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Division baseball is an elite program with a little bit of luck

Division Avenue varsity baseball coach Tom Tuttle and

Division Avenue varsity baseball coach Tom Tuttle and players, from left, Tyler Epple, Anthony Papa (carrying "Dale", the team's good luck charm), Joe Piscitelli and James Varela pose for a portrait ouside the high school on Tuesday, March 17, 2015. Credit: James Escher

Are you superstitious?

Baseball players are. A player might have the same repetitive actions before every at-bat. A pitcher might jump over the foul line every time he takes the hill. Players in the dugout hoping for a comeback will stay in the same spot wearing rally caps.

Then there are good-luck charms.

Meet Dale the Garden Gnome, official team mascot of the Division Blue Dragons.

The good-looking, 12-inch statue took his spot on the bench before every Division varsity baseball game last season as the Blue Dragons marched to their 13th Nassau Class A title.

"The garden gnome represents something the players all believe in and rally around," said Division coach Tom Tuttle in his eighth year at the helm. "He's going to be in the dugout again this year. I love it. He's the centerpiece of our team chemistry and what creates a super team camaraderie."

Of course the gnome is nice if you believe in good luck charms. But Division wins championships with pitchers such as righthanded seniors Anthony Papa and James Varella. Both are headed to LIU Post and combined for 15 wins in last year's county championship run.

"It's intense to play in the Division baseball program," said Papa, who was 9-0 as a junior. "There are great expectations and we have an accountability here. We have excellent team chemistry and it starts with our leadership, our coaching staff. Our garden gnome was named as a goal to get to Farmingdale State and play for the championship."

Papa also was the anchor to an offense that averaged 13 runs per game. He drove in 34 runs and batted .384.

"We lost in the Long Island championship game and our goal is to get back there and win it." Papa said. "But getting through the Nassau tournament is very difficult -- there are quite a few good teams so we'll have to work for it."

Tuttle is the mentor of a program that exudes winning. The Blue Dragons are steeped in tradition. Hall of Fame coach Doug Robins won a Long Island record 603 games and led the program to numerous championships before retiring in 2006.

Robins laid the foundation that Tuttle further cemented with a brash style and a deep commitment.

Tuttle's teams garnered Nassau crowns in 2008, 2011 and 2014, including a Long Island title in 2011.

"You can find coach Tuttle on the field with the younger players and the little leaguers all summer because his commitment to our program doesn't end in June," senior outfielder Joe Piscitelli said. "He puts in so much time developing his players through the camps and clinics. We've known him and the terminology in his program since we were eight years old. The transition to the high school was easy."

Division has won 33 conference titles and eight Long Island championships. They've had 27 conference MVPs and 10 pitchers have been awarded the prestigious Diamond Award, given to Nassau's top hurler.

"We are not short on accolades and recognition," said Tuttle. "And that doesn't come by accident. It comes with a stress on commitment to the program and an absolute accountability to the process. We are all about team building and team chemistry and the expectations are to achieve and win championships."

Hard-throwing Varella is another key cog in the Blue Dragons' program. He finished last season with a 6-1 record and a 1.05 ERA. He struck out 57 batters with a fastball that clocks between 85-88 mph and a devastating knuckle-drop. He added a .363 average and 21 runs scored on offense.

"These are my guys," Tuttle said. "They're a special group of talented players. I like having the older guys mentoring the younger guys and these seniors work well with the ninth and tenth graders. I'm a big believer in paying it forward."

Tuttle said Division baseball is more than runs scored and victories earned. His philosophy is to use baseball as the vehicle to teach young people good values.

"We all want to win and winning is fun," he said. "We want our guys to be good men, productive citizens and teach them values for life. We're teachers more than we're coaches. We have a responsibility when we put on this uniform that totally matters and we respect it."

Tuttle's fingerprints are all over this program. And having a little lucky charm that lifts team spirit can't hurt.

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