Joe Maize marks the passing of time with baseball.
At 62, that’s a lot of years and a lot of baseball. In his 40th year at Peters Township High School, that’s also a ton of coaching victories – 400 to be exact.
Maize reached that milestone when the Indians defeated Steel Valley, 11-7, in a nonsection game March 28. Maize’s record also features eight section banners, two WPIAL championships and two appearances in the state finals.
“Baseball is a great game and it teaches so many different things,” said Maize. “The game has taught me to cherish the relationships and friendships that I have developed with my staff and opposing coaches and most importantly, the players. Throughout my career, I have been blessed with quality kids. To be involved in high school athletics for as long as I have been and to be able to go to work every day and have fun,” Maize continued, “I couldn’t have asked for a better career.”
A great beginning
The year was 1978. The Peters Township School District hired Maize to teach physical education and health at its middle school. Maize embarked on his coaching career, too. He served six seasons as the varsity softball coach. There he gained insight into the mind of the teenage athlete. He also developed his coaching style and philosophy.
“It was a great, yet unique, experience,” Maize said. “Yes, I did enjoy coaching girls but there was a level of frustration as I was pretty intense and some of them were not as serious as I wanted them to be. It was a great learning experience.”
Maize learned that, even if there are only 10 on your roster, you don’t tell a player she can’t go on a two-week vacation with her family to Hawaii. However, you can tell a pitcher she must finish what she started.
Maize laughs when he recalls that confrontation. With an inning remaining in a game against rival Upper St. Clair and the time closing in on 5:30 p.m. the Peters pitcher announced she had to leave to attend play practice, which started at 6 p.m.
After Maize informed his pitcher that she “wasn’t going anywhere,” she flung her first pitch into the parking lot. Incensed, Maize strode to the circle. “Now, Nancy,” he began, “I know you are a smart young lady but here’s the deal. We are either going to stay here until dark or you can get three straight outs.” After striking out the side, Maize’s pitcher “hopped in the car” and arrived at play practice on time.
Maize admits those early days of coaching were memorable. He said he has managed “great young ladies” and coached against some of the best opponents. He still maintains friendships with many.
For example, Allison McClure played softball for Maize. She and her husband, Joe, socialize with Maize, today. In fact, McClure’s son, Will, played four years as a catcher on Maize’s baseball teams. He graduated in 2011. Maize also coached against John Krajnak. He has great respect for the Carmichaels athletic director. Maize, like McClure, does not call him by his first name.
“Allison doesn’t call me Joe. It’s either Coach or Mr. Maize. It’s the same way with me. I go to meetings and banquets with (Krajnak) and I never call him by his first name. It’s either Coach or Mr.”
After six seasons as the varsity softball coach, Maize moved into the high school athletic office. While assisting Jerry DeBolt, he continued to teach three classes as well as driver’s education.
The year was 1986. The season, of course, was spring. In his second term as high school baseball coach, fate intervened and impacted his career and life forever.
Though DeBolt was scheduled to retire in June, he died March 25 from a massive heart attack. Maize, who had married his high-school sweetheart only two weeks earlier, became the Indians’ athletic director.
“It was a stressful spring,” Maize acknowledged.
For 20 years, he survived in this dual role as baseball coach and AD. He also thrived as husband and father. Joe and Kim Maize have two sons. A Penn State graduate, Aaron, 29, works for Dick’s Sporting Goods. Ryan, 31, is finishing up chiropractor school in Florida. Both boys played baseball for their father. Aaron was a third baseman. Ryan, who is in the school’s Century Club with more than 100 wrestling wins, starred in the outfield.
“It was fun coaching my kids but it also was challenging. Not so much for me but it wasn’t easy for them,” Maize said. “They always had to prove themselves and demonstrate they were not just playing because their dad was the coach. My objective was to put the best kids out there. So it was easy for me.”
Things became complicated for Maize when he was asked to take full reign as an administrator of the athletic department. Maize simplified his life. He tendered his resignation. Maize wanted to continue coaching even though he was almost at the top of his game, having finished runner-up in the state for the second year in a row. He remembers that morning clearly. It was the Monday after he had just hung two PIAA silver medals around the necks of his sons after a loss to Lampeter-Strasburg, 8-7, at Blair County Ballpark in Altoona.
“To me that was the highlight,” Maize said of that postgame ceremony. “As a dad that is special. Not many can say they did that, even though my wife would say ‘Yeah, but they weren’t gold,’ but why would I want to give up the greatest high school experience of my life as a dad and as a coach,” Maize asked.
So on June 20, 2005, Maze stood up, shook the superintendent’s hand and tendered his letter or resignation as AD. “I never regretted it,” he said.
The early years
Maize never regretted his devotion to baseball. His love affair with the sport started as a youth in the 1960s when his father took him to Pirates games at Forbes Field.
“That’s when we realized I needed glasses because I couldn’t read the scoreboard,” Maize laughed.
“Those days with my dad were pretty special. He’s my hero. It’s pretty memorable when you are able to do things like that with your father.”
Maize grew up playing baseball and basketball at Waynesburg High School, where his father taught and his mother was employed as a nurse. He lettered two years as an outfielder, setting defensive records and earning Golden Gloves while pursuing a degree and his teaching certification from Slippery Rock University.
“Baseball was always important to me but I had a feeling I would stay in the field of education because both my parents were educators,” said the son of Jim and Mid Maize.
Maize continued to gravitate to educators who enhanced his career. Ironically, before he and Jerry Malarkey, who also earned his 400th career victory at Upper St. Clair this spring, became friendly rivals, Maize tapped Malarkey’s father, Pat, for guidance when he was the athletic director at South Fayette. Maize also relied upon advice from Manny Pihakis, who served as AD at Canon-McMillan.
“Those were special guys and they gave me all their time when I had a question. That meant a lot to me.”
As a manager, his coaching staff means the most to Maize. Rudy Pokorny and Jack Kerekes have served as assistants for more than two decades. Andy Manion has been on the staff for 15 seasons. Jim Rider, who once played and coached at Bethel Park, is on staff as is Mike DeLucia, who had experience at Baldwin and Canon-McMillan.
“I have one of the best staffs. Coaching with them is as fun now as it was then. I’ve been very fortunate to have them. They love the sport, they love teaching and they love the kids. That makes it fun. They are the reason we are successful.”
Maize is also successful because of his players. Eight of them have been drafted and three made it to the major leagues.
Brian Simmons played for the Chicago White Sox and Chris Peters for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Montreal Expos. Jordan Jankowski made it to the big leagues with Houston last year.
Jim Gallagher, who played for Duke University, played Class AAA baseball after being drafted by the White Sox. Drafted by the Pirates, Jimmy Rider is now coaching at the University of Georgia. Joe Kail works for Texas, the organization that drafted him. After playing at West Virginia, Jason DiAngelo was drafted by the Colorado Rockies. Justin Bianco was an Arizona Diamondbacks draftee.
Of coaching such standouts Maize said, “I’m proud but their success is not because of me. It’s because of their families. Their moms and dads have been so supportive of me and of our programs.”
Coaching has not only enabled Maize to watch his own standout players, it has allowed him to witness feats by “tremendous” athletes throughout the WPIAL.
He remembers facing southpaw Austin Kitchen seven times. The Mt. Lebanon product played on Coastal Carolina’s national championship club in 2016.
He also recalls epic clashes against Neil Walker. The Pine-Richland graduate currently plays for the New York Yankees. In 2004, the Indians played Walker’s Rams twice. After falling 11-0 in the final regular-season game, Peters Township rebounded to beat Pine-Richland, 8-6, in a PIAA quarterfinal contest at Consol Energy Park. The date was June 7 and the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Walker in the first round of the MLB amateur draft earlier in the day.
“What a memorable moment,” Maize said of the state playoff game.
“Everybody was there to see Neil. The place was packed. Josh Pisarcik had him struck out when Neil cranked the next pitch out to right field and into the parking lot. But, after Ryan (Maize) led off the next inning with a base hit, Jimmy (Gallagher) crushed a ball in the same identical place Neil did. The place went wild.”
Two other “wild” encounters proved memorable to Maize. He recalled when Peters Township beat rival Bethel Park, 12-0, on May 29, 2007 for the WPIAL championship. Jim Rider coached the Black Hawks but his son, Jimmy, played for the Indians.
“It’s one of my favorite games. Bethel and Jim Rider were in the other dugout and Jimmy, our shortstop, was in the other. One side was all red and white and the other side was all orange and black.”
The same held true when the Indians battled USC for the section championship. Maize estimated more than 1,000 people attended the game played under the lights at Peterswood Park.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Maize recalled. “It doesn’t matter whether we are having an up or down year or its vice versa for them, it’s always a competitive game with Jerry (Malarkey). We have such respect for one another.”
That Malarkey, who started managing the same year as Maize but has two years on him in age, reached the 400-win milestone first does not phase Maize. He recalled how his athletic director sent him a Tweet regarding the accomplishment. “Looks like Jerry beat you again,” Brian Geyer attached to his message to Maize.
“We’ve butted heads for years but I think it is neat that the two of us have done this at the same time, in the same year, because I have known Jerry for quite a few years and I have tremendous respect for him. Of all the people to ride on his coattails in a conversation about, I’m honored,” Maize said.
Maize recalled how when he first started managing Peters Township competed against smaller schools in a section comprised of teams from Washington County. Plus, only the section champion advanced to the playoffs.
“You either won the section or you were collecting uniforms. That was more of a challenge. Plus, you didn’t have pitch counts and number of innings. A kid could throw seven innings and you could see him the next day because he pitched 90 percent of the time for his team. We probably finished second a half a dozen times because we ran into a pitcher who was lights out. That’s the thing I remember most – how competitive it was and how difficult it was to get into the postseason.”
In Class 6A Section 3, however, it is a challenge to earn a playoff spot when the competition is USC, Canon-McMillan, Mt. Lebanon, Baldwin and Bethel Park among others. But Maize never losses sight on the fact the opposing managers are more than foes.
“Even though we are competitive as heck, I have tremendous respect for Patt (McCloskey), Jerry (Malarkey) and Tony (Fisher). When Frank (Zebrasky) coached at Canon-Mac, we’d even go out after a game and have a beer. Sure, you hated to lose to these guys but the amount of respect I have for them is immeasurable. It’s been fun competing against those guys.”
For Maize, the competition is far from finished. He has no intentions of hanging up his uniform any time soon.
“It’s funny, the first question people ask me is, ‘How long are you going to do this?’ and my response is always, ‘Until it’s not fun anymore.’”