As Niko Amory’s baseball playing career was winding down last spring, it was no secret that the Major League Baseball Draft was going to pass him by.
His final season as Marist College’s catcher would be his last in the game as a player.
Amory, who began his playing days on the fields of Diamond Nation as a Diamond Jack and starred in high school at Southern Lehigh (Pa.), put forth a very impressive college career as a terrific defensive catcher and above average hitter at Marist. It was a career most would sign up for in advance.
Understandably, Amory wasn’t too keen on turning off the tap on that unique and passionate experience and joining the 9-5 work world. Baseball had attached itself to Niko like pine tar.
“I had a really good junior year and wanted to keep playing after college,” said Amory. “I have a friend who played for Liberty and he was a Golden Spike nominee. When he didn’t get drafted I knew I wasn’t.”
But Amory has always brought more to the game than his physical skills in his catching gear and in the batter’s box. Marist head coach Lance Ratchford saw that when he recruited him during his high school days.
“Niko is a passionate player and a really good leader,” says Ratchford, entering his second season as the Marist head coach. “Guys follow Niko. We saw that at an early age, during the recruiting process.”
Ratchford was an assistant at Marist at that time and would leave for a Division 3 coaching job at SUNY Cobleskill (N.Y.). Ratchford returned after four successful seasons at Cobleskill to accept the job as Marist’s head coach for 2023.
Amory had played his first four years under 12-year Marist mentor Chris Tracz, who left to take the head job at Army. “I’ve had two great college head guys here,” said Amory. “I couldn’t be happier for that experience.” Tracz, a Marist grad, is recognized as the school’s all-time greatest pitcher and its all-time winningest baseball coach. Not a bad resume.
Amory and Ratchford’s relationship simply picked up right where it left off and, indeed, would be instrumental in keeping the young catcher in the game after his playing career ended. Ratchford, in fact, had set the wheels in motion in the fall of 2022 to get Amory to the Cape Cod League as a coach in the summer of 2023.
“Toward the end of last spring, after we were eliminated, coach asked me what my plan was and ‘was I interested in coming back and working with the program in player development,’” says Amory.
Ratchford said that while he had watched Amory assert himself as a leader and coach-on-the-field as his catcher, he wanted to see what form that leadership would take when he stepped to the other side of the white lines.
Ratchford had coached in the Cape himself, and utilized his contacts there to get Amory an audition of sorts for the Marist job they had discussed.
“I reached out to Shev’ (Brewster Whitecaps head coach Jamie Shevchik) earlier,” said Ratchford. “I knew Niko was interested in doing it. It was a mini-tryout, if you will. A coaching internship.”
Ratchford checked on Amory’s coaching development throughout the summer with the Whitecaps coaching staff. “They kept telling me he had taken ownership of the position. They said, ‘Dude he’s been awesome. He’s a go.’”
That was enough for Ratchford.
“When their season was done, we talked and, at the end of July, early August, I extended the offer. He jumped,” said Ratchford. “We kind of set him loose. He was just fresh off of playing. He had all these guys who played with him and now for him. I told him that part may be a little tough, but he’s run into zero issues. He’s been the perfect fit. And the position he’s in gives us a branch between our players and coaches.”
Niko Amory was a productive hitter for Marist before transitioning to coaching this fall.
Ratchford says Amory will have an opportunity to go back to the Cape to coach again next summer. “He’ll then have an opportunity to be promoted and be here, in our program, 12 months a year.”
While Amory watched his classmates and teammates move on to “real world” type employment and more lucrative positions, he was choosing to bite the bullet, pay back some baseball dues and start building a career in a game he fell in love with as a kid, a love that has only grown over the years.
“I’m living poor, pretty much like a college kid,” says Amory. But his responsibilities as the program’s Director of Operations and Player Development are far ranging, challenging and will prepare him for bigger coaching roles down the road.
“A lot more goes into the position than I expected,” says Amory, who received a crash course in his new coaching responsibilities during Marist’s fall season. Sure, he works with Marist’s catchers and leads recruits and their families during on-campus tours, but there is much more.
“It’s a lot more than coaching and recruiting,” says Amory. “I work camps and work with our catchers and offense but I also handle all of our technology, place equipment orders and review pitching and hitting videos.” Add to that a lot of little things that go unnoticed from the outside, such as organizing practices and assembling scouting reports.
While Marist has wrapped up its fall season, Amory and the rest of the staff are working on individual hitting, fielding and positional group instruction November-through-December.
“I feel I can be a huge help,” said Amory. “During my five years at Marist we didn’t have a catching guy on staff.” That changes with Amory’s addition to the staff, a role he seemingly prepped for during his days in youth ball at Diamond Nation and at Southern Lehigh.
The last championship together for this outstanding 2017 Diamond Jacks Super 17U squad. That’s Niko Amory standing near middle (#9), flanked by coaches Brian DelRosso (left) and Kevin Cust (right). This team was loaded with future college ball players.
“Niko knows what it’s like to work,” says Travis Anderson, Diamond Nation’s catching instructor. “He’s not scared of it. We had him at our catching school when he was nine or 10 years old. At the time, one of our older kids, A.J. Murray, took him under his wing.” Murray was an All-State catcher at Westfield High at the time and would have a strong career at Georgia Tech. Murray was drafted first by the Astros, then the Twins before playing three years of minor league ball.
“Travis and I still keep in touch,” said Amory. “Travis and Kevin Cust got on us and kept us focused on our tasks. I loved the way they went about it. They set great examples and we had really good teams.”
Anderson is not the least bit surprised to see Amory gravitate to coaching.
“I don’t think I’ve been harder on a catcher than I was with Niko,” said Anderson, who does have a reputation for having high expectations for his players. “I did work him into the ground, but we have a great relationship. I told him he had to be tough if he was going to play the game for a long time. I always treated him like an adult. He understood I was coming from a good place, to get him better.
“Hats off to him for what he’s achieved as a player. We’re both catchers and, I think, because of that, we can always talk to each other about the game.”
“I’ve always liked leading,” said Amory. “I credit Travis for that. Since I was 10 years old he was building leadership skills in me. He was teaching me to be vocal and control the game back then.”
Anderson knows well what type of challenges lie ahead for Amory as a coach, having experienced the same transition after retiring from his last stop in professional ball, the Somerset Patriots, and coming directly to Diamond Nation to coach.
“It’s not easy to go from player to coach,” says Anderson, who has been one of Diamond Nation’s lead instructors and coaches since 2006. “I know what it’s like to shut it off as a player and become a coach. You are still part of that crowd, but you’re not. You are a coach now.
This loaded DJacks group joining Niko Amory (Marist-#9), includes, from left, Mike Murray (Hofstra), Colin Mason (Binghamton), Christian Hlinka (Virginia) and Brandon Hylton (Stetson).
“Niko loves baseball operations and analytics, all that stuff. He likes the developmental part. He’s going to be a great coach. It will be really neat to see him grow.”
Amory is clearly driven and built for growth.
“You see a lot of former catchers become good coaches,” says Amory. “That’s what I hope to be. I’d love to be a head coach one day, wherever in the country that takes me. I have no hesitations. That was always the goal, to do something I love as long as you can.”
NOTES: At age 7, Niko Amory made his first appearance in the Cape Cod League, as a bat boy for Chatham. “We had a family house in Chatham and I would go to a kids camp and became a bat boy there,” said Amory. He remembers seeing future major leaguers Chris Bryant, Cory Seager and Matt Harvey playing in Chatham.
Amory’s return to the Cape was kind of like “coming full circle” from his childhood, he says. Coincidentally, former Diamond Jacks coach and current Keystone College assistant Brian DelRosso was the Whitecaps pitching coach. Shevchik, by the way, is Keystone’s head coach.
“Being around DelRo again was great,” said Amory. “It was good to have him there, looking out for me. I hadn’t seen him in three years.”
The Whitecaps had a strong season and qualified for the playoffs, so the experience for Amory was thoroughly entertaining as it was educational. “We had 2,000 fans per-game and there were 4,000 at one of our playoff games against Yarmouth,” he said.
Amory earned All-Academic in the MAAC conference all four undergrad years. He majored in Sports Communications and had a minor in Psychology. Niko then completed his Masters in Integrated Marketing Communications over the summer while coaching on the Cape.