For the first time since 1965, the Ithaca College baseball team is not under the direction of an IC graduate, but the Bombers’ new coach is hardly a stranger to the program. David Valesente, a 2006 graduate of Lansing High School and current Lansing resident, is the son of George Valesente, who retired in June after 41 years as the Bombers’ head coach.
“I’m through the roof with excitement,” David said. “I’m just happy I’ll have the opportunity to continue the tradition here at Ithaca and continue something my dad has worked so hard to create over the last 41 years.”
Previously the head baseball coach at Wells College in Aurora, Valesente becomes only the fifth coach of an IC baseball program that spans 89 years. The team has recorded 81 straight winning seasons, which the school said is the longest at any level. IC even has a College World Series appearance to its credit, making the trip to Omaha with the big boys of college baseball in 1962.
Under George Valesente, the Bombers won a pair of NCAA Division III national titles, 30 conference titles and 1,136 games.
“His shoes are some of the biggest for anyone to fill,” David said. “I think every college coach should aspire to the kind of success he had. Anyone following my dad would be nervous. I look at it as a great challenge and something I’m excited about.”
But he is a different person and a different coach than his father, David said.
“We share the same values, and I’ve learned a lot from him, but I have my own style that I’ve developed,” David said. “I’m very confident in my teaching ability and player development as well as the connections I’ve made with Ithaca alums and future Bombers coming in. Continuing that family tradition is important for the program and the future.”
At Lansing High School, David was a first-team all-state selection after hitting .485 with two homers and 30 RBIs in his senior season. He then played four years of Div. I baseball at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, the last two for Fritz Hamburg, a member of the Bombers’ 1988 national championship team.
David was a three-time All-Big 5 pick and two-time winner of the team’s Most Outstanding Player award and was named the school’s Male Athlete of the Year as a senior.
After graduating with a degree in business administration in 2010, David played professionally for three seasons. The first was spent with the Alpine (Texas) Cowboys in the independent Pecos League, where he played for Dryden High grad and former TC3 baseball coach Ryan Stevens.
He then signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, spending the 2012 season with the State College (Pennsylvania) Spikes and 2013 with the Jamestown Jammers, both in the Class A New York-Penn League.
After his playing career was done, he returned to Saint Joseph’s as an assistant to Hamburg, who he cites a major influence on his coaching style.
“He had a tremendous impact on me as a player and getting into coaching,” David said. “Once I finished playing pro ball, he made it known that he was interested in having me become a coach. I learned a ton from him, from how to represent myself well and be a professional but also how to teach and be innovative and connect with players.”
Another big influence for David was Dave Turgeon, David’s manager at State College and Jamestown.
“The way he went about his business and his professionalism and blue-collar attitude really connected with me,” David said. “We still stay in touch regularly.”
David said trust and innovation are two key aspects of his coaching style.
“I feel it’s important to develop trust, which can lead to players performing at higher levels, being open to different ways of learning, and taking risks,” he said. “I don’t want players to be playing with fear. ... They need to trust that I’ll be there for them and help them develop on the field and also in the classroom and everyday life.”
David said he also tries to be innovative in his teaching methods because there are many ways to connect with players.
“Baseball is a traditional sport,” David said. “But now, there’s also a lot of technology out there to measure things like spin rate, exit velocity and path through the zone. And a lot of people are looking at training in a new light and for ways to better challenge players and mimic game-like situations.”
For the past four years, David has been head coach at Wells College, starting the NCAA Div. III program in 2015. In three seasons there, Valesente went 46-63. The Express was 18-22 this past spring and made its first appearance in the North Eastern Athletic Conference playoffs, collecting a pair of post-season wins.
“David did a terrific job during his time at Wells and quickly built that program to be competitive in its conference,” IC Athletic Director Susan Bassett said in a press release. “It is no easy task to start a program from scratch, and David worked diligently to implement a culture on and off the field that we embody at Ithaca College. His passion and effectiveness in recruiting is a clear strength and will serve him well.”
David said he has learned a lot at Wells.
“I learned how to be a head coach,” David said. “I learned how to start a program from scratch and design uniforms, how to recruit a full roster and keep kids on campus succeeding academically, how to develop a budget and plan travel and meal money, how to connect with families, get them on campus and develop a relationship with them, and much, much more.”
While David’s official start date at Ithaca is Aug. 19, he’s already begun the transition from Aurora to South Hill, calling recruits and getting to know the ins and outs of the IC campus. Although David said he and his father have talked a little bit about George’s role with the program going forward, nothing formal has been decided on yet.
“The main priority is filling the full-time assistant coach’s position and connecting with current and incoming Bombers to make sure they’re good to go for the fall,” David said. “I’d love to have Dad around and be able to utilize his history and knowledge to influence the team.We’ll see what happens, but I’m confident he’ll be connected with the program moving forward.”
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