Another ‘Angel in the Outfield’

Colpoys_HS

Don Colpoys was the Canisius baseball head coach for 25 years. (Photo courtesy of Canisius Athletics)

By Mike Pesarchick

Sports Reporter

I never knew Donald Colpoys. He retired long before my time as a Griff.

I knew that he had coached Canisius baseball for years, amassing hundreds of wins in his 25-year-long career wearing the Blue and Gold. I knew that he had given his Griffs their first taste of success, as he lead them to their first postseason berth in 1986, and their first MAAC regular season championship in 1994.

But, though finding and listing Colpoys’ accomplishments in the baseball world was easy, I still didn’t know exactly who he was, and I wanted to learn. I made some calls and sent some emails, and enjoyed the best part of this business – hearing the stories from those who were privileged to work and play with him.

It is fitting that a man who lived and breathed baseball passed away at the age of 83 on March 29, which happened to be Major League Baseball’s Opening Day.

• • •

A native of Western New York, Colpoys grew up as a huge fan of Ted Williams and the Red Sox. His playing career took him to leagues big and small, from his days as a first-team All-Catholic catcher at Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School in South Buffalo, to the farm system of the St. Louis Cardinals in the MLB, and back home again to the sandlot leagues of Western New York.

He took up coaching after retiring from playing, and in the next few decades, shaped the careers of hundreds, if not thousands of young athletes at schools such as Cardinal O’Hara and Bishop Gibbons High Schools. One of these players, in particular, Canisius’ own Joe Mamott, was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the fifth round of the 1994 MLB Draft.

“He didn’t sugarcoat anything. I loved him, I loved playing for him. I can’t say a bad word about the guy,” said the now-retired pitcher.

Indeed, Coach Don never was one to hold back a comment or a one-liner, no matter how much of a seasoned veteran you were.

“He would yell to me, ‘Joe, throw strikes!’ rather than coming up to the mound like most coaches do, he would just yell at you, ‘Oh, throw strikes!’ or ‘Joe, do this!,” Mamott said.

Though he could be intimidating, Mamott knew that the “walking encyclopedia of baseball” was simply a fierce competitor and fiercely loyal to his players.

He recalled one game in particular against Siena, just before the MLB Draft.

Down to his last Siena out, Mamott was interrupted by a visit from Coach Don to the mound. Instead of telling him to hit the rather difficult batter (“a real hot-shot third baseman who talked a lot,” Mamott recalled), Colpoys merely turned his pitcher around and pointed to the multitude of scouts that had arrived to watch the game. “‘I want you to throw the ball as hard as you can’,” he said.

Mamott struck the batter out, and Colpoys shot a glance at a scout with a radar gun. That was how he worked.

• • •

As a manager, Colpoys’ teams consistently were among the very best. His Simon Pure squad, a now-defunct amateur team in the MUNY League, went an incredible 46-0 in his first year at the helm. More than a dozen members of that team are now in the Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame. Colpoys is one of them.

It was for his next management stint, though, that he is remembered even more.

In 1979, Colpoys took the reigns of a brand new AA baseball team in the farm system of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Buffalo Bisons; a team that he convinced then-mayor Jimmy Griffin to establish and one he would run until 1984.

Duke McGuire has been the voice of the Buffalo Bisons for three decades. He and Colpoys went way back, going back to when McGuire played for him on the Simon Pure team, which later became the Al Maroones of the All-American Amateur Baseball Association (AAABA).

When a PR representative and the assistant general manager left the team, Colpoys was happy to give McGuire a job.

“His bark was worse than his bite,” laughed McGuire. “If he liked you, he would take good care of you, that’s for sure.

• • •

In 1976, The Griffin announced that Colpoys would be replacing Pete Leo as head coach of the Griffs baseball team for the fall season. Leo had left the position in July of that year after only two unsuccessful campaigns. The team had talent but needed leadership. Then-Canisius athletic director Dr. Daniel Starr hoped that Colpoys could be that leader.  

Colpoys told reporter Dave Lovering that it “won’t take too long to turn it around,” expecting to field a truly competitive team in only “two or three years.” He had just come from a successful coaching stint in the AAABA with the Al Maroones. As Lovering put it, “it looks like Canisius has a coach who will try to ‘touch all bases.’”

Sure enough, the Griffs, under Colpoys’ tutelage, began to make waves in the league. In 1979, the team went on a seven-game winning streak, crushing teams like Fredonia and Gannon in a fine early showcase of Coach Don’s baseball acumen.

Canisius made their first postseason appearance in 1986, winning the Eastern College Athletic Conference North division title. Later, in 1994, Colpoys guided his Griffs to their first MAAC tournament after posting a 17-1 record in the conference.

Colpoys was replaced by Coach Mark Notaro in 2001 after a quarter century of leadership and after 325 victories on the baseball diamond.

“I knew that would be an extremely challenging endeavor for me,” said Notaro. “I wanted to lead that group just like coach had. I wanted to get players to respect me like I did him.”

Colpoys’ achievements earned him a Distinguished Coach Award from the MAAC in 2006. Later, he would be inducted into the Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2011, and, finally, the Canisius College Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.

• • •

As I said before, though, listing one’s accomplishments is simple. It’s true that Colpoys left an indelible mark on the baseball world as a coach, manager and player; however, his greatest impact is one that is not in the history books. It was as a friend and mentor that he will be most remembered by those he touched.

Per Mark Rotaro, “He put in the time he put in for very, very little money over a long period of time mostly because he loved baseball and loved his players.” For that, Coach Don’s legacy will not soon be forgotten.

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