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COMMENTARY: REMEMBERING A PRECIOUS GEM

The diamond is renowned as a material with superlative physical qualities.  Our gem of a Diamond was renowned for his own superior qualities.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY – Having the longevity of 29 years of covering local sports has afforded me the reward of witnessing, first hand, how young players grow into men and women, into mothers and fathers, and productive members of our community.  It is extremely gratifying to see so many of them become teachers, elected officials, coaches, public servants, board members and the like.  For me, it is an added bonus to the job that has been both rewarding and inspiring. 

Greg Diamond was certainly in that group.  Covering Greg as a player, and then getting to know him on a totally different level, as a father, a husband, a provider, a coach, and a contributing member of our community, was a blessing.

3/5/06: Spackenkill’s Greg Diamond,left Burke’s Mark Behan, and Bryan Rankie

Greg Diamond (#15) Team Photo

He played basketball, but baseball was his game.  Terry Feeley remembers Greg as a solid basketball player who on Feeley’s 2006 Spartans team was willing to do whatever was asked of him. “He was always willing to fill a role which was usually to grab a few rebounds and defend someone a lot larger than himself.”, recalled Feeley. 

I first met Greg while producing a Spackenkill baseball video preview for Cablevision Sports before the start of the 2005 season that would see Greg and his team run right to a Class B New York high school baseball state title. 

My first impression of Greg on that breezy early season practice day behind Todd Middle School, was that he was cocky.  A good kid at heart, but he seemed to be a little too confident for my taste in this early stage of the season.   Apparently, Greg knew something I didn’t. 

As the season went on I realized that his confidence was a weapon every time he toed the rubber on the pitcher’s mound and he used that weapon of swagger while facing down some of the best hitters in New York State, as he helped lead his Spartans to the NYS Class B Baseball Championship. 

Greg graduated in 2006, and went on to college, while I continued to cover the next batch of Spartans.  The next time I saw Greg was back on the baseball field.  This time he had traded his baseball uniform for the blue and grey of umpiring.  I was impressed that he had followed in the footsteps of his father who had been an umpire for some time.  After the game we caught up a bit and exchanged pleasantries.   

Angelo Fabrizio, President of the Hudson Valley NABA baseball league was shocked by the news of Greg’s passing and remembers Greg as the “young” umpire.   “He was the young guy among a bunch of older umpires who umped our games”, noted Angelo.  “What really struck me about Greg was a time when I was putting together a fundraiser for the widows and children of fallen NYPD officers.  I put the notice up on the website about the fundraiser and Greg called me five minutes later offering to donate his services for the event.  That was really special to me”, recalls Fabrizio. 

Josh Maddox, another player in the NABA league noted that “Greg was one of the better umpires we had.  He knew the game and controlled it really well.  He will be missed.”   

I came to meet Greg’s wife Cassi when my daughter Kim was teaching in the Spackenkill school district and became the modified softball coach.  Cassi Jordan was the JV coach and Laura Sweeney, a John Jay standout and NYS Player of the Year in her own glory days, was the head coach of the Spackenkill softball program. 

Through my daughter, I reconnected with Laura Sweeney and got to know Cassi a little bit while watching early season games. Later, when Cassi took over the Spackenkill volleyball team, I covered some of the games and did a few interviews with Cassi after matches.  She is the sweetest of coaches who would do anything for her team, but I knew she absolutely hated the on camera interview process. She never said so, but having done so many of these post game interviews, I can always tell when someone is in pain about it.  Cassi was, but she did it for her girls. A class act.

While covering the Spack girls volleyball team, there he was again! Greg Diamond was helping out with the clip board and other stuff.   I thought it was just another way for Greg to get involved in sports;  I never knew that Cassi and Greg were an “item”. 

When Cassi changed her last name from Jordan to Diamond, it hit me.  Turns out they were high school sweethearts, now married, both contributing to the Spackenkill community and poised to start a family of their own.  True role models for all of the up and coming players and students at Spackenkill.  Seeing the two of them together on the sidelines always reminded me of the husband and wife team of Tom and Kim Bell.  Two local coaches who were married and were always helping each other out with their respective teams. 

Oddly enough, Tom Bell, a former basketball coach at Spackenkill, officiated the Diamond’s wedding, at Cassi and Greg’s request.  

 “It was five years ago”, as Bell remembers it. “Greg and Cassi asked me to be the Officiant at their wedding.  My wife Kim said to me at the time, ‘They love and respect you, you need to do this.’   So Tom Bell obtained the proper credentials and married them off. ” I was honored and thrilled to marry them.” 

That was back on December 29th, 2012.  Just five years ago. 

In the years that followed that initial re-connection with Greg on the baseball field, our conversations were more man to man than reporter to athlete or coach.  I would see him at games during the basketball and baseball season, but also often in social settings as Cassi and Greg were friends with my daughter Kim and her husband, John Barone.  The Diamond’s had their first son, Jordan, and my grandson was born a year earlier.

Suddenly, we found ourselves at birthday parties and some holiday house parties and every time we got together, “us guys” went off to a corner to talk about local sports stuff.  

While we were deep in conversation I couldn’t help thinking how far this kid had come. I was so impressed that this guy who I first met as that cocky high school baseball kid, was now a man; a family man, and a well respected coach, teacher, and umpire in the community, doing all he could for his own kids and his extended family of athletes. 

As I write this my eyes well up because the news cut so deep when I first heard it on that Sunday morning.  I couldn’t believe it. We had just spent time, hours earlier, cajoling at the scorers table at Ketcham High School after the Spackenkill boys basketball team beat Poughkeepsie in the Duane Davis Tournament championship. 

I would always tease Greg that in 11 years his son Jordan and my grandson Johnny, now, both four and five respectively, would be leading the Spackenkill boys baseball team to another state title, and Greg would be one of the only people in New York State to win a state title as a player and as a coach.  Why not?  Both kids were coming from athletic parents who are very involved with the sports development of their children. 

As he tallied the final stats of the game so I could grab a snapshot of it with my phone, I was thinking how much fun this basketball season was going to be for me,  watching him enjoying the Spartan’s successes as an assistant to head coach Bill Murin.  He was so excited on the sidelines, in that championship game, and it was fun to watch.  A grown man with the excitement and pride that equaled every player on the bench along side him. 

“He loved to reminisce about the old Spack days and I enjoyed getting updates from him on former players I hadn’t heard from in a while.” , added Terry Feeley.   “Greg had certainly been bitten by the coaching bug – whether it was basketball or the upcoming baseball season, he always seemed to light up when he talked about coaching and umpiring.” 

“He also volunteered at St. Martins CYO basketball as a coach during this time of year”, added Bell.  “I will cherish my time with him.  He was a great son, father, husband, and friend.” 

Greg was set to be the pitching coach at John Jay this coming spring.  So sad.

It was Greg’s accomplishments and achievements in life, not on the field, that turned him into someone I cared deeply about; and probably the reason most others cared deeply for him as well.

We shook hands after I received my game ending stats, I wished him a Happy New Year, and left knowing I would see a lot more of him this coming year. But everything can change in an instant.  This was another chilling reminder of that, and our community has had it’s share of chilling reminders over the past few months.

In games of wins and losses they say a short memory is a great thing to possess but in life, the losses hit hard, and this one will not be forgotten for a very long time. 

Diamond’s wake will be held on Friday from 4-8 p.m. at Parmele, Auchmoody & Schoonmaker Funeral Home in Poughkeepsie.  Funeral services will follow on Saturday at St. Martin de Porres Church at 9:30 a.m.

Please God, watch over Cassi and her family, Mr and Mrs. Diamond, our athletic community, and the community at large.   

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