There’s almost no baseball scenario that Schenectady resident Tony “Skip” Rossi hasn’t either experienced first-hand or observed from the bench during his nearly six-decade involvement in the sport.
When Siena opens the season Friday in Orlando, Fla., Rossi will begin his 45th consecutive season as the Saints’ head coach. He is the second-longest tenured active Division I head coach in the nation and the winningest coach in any sport in Siena history with an overall lifetime record of 774-925-6, including a Division I mark of 702-850-5.
Rossi, who has guided the Saints’ throughout their elevation from Division II to Division I, has a 298-237 record since the school joined the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. He has led the Saints to four MAAC regular-season titles and four more tournament crowns during his tremendous run.
Just as impressive are the 37 players he’s coached who have signed professional contracts, including four major leaguers — Billy Harrell, first baseman Gary Holle, pitcher Tim Christman and pitcher John Lannan, who played for the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies and is on the New York Mets’ roster this season.
Rossi also coached Dan Paolini, who led the nation in home runs in the 2010 season and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners.
The affable Colonie High School and SUNY-Brockport graduate has won six MAAC coach of the year honors and is a member of the Siena and Albany Twilight League Hall of Fame.
As a player, Rossi was an outstanding shortstop for both the Garnet Raiders and SUNY-Brockport, where he led the East in batting average (.477) in 1964 and was a three-time SUNYAC all-star.
Known for his key eye in recruiting, Rossi said it’s become much more difficult to bring in top players, despite his immense success over the years.
“We always try to recruit the best athletes available, and of course, the best pitchers, although pitchers are a different animal,” said Rossi with a laugh. “We also must be careful to recruit certain positions where we need players. We can’t afford to recruit three or four first baseman or center fielders, for example. We are limited to 35 players on our roster.”
Rossi said the immense growth of youth baseball programs complicates matters.
“We can only have two recruiters out at any one time, and there may be 20 or 30 big amateur tournaments going on during any one weekend. It’s hard to pick and choose where to recruit,” he said.
“We used to go to all the American Legion, Babe Ruth or Connie Mack leagues or tournaments, but now there are so many new travel leagues out there. There are so many players.”
Rossi concentrates his recruiting efforts mostly locally and throughout the Northeast, although he occasionally gets a top player from Florida or California.
“We are lucky here at Siena, because the first thing we have going for us is our outstanding academics,” he said. “Secondly, we give players the opportunity to play. They can often play here right away if they are good enough, even if they are freshmen. I think the third thing is my longevity here. They know I’m not going anywhere.”
Last year’s Saints finished 27-30, and Rossi believes that despite some key graduation losses, his club should be competitive once again.
“We’ve got about six or seven starters back, plus a good nucleus of pitchers,” he said. “We did lose our top two power hitters in Mike Fish and Larry Balkwill. We won’t be able to replace their home runs and RBI, but we do have three-quarters of our infield back, plus much of our pitching rotation.”
Fish (12 homers, 51 RBI), the MAAC Player of the Year who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Balkwill (eight homers, 48 RBI) will be hard to replace, but Brian Fay (.286) moves from third base to designated hitter and should pace a strong group of contact hitters.
Siena also must groom a new starting catcher.
Local players on the roster include senior infielder Mike Allen (Saratoga Springs), senior outfielder Mike Williams (Shenendehowa), freshman infielder Joe Foran (Fort Ann), freshman left-handed pitcher Chris Amorosi (Schalmont), sophomore catcher Dave Hoffmann (Niskayuna), senior right-handed pitcher Neil Fryer (Greenwich) and junior right-handed pitcher Chris Kearney (Colonie).
Siena’s pitching staff will be its strength and will be paced by Broadalbin-Perth graduate Matt Gage (6-6, 3.42 earned run average), who led the staff in innings (97.1) and strikeouts (88), Ed Lewicki (4-3, 3.92) and Bryan Goossens (1-5, 3.64).
“How far we go this year depends on our pitching staff. We need to throw strikes, and we need to stay healthy,” Rossi said.