The Ithaca College Baseball team is already going through a period of change after long-time head coach George Valesente announced his retirement after this past season. Now, it will see the end of another era as Valesente’s assistant, Frank Fazio, announced that he too will be retiring from the program.
The announcement came last week, when Fazio, a member of the Ithaca College class of 1967, decided that his split, 35-year tenure as Valesente’s right-hand man should come to a close to allow for Valensente’s idea of a “new direction” for the program to take place.
Fazio’s story on South Hill began during his playing days as a three-sport athlete, lettering in football, basketball and baseball. While a member of the Bombers baseball team, he put together a .370 career batting average and hit .488 in 1965 to rank third all-time among Bombers hitters for a single season.
After graduation, Fazio stayed in Ithaca and would coach softball in the Ithaca City School System, along with football and basketball. The calling for coaching rang louder and louder in Fazio’s ears until the 1980 baseball season.
After a few years away from the program, Fazio returned to the Bombers as a member of the staff. The season prior, the 1979 campaign, Valesente, who graduated from the college a year ahead of Fazio, took command of the Bombers and added Fazio as his assistant and, more importantly, his hitting coach.
The payoff was nearly instantaneous for the Bombers, as Fazio’s first season with the program culminated in an NCAA Division III National Championship, a feat that would be repeated by the team less than a decade later in 1988.
The 1980 title squad was one of the best hitting teams that Fazio coached during his time with the program, as the national champions led the nation with a .363 batting average, a mark that would later be bested by the 1983 team that posted a .372 average, a program record that still stands today.
In 2002, Fazio left the program, returning to the dugout in 2008, where he remained until announcing his retirement following the 2019 season.
Throughout his split time with the Bombers, Fazio coached four players to more than 200 career hits, including the school record holder, Vince Roman, who tallied 220 in his 160 games for the program. Only one of the five players to accomplish this feat did not play under the guidance of Fazio. Of the top 14 players in career hits, Fazio coached all 14 for at least one season and a majority of them for their entire careers.
The hits weren’t the only thing that Fazio could coach, as he helped perfect the power in the bat of Steven DeMatties, who set the single season record for home runs with 17 in 1981 and, with two of his four seasons played under Fazio, became the team’s all-time leader in that category.
There are very few hitting categories in the program’s record books that are not led by a player who spent time playing under Valesente and Fazio, a product of success and longevity with the program.
The impact that Fazio had on the hitting culture at the college did not go unnoticed, as the school, while renaming the infield as the Valesente Diamond, honored Fazio by naming his “workshop” as the Fazio Batting Tunnel.
Combining Fazio’s 35 years of coaching at Ithaca with the 41 that were spent by Valesente, the 76 year combined experience will be a challenge to replace, but as one era comes to a close, a new era of Bombers Baseball will soon begin.
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