Lou Petrucci couldn’t bring himself to look at the donation page that was made for him on Monday after his home was destroyed by a fire. Until Thursday.
Petrucci, the baseball coach at Ward Melville and teacher at Minnesauke Elementary School in East Setauket, pulled up the GoFundMe page on his phone during his lunch break and began to cry.
Not just because of the amount of money that was donated — which as of Thursday night had reached nearly $29,000 — but because of the comments donors had written about him.
“It’s humbling and very emotional,” Petrucci said. “Something like this makes you realize that the kids, the people, the community, they treasure everything. I’ve been lucky enough to witness the love and support of my friends, the baseball community and the people of Three Village.”
At about 2 a.m. Monday, Petrucci said he and his wife, Ann Marie, were awakened by the smell of smoke and the sound of fire alarms in their Port Jefferson condo, where they had lived since February. Petrucci, 55, looked out the window of his first-floor bedroom and saw the second floor engulfed in flames.
Petrucci said the cause of the fire, which destroyed multiple units, remains under investigation. He has been unable to enter the home to survey the damage and was told he might not be able to do so for two to three months. He fears all of their possessions might have been destroyed.
Before exiting the burning condo, he managed to grab jewelry that belonged to his wife’s mother, who recently passed away, along with some clothes and the family’s two pet rabbits. But other heirlooms, pictures and childhood mementos from their kids may have been lost.
“Those,” he said, “are irreplaceable.”
As are pieces of Petrucci’s sports memorabilia collection, which includes the jersey that Mets pitcher Steven Matz, a Stony Brook native, wore during his senior season at Ward Melville.
Petrucci, who has been baseball coach at Ward Melville for 10 years, received phone calls from dozens of former players after the fire. The first call, he said, came from Matz. “He said, ‘Hey, Coach. How you doing? Can I do anything?’ ” Petrucci recalled. “I told him just go out and pitch a good game tomorrow, that’s it.”
Matt Marsh, the junior varsity baseball coach at Ward Melville, created a GoFundMe page for Petrucci on Monday. More than 300 donations have been made, some by fellow teachers, current and former players, and even opponents from rival teams such as Patchogue-Medford and Longwood.
“It shows how much people care about Lou,” Marsh said. “Even players from rivals that, for lack of a better word, hate our guts on the field, donated and showed support. That’s how much respect there is out there for Lou.”
Ward Melville’s players aren’t surprised by the outpouring of support for their coach. “It’s because of the kind of person he is,” said Ben Brown, a junior pitcher. “Everyone loves him.”
“He does so much for our community and so much for our team,” added Joe Rosselli, a junior centerfielder. “He donates so much of his time to making us better kids and better players. He deserves every dollar that’s getting funded toward him.”
Which is why, after days of resisting, Petrucci finally looked at the donation page and became overwhelmed by the generosity and appreciation of those he influenced.
“Every day, there’s a new moment that reminds you why you’re a teacher and a coach,’’ Petrucci said. “Well, this is why. It’s not about wins and losses, it’s about the impact you make on people’s lives. This fire, it’s developed a burning passion for me inside to be an even better teacher and better coach.”