A pitcher’s mound can be one of the loneliest landmarks in sports, but not for Harrison’s Frank Evangelista.
Every time the junior left-hander steps onto the rubber, it’s as if he’s in the presence of his cousin and best friend, Andrew Gurgitano.
“Wearing his number is a really big deal to me because I want him to know that I will be out there every day representing him since he can no longer physically be there,” Evangelista said. “Having his glove is very special to me because I feel like I still have a piece of him and his love and passion for baseball. And when I go out on the mound, I feel like he is with me, helping me along the way.”
The No. 14 on Evangelista’s back serves as a constant reminder of what has been lost, as do the patches on the caps and sleeves of every Husky. Gurgitano tragically and unexpected passed away in November at the age of 16 from a rare, spontaneous stroke, sending shockwaves through the Harrison community.
“The news was a terrible nightmare,” teammate Dean McCarthy said. “Nobody believed it was true, and we couldn’t understand why something like that would ever happen to such a great kid like Andrew. It’s been a tough ride for us, but we have a lot of support from coaches, teachers and friends.”
Harrison’s home field is filled with tributes to Gurgitano, and at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Silver Lake Field in Harrison, the Huskies will host rival Rye in the inaugural Andrew Gurgitano Memorial game. A pregame ceremony will be held and two scholarships will be presented in Gurgitano’s name to a senior from each team.
“Andrew was an extremely talented athlete who made the varsity baseball team as a sophomore,” Harrison coach Marco DiRuocco said. “I can’t think of a day that passed by where Andrew wasn’t smiling, working to his full potential and feeling proud to wear the Husky uniform on game day. His presence on a daily basis exemplified what we would like to see from every student-athlete.”
While the Huskies continue to honor Gurgitano’s memory, support has come from many avenues.
Teams from around the area have paid homage, with traditional Japanese origami presented by Keio Academy and memorials on baseball fields in Pelham and Eastchester. The entire John Jay team is wearing patches on its caps bearing Gurgitano’s No. 14 and his initials.
“It means the most when we go to road games and we see other teams have special tributes or signs to show their respect,” McCarthy said. “It is very special to see how everybody comes together as one, no matter who it is.”
Some players from opposing teams are also donning No. 14 as an ode to Gurgitano, including White Plains’ Daniel Lotito, John Jay’s C.J. McCarthy and Fordham Prep’s Mike Popaleo.
“I was so devastated and heartbroken when my friend and former teammate Andrew Zink called me that afternoon,” Lotito said. “The next day, I went to (Gurgitano’s) mother and told her, ‘I’m going to wear No. 14 for Andrew next year, and every time I step out onto the field, it’s going to be your 14. Every game I play will be for him.’ “
On Monday, Evangelista earned his first varsity win in an 11-8 victory over Pelham.
It was an emotional and powerful moment for a team that has been through more than any teenagers should have to endure, but as his teammates watched Evangelista — who throws from the same side as Gurgitano and now wears the same number and glove — they knew that the legacy of their old friend would never fade.
“It’s very comforting to see Frank wearing his uniform and glove,” Zink said. “They also have similar pick-off moves, which reminds me of Andrew. It’s just great to see Frank come out wearing his stuff. It’s just like Gurg is still with us on the field.”