If you’re going to be a catcher in baseball, you’re going to have to tap into your leadership skills early and often.

Such was the case for the late Bob DeMeo, the former Steinert High and Bordentown Military Institute catcher who went on to play at the University of Northern Colorado and professionally for the Phillies’ organization.

His leadership abilities were also evident as he was climbing the ladder as a minor league manager until an automobile accident tragically cut short his life.

DeMeo was represented by family and friends as he was inducted posthumously into the Steinert High School Athletic Hall of Fame during ceremonies April 9 at The Stone Terrace.

“Bob was an all-around great guy growing up,” said Lee Jackson, neighbor and teammate. “Growing up, Bob was my best friend since the age of 5 when his family moved across the street from us in Hamilton Square.

“Everyone liked him on and off the fields. He was extremely friendly and hard-working. He was the catcher in baseball so he was a leader, but he led more with his attitude and work ethic. He was always one of the most popular kids around. Bob was not an A student or a superstar athlete, but there was no one that worked harder or demanded more respect.”

Legendary college coach Tom Petroff recruited DeMeo, a member of Steinert’s Class of 1969 who went to complete a year at BMI. DeMeo enjoyed a spectacular college career and became the first baseball player in UNC history to earn All-America status three times (1972-74).

Petroff delivered the eulogy at DeMeo’s funeral in Denver in 1981. Petroff spoke of a young man with a burning desire to succeed.

“Bobby had a definite dream and definite beliefs, but he had to go through adversities like many other famous men,” Petroff said that day in December 1981. “He was not supposed to go to college, let alone graduate. But he did, with excellent grades. He was not supposed to perform well in college baseball. But, he did, being chosen All-American three years – probably the only man in history to earn this honor three times. He was not supposed to play professional baseball, not being drafted. But he did, reaching Triple A, one step below the major leagues. He was not supposed to be a manager in professional baseball. But he did reach that goal.

“All of these accomplishments by Bob and his purpose in life can be summed up by these powerful words: perseverance, patience, and love and integrity for wife, family, the game of baseball and all mankind.”

In addition to starting 104 consecutive games at catcher for Petroff’s Bears from 1972-74, DeMeo was described as the player who led his teams by example. The 1982 UNC Baseball Yearbook was dedicated to his memory and praised him for his role in one of the most exciting eras in UNC baseball history, noting that his contributions were more than runs, hits, RBIs and runners thrown out stealing. He was the player others turned to when in need of a word of advice or encouragement. He also helped lead a team that learned sign language so they could help children who were deaf.

“He not only guided his teammates in defeating the No. 1 team in the nation, the University of Arizona, for the right to appear in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, but he also created motivation for his teammates in helping hearing-impaired youngsters develop a learning process through the values of baseball,” Petroff noted.

DeMeo, who had three hits in the Bears’ doubleheader sweep of top-ranked Arizona that propelled UNC into the 1974 CWS, was inducted into his alma mater’s Athletic Hall of Fame in Greeley, Colo., in 1995.

He signed with the Phillies’ organization in 1974 and played at Eugene, Spartanburg, Peninsula and Reading before joining the Oklahoma City 89ers in 1978. He served as a backup catcher and part-time coach in ’78 and became a full-time coach the next year. He was a member of the 89ers coaching staff for four seasons.

“Bob continued to grow and excel in baseball and life,” noted Jackson, who along with his siblings administers a scholarship program for area youth. “We wanted to do something locally in his memory. We have given $1,000 each year to a graduating (SHS) senior athlete who was nominated by his/her coach since June 1982.”

Photo at top left: Accepting the HOF award for Bob are his widow and sister.