By Eddie Mayrose
It’s a conversation we’ve all had. Upon being introduced to a stranger, the quest begins to find a friend or acquaintance common to both parties.
“Do you know…” becomes the question of the evening, until a name is finally revealed and the dialogue can progress, as if we’ve now earned a deeper understanding of each other.
While most responses — “We went to school together,” “We worked together,” “We lived on the same block” — do little to convey the nature of any friendship, one does serve to tell you that two people are extremely close and that there exists a bond unbroken by time or distance: “We played ball together.”
It is the true beauty of team sports — being part of something bigger than yourself while supporting others in pursuit of a common goal. The hard work, travel and sacrifice required all serve to establish a brotherhood that knows no limit, a camaraderie that continues long after the uniforms have been put away.
Paul Maruffi was a local legend as an athlete growing up in Brooklyn. His prowess as a basketball and baseball star at St. Bernadette’s in Dyker Heights only grew when he enrolled at Xaverian High School. An All-City performer who would go down as one of the school’s best, he highlighted a brilliant career by clubbing three consecutive home runs against Xaverian’s archrival, Nazareth, as a senior. Then, without being offered a scholarship, he earned his way onto the roster at St. John’s University, where he and teammates John Franco and Frank Viola twice led the Redmen to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
In one series, Maruffi batted .730 and was named to the All-Star team. He batted a shade below .400 for his career at St. John’s and remains the owner of the school record for most consecutive games with an RBI (25). To his teammates, his talent was as highly regarded as his friendship.
“Paul is a competitor and a warrior,” said his lifelong friend Dr. Sal Corso. “He always gave his best, whether playing right field in the College World Series or wiffle ball on 79th Street in Brooklyn. He’s always made people admire him, while making us all laugh along the way. As good as he was on the ball field, he was a better friend off it.”
“Paul is one of my favorite players,” recalled his high school coach, Kevin Toohill. “He was always a quiet kid with a great sense of humor. He was a tremendous player at Xaverian, but he became a truly great player at St. John’s.”
The last few years have been a strain for Maruffi, as he has hit a few rough patches in the road regarding his health. But, though there have been difficult days, the depth of the friendships established in his youth have sustained him.
“I was at a therapy session when the nurse noticed my Brooklyn accent,” he told me recently. “She asked me where I went to high school and, when I told her Xaverian, she laughed. ‘That’s where my husband went to school. Do you know Richie Murach?’”
“Of course I do,” was Maruffi’s reply. “We played ball together.”
This Saturday, Maruffi and his classmates from Xaverian’s Class of 1977 will gather at the school to celebrate their 35th reunion. The evening will be extra special for Paul, as he will be inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, having been nominated by his close friend, Sal Corso.
Joining Corso in support of their brother will be Sebby Boriello, Tim Shanahan, Donnie Oddo, John Spitz, Richie Murach, Charlie Scalacci and Tom O’Leary.
And why shouldn’t they be? After all, they played ball together.