Jon Zaturn, known to all as "Coach Z," was such a source of guidance and inspiration that even players from opposing teams would reach out to him for help.
Zaturn coached hundreds of players over his 40 years volunteering for the Suffolk County Police Athletic League, an organization that focuses on juvenile-crime prevention and recreational programs. Zaturn served the Suffolk PAL in a variety of roles and was the director of baseball since 2005.
"Coach Z turned kids into young men," said Don Yorie, a retired Suffolk County police officer who serves the Suffolk PAL as the director of development. "He would take time after games to talk to players from all teams, explaining the intricacies of the game. And kids would soak up all that knowledge. He wanted his players to aspire to reach for their potential, but he also wanted more than anything for them to be positive role models in their communities."
Zaturn died of an aortic aneurysm in his Holbrook home on Sept. 22, said his son Jon Zaturn Jr. of Phoenix. He was 69.
"Coach Z was a great teacher of not only baseball, but life," said Aidan Larkin of Huntington, a junior infielder for Hofstra University. "His tough, rough-around-the-edges personality made him super-personable around people who like to work hard to get things done. He was a player’s coach, giving support when struggling, but also humbling his players when need be. He loved to win and hated to lose."
Zaturn was born in Queens on Jan. 31, 1952. His family moved to Long Island soon after, and he graduated from Commack North High School in 1970. He played football and wrestled for the school. The two-way lineman was known for his physicality.
"My dad was a no-nonsense guy," Zaturn Jr. said. "He was straight with everyone whether they liked it or not. He had a heart of gold and was a compassionate guy. He believed in honesty, loyalty and doing the right thing. He had high expectations of people, especially his family and baseball players."
After high school, the elder Zaturn worked on the receiving dock unloading trucks at Beck/Arnley WorldParts, a company that sold foreign and domestic auto parts. He soon worked his way into a supervisory position and stayed with the company from 1971 through 2005, when he retired.
"The company made him the warehouse manager and then operations manager, overseeing several hundred people," Zaturn Jr. said. "They flew him to other locations in Nashville and Oakland to straighten out operations. He could assess a problem and fix it. That’s what made him valuable in the business world and on the baseball field."
The elder Zaturn managed the nationally renowned PAL Rangers at the 14-year-old level from 1999-2015, winning 442 games and 53 tournament titles in 17 years.
"I was the program coordinator for PAL baseball when Coach Z got involved in 1981," Yorie said. "Here was this gruff, rough-and-tumble business guy with a softer side to him that could teach and mentor young people. He connected with the players and their parents. He took that 14-year-old team all over the country and on those road trips, he taught them how to act in restaurants, how to dress, how to keep their rooms clean and how to act responsibly. It was all the fundamentals of how to be successful in life. He taught them about responsibility and accountability."
Zaturn joined the Suffolk PAL Baseball Board of Directors in 1989 and was voted president in 2005. He served as the complex manager for the PAL Complex in Holbrook. He was responsible for the maintenance of three multipurpose fields and five baseball/softball fields.
"Jon was dedicated to kids and loyal to PAL and our mission of serving the youth of Suffolk County," said George Waldbauer, director of the Suffolk PAL. "He cared about the PAL Complex like nobody ever cared about it. He protected the grounds as if they were his own. He coached my grandson; I was honored to have Ryan learn about the game and life through Jon’s words and actions."
Former PAL Rangers player Andruw Gazzola, who played baseball at Stony Brook University, summed up his experience.
"Coach Z treated all of his players like family and left an everlasting impact on all of us," Gazzola said. "He helped me through a difficult time in my life. I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to learn the game I love, by such an exceptional person."
In addition to his son, Zaturn is survived by another son, Richard Zaturn of Patchogue; brother Andrew Zaturn of Ronkonkoma and sister Debra Saunders of upstate Tilson; and six grandchildren.