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The Teacher Who Coaches Baseball



Coach Tropiano

In the spring of 1965 the Tropiano family moved from Calabria, Italy, to Philadelphia. Sam Tropiano was six years old and already involved with European soccer, having played it since he was able to run through the streets surrounded by the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas.

He was one of the few children in South Philly during the 1960s and 1970s to play the center-forward position because soccer was still in its formative years in America.

But living in Philadelphia he soon discovered a new passion — Phillies baseball.

That was the foundation for the most successful baseball coach at Bishop Eustace Prep School, Pennsauken, with 557 wins in 24 years. The Crusaders coach is also ranked fourth in total All-Time wins in New Jersey baseball.

“I don’t see myself as a coach. I see myself as a teacher who happens to coach,” he said.

It is obvious to anyone who spends time with Tropiano to see that teaching is his top priority. After matriculating at Stella Maris Grammar School and St. John Neumann High School in Philadelphia, he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in British literature from Villanova University. He now teaches advanced placement psychology at Bishop Eustace.

Tropiano’s coaching success began at St. Augustine Prep in Richland in 1984. In his first year as head coach at Bishop Eustace in 1990 the Crusaders compiled a 20-5 record and won the New Jersey State Championship.

In 24 years as head Crusaders coach his teams won five New Jersey State Titles, six South Jersey Championships, four Diamond Classic Crowns, and 17 Conference Titles with an overall record of 557 wins with just 209 losses.

Major colleges noticed his success and made numerous offers to hire him. “I’ve had college opportunities, but that next level requires a recruiting skill. I am a Catholic school teacher who coaches, and in college you are a coach who also recruits,” said Tropiano.

At age 52, “Coach Trop” is beginning to ponder the next 10-15 years. “I try to live in the current season, I do not set long-term goals,” he added. “I still see myself teaching by the year 2020, but I take coaching year-by-year. I enjoy the kids and teaching the game of baseball. It offers them life lessons like working together, cooperation, and setting short term goals for the season.”

The life-long relationships are a bonus for the coach. “My players come back to visit us as men. They may help me coach and I even attend their weddings,” he said.

One outstanding returning player is 1999 Crusader grad, Nick Italiano, a second baseman signed as a free agent by the Phillies in 2003, after his four years of playing ball at the University of Penn. He decided to end his pro career and return to Bishop Eustace to teach and coach baseball, after the 2005 Phillies spring training season in Clearwater, Fla.

“Coach Tropiano is the best. There is nobody in South Jersey who spends as much time preparing for the season and each game.” said Italiano.

While with the Phillies, Italiano’s manager in Clearwater was Hall of Fame Player Mike Schmidt. “He was my idol growing up, the best third baseman in MLB history and a very knowledgeable person.”

How much does Italiano miss playing professional baseball?

“Only everyday when I wake up and every time I watch a game on TV,” he said.

“If you really want to understand pro baseball, watch the movie “Bull Durham.” Baseball is more like that, than ESPN’s Sports Center,” he noted.

“The 12-15 hour bus rides, the fast food dinners and living on $1,000 a month as you sleep on a bus. For every guy who makes it to the majors, there are 50 who don’t,” said Italiano.

Only 18 percent of players drafted make it to the major leagues and only 6 percent of high school players ever make a college baseball roster.Tropiano’s opinion is that pro baseball players are “fantastic athletes who have great hand-eye coordination. They also are skilled hitters with a mental toughness that most players do not have.

“They fail 7-out-of-10 times at bat and are in the Hall of Fame. What separates them is their mental toughness. The ability to forget is more important than their ability to remember. A baseball player has to let go of failures quickly. They must live in the moment,” said the coach.

Coaching success comes with a heavy price and sacrifice. The batting practice throws and other workouts have taken their toll on Tropiano’s knees and shoulder. And knee surgery is scheduled. “Plus I am a part-time farmer out there to keep the field in good shape,” he said.

“To be a success, a coach has to run ‘off-season’ baseball camps, have a summer league and run a weight room. It is no longer just a three-month job,” he said.

Next year’s senior Crusader catcher, John Pancella, noted that Facebook, Twitter and You Tube videos have added to the pre-game and post-game experience for players, coaches and fans.

“The basic knowledge of just knowing in advance about the opposing pitcher is tremendous at this level,” he said. Internet baseball videos have also helped with talent exposure for the student athletes, college coaches, recruiters and MLB scouts over the past five-10 years.

A future baseball prediction from Tropiano included protective head gear for all pitchers. “It will work through high schools first, and then the minor league system until it eventually reaches MLB. I think it will be a light weight helmet similar to Lacrosse,” he said.

The teacher inside Tropiano made a final comment about Pancella. “John works so hard to be a great student and baseball player. He is already a great person.”

Story & photo by Sam Bonavita for the Catholic Star Herald




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