On a dark and dreary late April day with sprinkles of rain splashing on the baseball field at Smithtown East High School, Sal Ciampi sits in a fold-up lawn chair away from the field with an umbrella, his East Islip hat and jacket protected.
The former Redmen baseball coach watches a program that he built, with his son, Sal J. Ciampi, roaming the third base coaching box at the helm of the dynasty now. He watches the current generation take ground balls and hit line drives, just as they did when he started coaching in the 1970s, and knows that Redmen players are well-trained.
Why does he know that? Because baseball players from East Islip aren’t taught any other way. They are well-conditioned, classy and prepared.
In 31 seasons, Ciampi won 601 games, lost 183, and took home three Long Island and two New York State titles. He’s coached five players that have been drafted by or played for major league teams and countless other college athletes.
This year is SUNY-Binghamton bound Pete Bregartner, in 2004 it was flame-throwing Brian Johnson, who was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 30th round of the MLB Draft and the list goes on. The common bond between the exceptional players is that they buy into the system and the Ciampi’s are there to guide them.
“He’s a Bill Parcells type of guy,” Sal J. says. “He was old school. Every single moment of practice is spent on the things you need to be successful. He has a no-nonsense type of attitude.”
Tony Graffanino is the premier baseball player from East Islip, while Boomer Esiason, who won the 1979 Carl Yastrzemski Award as the best baseball player in Suffolk County, went on to be the best professional football player.
Graffanino, who has been on the Milwaukee Brewers as an infielder since 2006, has played with six major league teams in his 11 year career, including Atlanta, which selected him in the 10th round of the 1990 MLB Draft out of high school, Tampa Bay, Boston, Kansas City and the Chicago White Sox.
Like Ciampi’s football players, Graffanino worked out constantly and played hard during his four years on the diamond.
Ciampi set up a weight training program for the varsity football team in the early 1970s and preached the fundamentals of conditioning in both sports. The statement on the weight room wall, which reads,
“Character is what you do when you think no one is watching,” is a main principle for Redmen sports.
“[Winning] has a lot to do with character,” Ciampi says. “East Islip never had a kid that was a game breaker and the teams here really constantly work it out and are prepared.”
Aside from coaching future major leaguers, Ciampi had the pleasure of coaching his son Sal J. in football and baseball. He played varsity baseball for four years from 1990-1993 and played for a little while at Adelphi University, but didn’t have plans to coach at East Islip until his father retired from football first then eventually baseball and he realized it was his calling in the dugout and on the sidelines.
“My wife and I are very proud of him,” Ciampi says. “All the alumni come by before games and wish him luck, guys that have been around 25, 30 years that still recognize him. It keeps the tradition and history alive and gives the program stability.”
Having not been in the education field, Sal J. went and got his teaching certifications and became a social studies teacher at the high school. Ciampi stayed on as baseball coach until 2004, the final year of his illustrious coaching career.
Playing for his father, Sal J. fulfilled a dream. “It was probably the most important thing I did while I was young,” he says. “The lessons I learned from my father were the most important things I learned as a young person.”
Many players in the course of East Islip athletics have been able to say the same thing. It’s the lessons they learned that made a difference and they’re continuing in that path now.
The Redmen won the Class AA Suffolk County championship last year for the first time since 2003, but lost to Massapequa, 6-5, in the Long Island Championship.
They haven’t won a Long Island or New York State title since 1991,
– In football, Ciampi was 165-47-7 and had a winning percentage of .769.
– The 1981 East Islip baseball team set a Long Island record with 30 wins in a season.
– From 1981-1995 East Islip had the best 15-year run of any baseball team in Suffolk history after going 341-71.
-East Islip has had seven Yastrzemski award winners, the last being Johnson in 2004.