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Nico Doria, Jericho catcher, has spirit of a winner

Jericho catcher Nico Doria throws during a game

Jericho catcher Nico Doria throws during a game against Sewanhaka at Sewanhaka High School on Monday, April 11, 2016. Photo Credit: Brad Penner

When Nico Doria speaks, there’s a poise and confidence often unmatched by anybody in the room.

As Jericho’s four-year starting catcher, Doria is used to pressure. Whether he’s stopping a ball in the dirt to keep a runner from advancing a base or blocking the plate to make it difficult for a runner to score, he’s imposing his will on nearly every play on the diamond.

“Not many people know my back story,” Doria said, “but a lot of people — especially in baseball — gravitate toward me as a leader, and I take pride in that.”

Looking at the 6-1, 190-pound senior, who hit .390 with four home runs in an All-County 2015 season, you’d never guess that his back story deals with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a cancer that attacks part of the immune system — as a 9-year-old in October 2007.

Doria said he wouldn’t let the disease demoralize him. He refused to lie in hospital beds. He walked around hospital hallways with his mother as the IV pole dripped and, when he got tired, sat a table to play board games.

He went through chemotherapy and defeated the disease seven months later. According to the Mayo Clinic website, advances in diagnosis and treatment of Hodgkin’s have helped give people a chance for a full recovery.

Though there’s no comparison between a dangerous disease and baseball, Doria’s never-quit attitude helped him evolve into one of the best catchers.

“I knew I lost a year over everyone,” said Doria, who will play next year at Fordham, “and it kind of drove me and made me think in the back of my head I had to outwork everybody or else I would have fallen behind. It wasn’t a bad thing. It kind of drove me to the player I became.”

Doctors didn’t allow Doria to work out with heavy weights until 10th grade as he continued checkups every six months to make sure the disease didn’t return. In the meantime, he hit off tees and worked on his defensive skills. He perfected the fundamentals.

“I think that was where I really took off because I really got my foundation,” Doria said. “It allowed me now and the past two years to really take advantage and see my potential.”

Sports always served as his motivator, he said. Doria was a Jericho varsity basketball ball boy — sporting a New York Giants ski cap while undergoing chemotherapy.

Drawing inspiration from athletes like Pittsburgh Penguins Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux and current Cubs pitcher Jon Lester, both of whom beat forms of lymphoma, Doria knew he could prosper.

“All these guys in the sporting world, I know exactly what they went through, and it’s great to see them coming back and doing these great things,” Doria said. “It shows that you could get through it and there’s things down the road for me ahead. And I’m going to be successful, too.”

Doria’s teammates rely on him on the field. Jericho’s No. 1 pitcher, Sal Cammisuli, tossed a no-hitter on Opening Day and said he feels more confident with Doria behind the plate.

“He’s a very confident leader, always pushing others to do their best and always controlling the pitching staff,” Cammisuli said. “Keeping our demeanors straight and helping us do a great job.”

Doria batted .333 with six RBIs through Jericho’s 5-0 start as the core from an undefeated middle school team looks to make the playoffs. And to play Division I baseball is something he couldn’t even dream of while battling cancer as a child.

“To ever think that during those times of struggle that I would play college baseball, Division I, I never thought of it,” Doria said. “I was just thinking about surviving that day.”

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