Six days before he made his college commitment, St. Ignatius incoming senior Mario DeMera saw a familiar number pop up on his phone: University of San Francisco catcher Robert Emery.
Emery — himself a former Wildcat — had texted DeMera before. He didn’t get to meet DeMera when he’d made a recruiting trip to campus, but wanted to chat with the speedy infielder from his alma mater.
That conversation wound up tilting DeMera’s decision, and on Tuesday, he committed to the Dons over an offer from Columbia, and interest from San Diego, Santa Clara and UC Santa Barbara. He’ll be staying home to play college baseball.
“The coaching staff, they seem very motivated about the program, and ready to win,” DeMera told The Examiner. “It seemed like a good fit.”
“They’re getting a great kid who hits for average and he hits for power,” said St. Ignatius head coach Brian Pollzzie. “The more you watch him play, the more you appreciate what he brings.”
Baseball recruiting usually happens before one’s junior season, but because injury cost him a good chunk of his sophomore campaign, DeMera was a bit late to get on the radar.
DeMera suffered a hairline fracture his right thumb in the fourth game of West Catholic Athletic League play, when St. Francis pitcher and Baylor commit Joey Schott hit him in the hand. DeMera finished the at-bat with a single, but when he slid into second headfirst, he knew there was something wrong. He missed a month, but finished hitting .317 with seven doubles, a homer, 22 runs, nine RBIs and nine stolen bases in 18 games. He finished the season hitting in the top third of the lineup, but he wasn’t completely back.
“The hardest part was my timing, just because I hadn’t hit in a while,” DeMera said. By late late July, he was back in proper form. At the Perfect Game World Series in Arizona, he went 9-for-15 with one triple and a pair of doubles.
“The college interest really took off after that,” Pollzzie said. “Great instincts on the bases, really versatile defender. He plays the left side of the infield for us, but you can put him in center field. He can play anywhere … His baserunning really stands out.”
At 6-foot-1, 180, DeMera has sneaky speed with a 6.8-second 60-yard time, and can play multiple positions, which is becoming more and more valuable as the game evolves from the big league level on down. The Dons took notice.
He visited San Francisco’s campus during the first week of August, spending four hours with the staff, administrators and academic advisors, finishing with a campus tour by catcher Thomas McCarthy.
”I like coach Nino [Giarratano]’s morals, all the things he taught,” DeMera said. “He talked about being a team and having a goal, and just being sure to execute that goal, so that we’ll be ready to perform on the field.”
After the visit, Emery got in touch.
Boasting a 4.1 GPA and an offer from Columbia, DeMera had a lot in common with Emery, a redshirt junior catcher who spent his freshman season at Dartmouth after his decorated career with the Wildcats. Emery could speak from experience about what Ivy League life and baseball were like, and told DeMera why he wound up transferring to San Francisco, where Giarratano has made three NCAA Regional appearances, won 589 games and gone 30-24 in conference the last two seasons.
“I had an offer from Columbia, so he talked to me about that [Dartmouth] experience, and when he came to San Francisco, it was such a great experience, being able to play in the city he grew up in,” DeMera said. “I saw that it was a program with potential, and I have a chance to make an impact freshman year. They really bought into me, and that’s what helped me buy into them.”
With Emery currently thriving, and Nico Giarratano — Nino’s son — having gone to USF out of St. Ignatius and then, at 6-foot, 195, getting drafted by the Giants, DeMera could see what a St. Ignatius kid could do on the Hilltop. The decision was easy.
His current head coach certainly likes the pick.
“Selfishly, I’m excited to be able to walk to his college games,” Pollzzie said. “It’s close to home, and it’s cool to see a kid that’s going to high school in the city, going to USF. I think that’s cool to see.”