Where Are They Now? - Michael Ippolito '85
Feb. 7, 2013
Name: Michael Ippolito
I was attracted to Lafayette primarily by the beautiful campus, great people and Division I sports program. To this day, having just visited more than 35 campuses with my son who is in high school, Lafayette remains one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. The people whom I met while visiting were eager to share their personal stories, answered all of my questions with enthusiasm and genuinely welcomed me in every way. Combine this with the fact that a school of Lafayette’s high academic standards is also a competitive Division I baseball program, and I was a proud Leopard! Lafayette lived up to every expectation and continues to be one of the great choices I have made in my life.
I miss the people and the baseball experience at Lafayette. I was fortunate to room all four years with people whom I am still good friends with to this day. Through my affiliation with the fraternity and other networks on campus, within days of my attending Lafayette, I had four years of the richest social experience of my life. My passion though at Lafayette was clearly baseball and I miss both the experience and my teammates. Returning together with eager anticipation to fall practice and the windy fields at Metzgar; the winter workouts in the creaky but comfortable old gym; the early season field house practices fielding ground balls between basketball players running passing drills for Coach van Breda Kolff; the spring trip to Lakeland, Fla. and the social mixing with the Detroit Tigers; the big ECC games and camaraderie as we won and lost as a team. I had the privilege of playing with and against players who played at every level in professional baseball and I will forever cherish the opportunity to have played the sport I love at a school like Lafayette.
Between your former teammates and coaches, who has made the most impact on your career?
There is no doubt that my coach Joe Hindelang made the greatest impact on my career. In high school, I was originally recruited to play football and would have done so had I not had a good senior year in baseball. I concluded that I was a better baseball player than a football player and decided to play baseball only. But when I arrived at Lafayette, the baseball program was in a decade long period of decline and had not reached the ECC playoffs since 1974. The coach my first year was not effectively engaged and at the end of my freshman year I was even considering giving up baseball. But then I received word during that summer that Joe Hindelang was hired to take over the program and I was thrilled that Lafayette had made this decision and excited about meeting Joe. From the first day I met him, I was inspired to give my best and learned that no matter who you are or where you are in your life, success happens one forward step at a time. Every day from that point on under Joe’s leadership during my time there, the baseball program got better. As a team, we got back to ECC playoffs in both my junior and senior years. As a player, I became a starter at first base in my sophomore year, was named MVP my junior year and co-captain my senior year. Joe led the very successful Lafayette baseball teams in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and then went to Penn State where he won more games than any other baseball coach in its storied athletic history. To this day, Joe’s leadership, support and view of the world are an inspiration for not only me in what I do, but also in the way that I teach my children. Whenever my children or I get stuck when faced with a difficult problem or not sure about the path to take, I fondly reflect on Joe’s counsel of taking it one step at a time and we always seem to find our way to the best answer.
What collegiate baseball experiences have been invaluable to your successful career?
The aforementioned lessons from Coach Hindelang’s leadership were the overarching experiences that have impacted my career. Despite my first coach’s lack of commitment and my questioning my future in baseball, I never gave up. I always worked hard and made myself an accomplished hitter despite lots of head winds. But the greatest lesson I learned from baseball was personal and team accountability. Baseball is a great game because it is simultaneously an individual sport and team sport. Unlike football or basketball, baseball is a collection of linear individual transactions that accrue to a group of teammates. Whereas basketball and football have simultaneous and non-linear actions by all players resulting in a cumulative outcome, baseball is a sequential set of individual actions that result in a team outcome: a pitcher pitches, a hitter hits, and a fielder catches. As a result, individual statistics in baseball are far more interesting than any other sport because baseball has a much higher degree of individual accountability than other team sports. But it is nonetheless played and scored as a team sport. This balance of team and individual has been the primary lesson for me in my career – that you must always do what is best for yourself AND the team. It cannot be a zero sum game or a binary win/lose outcome. People who do not get this rarely succeed in business. Though this was the essence John Nash’s equilibrium in game theory and the premise of the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, I had learned the lesson years earlier on the baseball diamond with my teammates at Lafayette.
Looking back, what do those seasons mean to you now?
They are irreplaceable for all the reasons I have described. There are many ways to learn life’s great lessons, and while I am still learning lessons every day, the breadth and depth of what I learned during my four seasons playing baseball for Lafayette were life altering and have shaped who I am to this day.
What was your most memorable moment playing Lafayette baseball?
On a personal level, the most memorable moment for me was at LaSalle my sophomore year. I went 6-8 in a double header with three home runs and two doubles. LaSalle’s pitcher, Bob Shannon was one of the toughest pitchers we faced all year and in my first at bat, he struck me out with the count 0-2 on a knee high fast ball when I was looking for a breaking pitch. Perhaps feeling that he had found my weak spot, the La Salle coach decided to keep pitching me in the same place the rest of the day. I hit three consecutive home runs in my next three at bats and did not miss a pitch again in the doubleheader. Since I was never again able to hit even two home runs in a game during my career at Lafayette, I assume that our opponents’ scouts quickly made note not to throw Ippolito fastballs down in the zone!
Is there one teammate you would love to hear from?
I have been back to Lafayette and reconnected with most of my teammates over the years at reunions, alumni games and the annual baseball dinner. The highlights have been 1) reconnecting with Joe Hindelang and thanking him for the chance to play the great game of baseball at an amazing school like Lafayette 2) reminiscing with my co-captains Gino Cara and Pete Demers about our on and off the field memories as we helped turn the baseball program around and 3) long tossing on Kamine field with my great teammate Dan Maynard as my son watched from the stands. And there are so many countless others that I can’t mention here in this limited space. The one person whom I have not connected with since our playing days and would love to hear from is George Yolich. George was not only one of the best players with whom I ever played, but more than any other teammate, George made the game of baseball exceptionally fun. When he wasn’t winning games with his monstrous home runs, Yolie was doing whatever he could to put a smile on everyone’s face. Whether it be practical jokes, frighteningly good mimicry, often at my expense, or just general baseball banter, George elevated everyone’s game by making us more relaxed and putting a smile on our faces. I hope George is well and look forward to catching up with him at future alumni events.
What advice do you have for Lafayette student athletes?
This is easy – cherish every minute you have both as a student and as an athlete. Your education at Lafayette is one of the best in the world – do not take it for granted! One of the greatest regrets I have is not pushing myself harder in the class room during my time at Lafayette. While I pushed myself in my major, I often supplemented my course load with courses that had a reputation of having a “low degree of difficulty”. Invariably, I would perform worse in these classes than in the more rigorous courses because I did not commit myself to giving my best. The courses you take at Lafayette will shape your life – do not see them as a chore! They are a great opportunity to develop and get your life started on its best and most proper course. In terms of baseball, I never again played another competitive game of baseball after I hung up my spikes in May of 1985. Moreover, I suffered a career ending injury when I was struck in the head with a line drive a week before my final game. So I was not able to prepare for and experience that final moment. My “retirement” happened for me in hindsight and to this day it is something I deeply regret. While I gave the baseball program everything I had during my time at Lafayette, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t yearn to start a 3-6-3 double play with Billy Russell at shortstop; to throw a guy out at the plate after cutting off a laser like throw from Joe Yanek in center field; or to tag a guy out at first on a perfect pick off throw from Pete Demers. More importantly, not a day goes by when I don’t think about Kirk Gibson being rejected by a beautiful lady who preferred to dance with our catcher Jeff Fendrick during our spring trip at the Tigers’ complex in Florida; or the long bus rides testing Gary Hageman’s computer like knowledge of every possible baseball statistic ever achieved; or the amazing energy level of the ECC playoffs and playing championship baseball. There is a reason that a movie was made called “Field of Dreams” – because that is what the game of baseball is. Cherish every minute you have on the field – the memories will indeed last forever.
How did your career progress after you graduated from Lafayette College?
I started my career in July 1985 at General Electric in Schenectady NY where I joined GE’s Financial Management Program. This was a grueling training program and very competitive as I was competing with others who had achieved much stronger academic results. I spent five years in GE finance and then went back to get my MBA from The Wharton School. After finishing up at Penn in 1992, I spent 12 years at Deloitte where I was a partner in the Financial Services strategy practice. I left Deloitte in 2004 and am now a Managing Director and member of the global board at Hay Group, a human resources consulting firm.
What were some of your career goals? How were you able to get experience in all these areas?
My career goals have always been similar to my goal at Lafayette of making a positive impact on a great baseball program. I have built my career on impacting great organizations who offer positive value to all of its stakeholders. GE, Deloitte and Hay Group are organizations who offer great value to their clients, shareholders and employees. I am thrilled to have not only had a positive impact on each of these firms, but established lifelong professional and personal relationships with great people. And as someone who is about to turn 50, I am very excited about the future and what lies ahead.
What do you feel are some of your greatest accomplishments?
By far the greatest accomplishment is my family and two children, Michael and Stephanie. They have been such a blessing for me that anything else pales in comparison. In addition to my career, I have also been proud of the many charitable organizations that I am involved with. My niece has suffered from leukemia for the past five years so I have developed a tremendous appreciation for counting my blessings and caring for others less fortunate. I would encourage everyone to spend part of every day in some way helping others who have not had the opportunities that we have had. Finally, one of the great joys of my life are the performing arts and, in particular, music. While I was never a great musical artist, I always had a talent for composing and producing music. Over the past decade, I have had the great experience of working with some remarkably talented musical artists in producing my “original score” or, as my children like to say, “Dad’s Opus”. While just a hobby, it has been one of the most rewarding accomplishments of my life and I encourage all of you to find your passion and know that while you can’t do it “all at once”, if you know what you want, plan effectively and take things one step at a time, you can achieve just about anything you want over a long period of time.
How are you still involved with baseball? Coaching, playing, umpiring, etc.?
My affiliation with baseball today is as a proud father of a very talented high school senior and baseball player at Montgomery High School in NJ. Michael will play right field and bat fifth in a NJ ranked baseball program. I am not only thrilled and proud at his many accomplishments both academically and athletically, but it is astounding how as parents we are able to relive many of the great joys of life through the eyes of our children. He hit a game winning home run against the NJ powerhouse baseball program Hunterdon Central this past fall and the celebration at the plate literally brought me right back to that game winning moment against Delaware in the spring of my Junior year at Lafayette. It has been 29 years since that day in April of 1984, but in seeing the great joy and enthusiasm amongst these kids, it was as if it happened yesterday!
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