As the cancer progressed, Jeff Cavico’s stand-up comedy, performed at high school baseball fields across the Greater Middlesex Conference, became a sit-down routine.
The father of four student-athletes, including one of the most prolific home run hitters in league history, would perch a folding chair behind the backstop or along a fence, from where he would offer “colorful commentary” between batters.
“I can remember hearing people in the stands laughing, so you knew he was there, even if you didn’t know where he was,” said Bill Kilduff, a veteran GMC baseball umpire who graduated from St. Joseph High School with Cavico in 1971.
Max Patkin, the original Clown Prince of Baseball, would have appreciated Cavico’s act.
Cavico, however, was about more than impressions (his Donald Duck routine left my young daughter in stitches) and telling clean jokes.
He befriended players and parents from opposing schools that would have otherwise rooted against his son’s Bishop Ahr team. He displayed the sportsmanship of which school officials dream, never criticizing a coach, riding a player or overtly questioning an umpire’s call (well, maybe sometimes, but only as a punch line).
When Cavico finally succumbed to a years-long battle with cancer six months ago — unfittingly as spring training began — so many current and former Middlesex County baseball players attended his wake that one mourner whispered in awe, “We’ve got a GMC All-Star team here.”
The friendships Cavico and his wife Barbara built through baseball even led to the father of a player from Bishop Ahr’s most heated rival serving as a pallbearer at his funeral.
“He touched so many people from so many places,” said John Berner of Spotswood, who helped carry Cavico’s casket. “He was such a good friend. I miss him dearly.”
Bishop Ahr, from which Cavico’s three oldest children graduated and where his youngest daughter is currently a freshman, will keep his spirit alive with the Inaugural Jeff Cavico Memorial Golf Tournament.
All proceeds from the event, slated for Oct. 12 at Bunker Hill Golf Course in Princeton, will benefit the Cavico family. The tournament begins with a 7:45 a.m. shotgun start (were Cavico alive, he’d certainly have a joke to insert here).
“I’m a far better person for having known Jeff,” said Bishop Ahr baseball coach Scott Runkel, who brought his entire team to Cavico’s wake.
“Sometimes in life we can all get too serious about things. Jeff always had a way to put things in the right perspective.”
After his son, Lee, graduated high school in 2008, beginning a baseball career at Kean University, Cavico took his one-man show to the collegiate level.
“The overall strength that he had, to be going through what he was going through and at the same time showing up as much as he did to all his kid’s events, is amazing,” said Kean University baseball coach Neil Ioviero, who lost his own mother to cancer earlier this year.
“Any time you would talk to Jeff he would never discuss what was wrong with him,” Berner said.
“He always wanted to see how you were and how your family was doing. He was always the guy that kept everything light.”
Former Edison baseball coach Jim Muldowney spent spring and summer nights alongside Cavico for the better part of a decade when the two North Brunswick residents were involved with the township’s youth baseball organizations.
“He was really an ambassador for the game,” said Muldowney, a member of the New Jersey State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“He just had a way about him that made everybody a part of the game. He brought smiles to so many people.”
Cavico’s oldest son, Anthony, remains one of the greatest wrestlers in Bishop Ahr history, while his oldest daughter, Stephanie, was a four-year varsity soccer letterwinner.
Cavico cheered as positively for his other children as he did for Lee on the diamond.
“He never had a negative word to say about anybody,” Kilduff said. “He had the right attitude — go there and watch your kid, watch other kids and have a good time. More people should probably be like that.”
Cavico’s youngest daughter, Katie, is expected to play on Bishop Ahr’s softball team this spring.
Those fans would have enjoyed having Cavico on the sidelines.
For information on registration or to make a donation , please contact Tom Laffey at 732 512-7377.