When you coach for 42 years, you will see some milestones. Ithaca College baseball coach George Valesente hit the magic 1,000-win milestone three years ago—and that meant a lot—but the first 90 wins came during his coaching stops at Brockport, New Paltz and New York Maritime, and getting to 1,000 at his alma mater means even more. Valesente got there last weekend, with a 2-0 win over Spalding in Redlands, California, as the Bombers wrapped up their spring trip.
To get some insight from a player’s perspective, I reached out to Colby Gee, who graduated from Ithaca College last May, and started going to Valesente’s camps and clinics when he was 7 years old. He went to as many camps and clinics as possible, and then attended “Showcase” camps as a high-school player in search of a college. Colby landed at IC, had a stellar 4-year career, and said, “I thought about it the other day, and in my freshman year, we had 18 wins, then 30 as a sophomore, then 42, then 27. I was part of a good number of his wins, and I’m proud of that.”
I asked Colby—who now works at Northeast Elementary School and is gearing up for another summer stint in the Pecos League, playing independent baseball in Texas, how Valesente is able to put such a quality product on the field year after year, and he said, “Coach Valesente is very ‘old school’ in that he is very tough on players. He does not tolerate messing around—players are dressed up before and after games—and since he likes players with a strong mentality, he runs a tight ship.” Continuing with the nautical theme, Gee added, “If you’re not on board, you’re not even on the team, much less on the field. He puts players out there that are serious.”
Valesente was a three-sport star at Ithaca College in the mid ‘60s, and he chased his Major League dream for four years after that, getting as far as Triple A ball. Since returning to South Hill in 1979, George has guided the Bombers to two national championships (1980 and 1988), 10 World Series appearances, and 29 NCAA post-season berths in all. His teams have never had a losing season and have won nearly 70 percent of their games. The Bombers have captured 17 league titles and two runners-up finishes during Valesente’s career. Ithaca has won 11 of the 13 Empire 8 titles. He has also guided 18 players to All-American status and, and mentored 31 players who have signed professional baseball contracts.
Valesente’s right-hand man is also an illustrious IC alumnus. Frank Fazio was a pit bull of a player at Ithaca College (he was Valesente’s teammate), and his sizzling .488 batting average in 1965 is still the stuff of Bomber legend. The two also played basketball together, and in Fazio’s words, “Hung out a lot as friends.”
Given that Fazio signed on as Valesente’s assistant coach in 1979, and has held that position except for a five-year stint as the Ithaca High softball coach, I said, “So, Frank, you have been a part of a lot of those wins, eh?” “Faz,” in typically self-deprecating fashion, replied, “Yeah … maybe too many, if you ask him!”
I asked Fazio if Valesente is held in high regard around the college baseball world, and he said, “Oh yes. George was a Rules Committee member, he has traveled to South America, he has intereacted with some big-time coaches, and he was elected to the baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.” He added, “George is very highly respected, and deservingly so.”
Fazio appreciates the core values of the program and the resulting success, and said, “We have compassion for the kids, and we treat them fairly, but we have a ‘Do your job’ type of expectation. It’s about character, the way you dress, the way you look, the way you discipline yourself … Not too many of these kids will play professional baseball, so we focus on the life skills that will serve them well. It’s not just about baseball.”
The Bombers open their home season on March 24, at 3 p.m., and will host the SUNY Cortland Red Dragons. •