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Rider baseball coach Barry Davis has been running the team’s First Pitch Dinner since 2009, and the 8th Annual will have a slightly different twist this year.
The Jan. 23 event will celebrate the illustrious history of Broncs baseball and feature the programs three coaches from the past 50 years — Tom Petroff, Francis “Sonny” Pittaro and Davis. Highlighting the evening will be a roast of Pittaro, who guided Rider from 1970 to 2004 and is the namesake of the team’s baseball complex.
The dinner begins at 6 p.m. in the Bart Luedeke Center on campus. Rider is reporting that a vast number of former players will be in attendance and that tickets are still available by logging on to https://alumni.rider.edu/ or by calling 609-896-5340.
Petroff will give opening comments, followed by two videos and two Sonny roasters, followed by an introduction of the 2016 team and a preview of their season. Two more videos will be shown along with two more roasters. Jeff Plunkett, who Pittaro recently assisted with the Nottingham Babe Ruth All Stars, will provide comments and Pittaro then gets his chance to rebut his attackers.
Davis will be the Master of Ceremonies. Those roasting will be Rich Giallella, who played for Petroff’s 1967 World Series team, and former Pittaro players Ed Horowitz, Jason Steinert and John Crane, the current Broncs pitching coach.
Giallella served as Pittaro’s assistant for eight years before embarking on an outstanding career as Steinert head coach. The former Broncs center fielder sharpened his knife while discussing one of his best friends.
“He’s a great family man, a great parent, a great grandparent. . . .he’s not a great golfer,” Giallella said. “He’s obviously a great inspiration. Without Petroff and him I wouldn’t be where I am today and doing the things I’ve done in my life. I had eight years of learning under Sonny and it was invaluable. He’s a great friend and he’s been that to a lot of people. . .but I don’t think that will be said a lot on the 23rd.”
There will be some zingers for sure, and Davis can’t wait.
“I’ve already heard some of the stories and there’s no holds barred,” Davis said with a laugh. “There could be some haymakers thrown at this thing.”
It will also be a celebration of Pittaro’s Hall of Fame career. In his 34 years at Rider, Pittaro won 766 games, nine conference titles and 10 Coach of the Year awards. His teams made eight NCAA Regional appearances, while 41 players went to the professional ranks and five reached the Major Leagues (as did his son Chris, now the director of professional scouting for the A’s).
It was Davis’ job to follow the legend, which he has done quite well.
“I knew what he accomplished, and further researched it once I got here,” said Davis, who worked with Pittaro at the Alonzo Mosley All-Star Camp in South Jersey in the early 1990s. “When I was at Gloucester (County College) I always knew they were good. I didn’t feel pressure taking over for him. Any pressure there is what you put on yourself. But I can see where people would think that from the outside. But you just want to do well and continue what they’ve done.”
Pittaro, who also took over for a legend in Petroff, cast a giant shadow over the program but made sure it never enveloped the team after he stepped down.
“Once I got to Rider he was always supportive,” Davis said. “He came to the games but he was trying not to be an influence. He let me do my job. And he has always been there when I had a question or needed some help. He was always professional. Rider should be proud of everything he accomplished.”
Giallella joked that he would have fired Pittaro after his first 14 seasons because he had not yet won playoff.
“We had winning seasons but not playoff winning seasons,” he said. “As soon as I left, he started winning championships. What are the common denominators? Not me . . .him. He loves to teach, he loves to discuss the game. He was not only a great coach at Rider, but in the nation. He’s meant a lot to this community.”
And for that, they will praise and skewer Pittaro all at once.
source press release