As she stood on the diamond of TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, Grace Patella couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the number of purple shirts she saw in honor of her little brother.
“I think there has to be around 500 people who came out for him,” Patella said. “It’s just amazing. I’m so proud of my little brother, and I know he’ll be remembered for a long time.”
Ron Mazzola, a longtime volunteer for New Jersey high school athletics, was honored Thursday at the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate Somerset Patriots home game against New York Mets affiliate Binghamton Rumble Ponies. The 61-year-old passed away unexpectedly in February.
During the pregame ceremony, members of Mazzola’s family came down to the field while a public address announcer read a special message in honor of Mazzola’s achievements. Soon after, a moment of silence was held for Mazzola prior to the first pitch. Images of the Old Bridge Township resident appeared on the scoreboard throughout the ceremony.
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Several hundred traveled across New Jersey to watch the ceremony, including family, friends and athletes who sported purple shirts in reflection of Mazzola and the Old Bridge community.
The tribute deeply touched Luca Rispoli, one of Mazzola’s closest friends.
“Yes, it’s emotional, but I also see a lot of joy in this event,” Rispoli said. “And just seeing his family and friends in so many different circles of his life represented here is really special. They’re here, not only because of the baseball, but they’re here because of Ron and because of how much [Mazzola] meant to them and how much they love him. And Ron loved them too.”
Mazzola was dubbed “Mr. Old Bridge” for his involvement with the athletic programs in the area, serving as a P.A. announcer for the high school football and wrestling programs for several years. He also coached youth baseball, soccer and basketball.
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His reach didn’t stop at Old Bridge, as Mazzola helped manage NJSIAA wrestling tournaments across the state for over a decade and served as a public announcer for Rutgers wrestling for three seasons.
“He’s just a great person, and it’s not just about his [volunteer work],” Old Bridge athletic director Dan DiMino said. “Any time you saw Ron, even if I didn’t see him for a week or a couple of months, he always asked about your family and how you were doing first. He cared about you and his family and if there were anything that he could do to help you or a family member out, he’d be the first one to step up. And I think that’s what the community sees for tonight, they knew that this was going to be a special night for Ron.”
Before his death, Mazzola was heavily involved in the Marisa Tufaro Foundation, which helped secure discounted tickets for Thursday’s game for the first 250 attendees from the Old Bridge community and beyond.
While DiMino wasn’t directly involved in organizing the event, he believes that this event was something that would’ve brought a smile to Mazzola’s face.
“Greg Tufaro reached out to me and thought of the idea [for the tribute],” DiMino said. “You have the Mets organization here, which Ron loves. He loves his family and the Old Bridge community. “I thought this was exactly what Ron would’ve wanted.”
DiMino said there will be a ceremony on Sept. 1 to name Old Bridge’s Lombardi Field press box after Mazzola. Spotswood High School also plans on inducting him into their Athletic Hall Of Fame.
“The [press box] was his home away from home,” DiMino said. “We’re just very excited about that moment and having another day where the Old Bridge community can come together and celebrate such an incredible life.”
Rispoli believes, however, that those ceremonies may not fully reflect his best friend’s impact on so many.
“I think what we all struggle with his loss is that he gave so much and I don’t think the community is ever going to find a way to honor him enough,” Rispoli said. “We’re always going to feel like we’re short. We’re always going to feel that void of his loss. But you know what? Because of him, people will want to be better in what they do. Because Ron would have wanted it that way.”
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Corey Annan may be reached at [email protected].