Courtesy of Ray Guarino

Beloved Yale baseball volunteer assistant coach Ray Guarino is leaving the Bulldogs after 12 years to accept a part-time assistant coach position at the University of Bridgeport, he confirmed with the News.

Guarino, a West Haven native, first got involved with Yale baseball in 1996 when his friend and Yale’s then-shortstop, Rob Farnen ’98, helped him get a job assisting with Yale head coach John Stuper’s summer baseball camp. In 2010, Guarino formally became part of Yale’s coaching staff part time as a volunteer assistant coach. Beside coaching baseball, he has been a seventh-grade teacher for more than 20 years at All Saints Catholic Academy in New Haven.

While Guarino may be leaving Yale, he will still be nearby, working as an assistant coach at Bridgeport under his friend Joe Tonelli and continuing his seventh-grade teaching.

“It’s more about the relationships and the friendships and the bonds that I have formed,” Guarino said about his time with Yale baseball. “Whether I’m an assistant coach at Yale or Bridgeport, or wherever, these are bonds that will never be broken, these are friendships that will last a lifetime for me and I cannot thank Coach Stuper enough for getting me involved.”

Guarino (right) with head coach John Stuper (left), former assistant coach Casey Frawley (12) and former associate head coach Tucker Frawley (10). (Photo: Courtesy of Ray Guarino)

Stuper and Guarino’s friendship was not necessarily immediate. When Guarino showed up to work that first day at Stuper’s camp back in 1996, he was not only wearing a baseball cap backward but was also sporting an earring, and Stuper was not impressed. Yale’s head coach wears the old-fashioned baseball badge with honor. He said he does not allow his players to have long hair, grow facial hair or wear their hats backwards. As the game trends toward more expressive demonstrations on and off the field, these traditions have been going out of style, but some Major League Baseball teams like the New York Yankees still enforce them.

Despite what Stuper called an “interesting” first impression, the pair have been together in some capacity for 25 years now. In an interview with the News, Stuper said that he could not be happier for Guarino. Yale’s head coach noted that Guarino was an incredibly hard worker and someone who did not mind that his only compensation was Bulldogs Under Armour gear — though he did get compensation via Stuper’s summer baseball camps.

When Stuper heard that Guarino had been offered a position with Bridgeport, he jokingly threatened to fire him from Yale if he did not take the job — Stuper saw it as a great opportunity for the West Haven native. He has been especially impressed by Guarino’s strength since Guarino was diagnosed with cancer in 2019.

Coaching first base, Guarino advises a Yale baserunner in a game against Oregon State. (Photo: Courtesy of Ray Guarino)

“He’s like a son to me,” Stuper said of Guarino. “He’s the toughest person I’ve ever met in my life. … A couple of summers ago, when he was going through chemo and then he or his wife would drive him to coach his Legion team an hour after chemo, he would coach third base. He’s 6’3’’, and he was weighing 150 pounds — you know, he looked like a skeleton at third base, and I was afraid for his life that somebody would hit a line drive his way.”

Guarino first received a multiple myeloma diagnosis two years ago. Stuper and Tonelli noted that Guarino’s health has improved considerably, but the former Yale coach is still battling every day — multiple myeloma does not go into remission.

Guarino said that he has been able to battle through his disease because of the support of his wife Jackie and the Yale baseball community.

“He loves our guys, and it’s the right move, and I couldn’t be happier for him,” Stuper added.

When Yale baseball alumnus Joseph Lubanski ’15 found out in May 2019 that Guarino — or “Ray-Ray” as he is affectionately called — had cancer, he contacted teammate and former captain Richard Slenker ’17 to set-up a GoFundMe page to help their coach. In less than 24 hours, the Ray Guarino Yale Baseball Cancer Fight Fund had raised over $21,000.

According to an update written by Lubanski on June 2, 2019, the GoFundMe page was updated to try to raise $100,000, which would help cover two-thirds of the average cost for cancer treatment according to the AARP. By July of that year, the page had raised $100,695 with 858 unique donors.

“It was just something that I think really any Yale baseball player would do,” Lubanski said about setting up the GoFundMe page. “I think it would have happened eventually. Ray-Ray’s impacted so many of us, and he’s a big part of all of our lives even though we might not be on campus everyday anymore on the daily basis that we used to. The response kind of speaks for itself of who he is and what he’s meant to the program and the families he’s touched along the way.”

Slenker said everyone loves Guarino and agreed with Lubanski that the GoFundMe support speaks to what kind of person “Ray Ray” is. Slenker recalled that after the team won its Ivy League Rolfe division in 2016, the volunteer assistant coach walked in with a mock WWE championship belt and started dancing like “nothing I had ever seen.”

Bridgeport head coach Tonelli said he thought Guarino would be a great fit because of both his baseball knowledge and his decades of experience as a teacher and coach. Tonelli likes having his assistants work on all aspects of the game, but he sees Guarino focusing on pitchers due to the knowledge he picked up working with Stuper, a former Major League hurler for the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds.

“He’s a teacher by trade,” Tonelli said. “So the way he deals and talks with the student-athletes is totally different than even myself. The biggest thing is going to be the experiences. And you know the way he goes about life, I mean there’s no secret about what he’s been through. … But I really believe baseball is one of the things that kept Ray going.”

Guarino played collegiate baseball for two years at Southern Connecticut State University.

Eugenio Garza García | eugenio.garzagarcia@yale.edu