, in Game 1 of the 2012 county championship, when this year’s senior class was in the eighth grade.
Since then, the Phantoms have rattled off 43 consecutive victories at home. (They have won 47 straight as the designated home team, when factoring in games at neutral sites, and gone 69-12 overall.)
“I think knowing that we have a big streak helps motivate us to continue that and just work extra hard to not lose when we’re here,” senior catcher Luke Olsson said.
The Phantoms won 13 games at Curtis in 2013, going 27-0 overall and winning the state Class A championship. They repeated upstate in 2014 and added 14 more home wins before tallying 16 in 2015 and earning a third straight county title.
The temporary fence that lines the outfield is 330 feet down the lines, 340 in the gaps and 360 in center. Parallel to the third-base line and across Railroad Street, trains frequently whiz by, tooting their horns. But as far as Curtis Field’s physical advantages, coach Jim Moccio could not pinpoint anything in particular.
“Our guys, they just do a pretty good job taking care of it,” Moccio said.
Moccio credited the school’s grounds crew for preparing Curtis Field for unanticipated home games when opponents’ facilities were unplayable, creating a handful of extra opportunities to extend the streak.
“They are a big part of it and don’t always get the recognition,” Moccio said.
For a while, Moccio kept the streak a secret from the team. He did not want his players to feel unnecessary pressure, and he also feared telling them could be a jinx.
“I’m a little superstitious, so we kept it quiet,” Moccio said. “It was maybe my wife and my assistant coaches who knew and talked about it.”
The streak hit 40 last May 23, when the Phantoms walked off against Comsewogue with a 6-5 win in the second game of the county semifinals. It was their third of four walk-off wins in 2015. At that point, Moccio decided he needed to inform his team.
“When we heard about it, we were like, wow, we’ve got to keep this going,” junior shortstop and pitcher Jake Liberatore said.
That plan has carried over to a new season, which begins March 28 at Shoreham-Wading River.
Moccio expects his team to contend for a fourth straight county title, thanks to a strong defense, a solid lineup and experienced leadership. Rooney and Liberatore have won multiple state championships, and Olsson and McGuire played roles on the 2014 winner.
“They know what it takes to get there,” Moccio said.
And that includes tending to a field that has never dealt a loss to anyone on this year’s team.
“I can’t really imagine [losing at home],” Olsson said. “It’s been a very long time.”
Seven of the toughest teams at home 2012-15:
1. Bayport Blue Point
51-3, including a 45-win streak, at home.
2. Ward Melville: 46-6
3. MacArthur: 41-6
4. Connetquot: 43-8
5. Division: 42-8
6. Clarke: 41-8
7. East Islip: 35-12