When Head Coach George Valesente is congratulated for the baseball team’s many achievements during his 34-year tenure, he is always quick to deflect praise to his assistant coaching staff.
“I believe that I have the best assistant coaches there are in Division III,” he said. “They’re very knowledgeable, very good with the players and quite honestly, a lot of the success that we have had over the years or are having now is directly a result of their input.”
The assistant coaching staff consists of Hitting Coach Frank Fazio ’66, Infield Coach Geoff Wright ’72 and Outfield and Catcher Coach John McNally ’99, all of whom have been part of the squad during their undergraduate years at the college.
Valesente said having each coach in charge of a specific facet of the game helps the team improve throughout the season because he can focus on developing the team’s pitching staff.
“There’s no way this team, or any team that I’ve coached, without these men, would be as good or as efficient as they have been,” he said. “I really rely heavily on them for their expertise and to prepare their particular position or focus.”
McNally, who served as student assistant coach during his undergraduate studies at the college, said the assistant coaches’ main job other than game preparation is to serve as an intermediary between Valesente and the players.
“Our primary responsibility is to keep the line of communication between Coach Valesente and the players and promote the same message he does,” he said. “Sometimes they’ll come to me with certain concerns or certain issues that I can take to him.”
But the coaches’ jobs extend beyond the game. McNally said the work they do as coaches helps the players in other areas of their lives.
“We use baseball as a way to get these guys through the college experience,” he said. “We want to make them better players, but we also want to teach them life lessons so when they do leave us they’re ready to get out into the real world.”
McNally has been a member of the team’s coaching staff for 17 seasons and is a volunteer assistant coach along with Wright. Wright, who played second base for the Blue and Gold in 1972 and currently owns an insurance agency in Ithaca, said he helps the team as a way to give back to the program he learned so much from.
“I played here, so I have a love for Ithaca College baseball,” Wright said. “I’m paying the school back for the four years I was a player.”
McNally teaches physical education in the Ithaca City School District and said he wants to provide the current group of players with an enjoyable college career.
“When I was at school, people went out of their way to do things for me and make it a positive experience,” he said. “And hopefully I can do that for these guys as well.”
Senior shortstop and second baseman Matt Keller said Fazio has helped him get more rotation on his swing when he’s facing .
“I have trouble with inside pitches, so he helps me work on pulling the ball and using my hips more,” he said.
Valesente’s trust in his assistant coaches has paid off this season as his team has jumped out to an overall record of 19–8–1, a team batting average of .331 and an overall fielding percentage of .960.
Wright said the assistant coaches’ friendship allows them to communicate honestly with one another.
“If you see something, you’re not concerned if you say something to the player that the other coach is going to get upset,” he said. “We’re all trying to strive for the same goal — to win a national championship.”