Coach Frank Pecora brings wealth of baseball experience

With the addition of two dedicated and experienced coaches, the Norwich University baseball team is looking forward to a successful season.

“(The) men are working hard; the captains have done a great job with captains’ practice and getting players focused,” said Coach Frank Pecora, a new associate baseball coach for NU.

The new players, Pecora says, are going to be great assets to the team, particularly when it comes to catching.

“We have a great group of newcomers,” he said. “Catching is going be a strong point, and what is going to determine how far we go is our pitchers. Defensively, I don’t think anyone is going to play defense better than we do.”

Pecora took an unusual route to the Norwich team, though he’s no stranger to the university.

He started coaching for Norwich last year as a volunteer, shortly after he retired from his position as head baseball coach and athletic director at Northfield High School.

Pecora boasts an impressive 15 high school state championships and over 38 years of experience in the baseball coaching profession. “The town field was named after him last spring,” said Kevin Ryan, the other assistant baseball coach for Norwich University. He is one of the most successful coaches in the state and in the Northeast, he is recognized nationally.”

Pecora explained that at the start of his career, the high school had the coaching position open and it was one of the few jobs available in the town. “So, I took the coaching job at the high school and teaching, I was a physical education teacher and then taught science. I was also their athletic director for 37 years,” Pecora said.

Starting his career at Norwich University, he brought with him a former colleague: Coach Kevin Ryan joined the team as well.

“Frank had retired, we had worked together for a long time, so I always said when he retired I would quit coaching as well. So when he called me up and said would you like to come down and work with me, I said sure,” Ryan said.

Coach Ryan has former experience coaching college baseball from assistant coaching for three years at Princeton.

The general feel for the coaches started at the first practice last year. “At first I really wasn’t sure about it because we had an assistant coach that had a different technique, but I like the way they coach,” said Devin Cilley, 21, senior criminal justice major from Tunbridge Vt. “They are both really great guys, they know what they are talking about and they have helped us tremendously.”

Cilley explained the two coaches’ way of leading the team and how there is a general sense of constructive work in the way they team up.

Some baseball players also tagged along with these coaches to join the Norwich team. Billy Whaley, is a 19-year-old sophomore mathematics major from Northfield, Vt., who had three years of experience under the two coaches.

“Coming into high school you knew who he was and there was a kind of respect and understanding that was you don’t really mess with him. He had this legacy and tradition,” Whaley said when referring to his former head coach Frank Pecora.

Whaley started on the team in the seventh grade and improved his skills every year, including winning a state championship his senior year at Northfield High school. The two coaches taught him a lot – and they still have the drive to teach Norwich University’s team a thing or two.

“He and Coach Ryan, they text me and ask me if I can help them edge the field, mow the lawn, put down the dirt. They do so much outside of just coaching. Last year we played Lasell (College) and they showed up for our first home game and we were all excited, and they walk in and they openly laughed at our field, at our dugouts, at our program. We beat them, we swept them, but there’s a point: We are beating teams and we are on a crappy field. We take pride in how we carry ourselves,” Whaley said

Together the two coaches bring a mentality that they feel has already changed the team’s dynamic and dedication.

“We had a pretty good group last year, we got really hot towards the end of last year and we started to build a mind-set with the program, which is, this is a winning program and it hasn’t been for long time,” Ryan said.

As one of the oldest teams in the country, Norwich University’s baseball field admittedly has seen better days. According to Charles Schaub, a 21-year-old senior English major from East Hampton, Conn., “[the team is] 153 years old, older then the Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs and we don’t have our own flag pole, we don’t play the national anthem before our games. We don’t have a solid fence and are used as a multipurpose field.”

But changes are happening. One of the newest improvements made to the team was with the uniforms last season. They have also been given an electronic scoreboard, a great upgrade from the homemade plywood construction that existed before.

NU athletic Director Tony Mariano spoke of plans for the dugouts, which have already been commenced, as well as plans for the foul poles. The overall hope from the team seems to be a permanent fence as well.

The current campus baseball field is known as Garrity field, named after the late Joe Garrity, who was a former athletic director of Norwich, according to Mariano. “We have tried to make some improvements to the field and will continue to do so,” Mariano said.

The constant use of the baseball field for both baseball and football practices has left the field in tough shape. “A number of years ago we re-graded it and reseeded it and stayed off it for an entire year and that helped a great deal,” he said. “One of the problems we’ve run into up until this year is we’ve had to use the baseball outfield for football practice.”

The heavy running with both sports teams’ cleats has damaged the outfield and left holes in the turf. “When we’re trying to practice and trying to build a baseball program and get people to play here and you look down from the parking lot and see a hundred football players running in our outfield, people don’t think we have a baseball field,” Whaley said.

However, the dual use of the baseball field has not stopped the increase in players this year. “We were told we had to cut down to 30 (players) and we couldn’t, we ended up with 31” said Ryan.

He said that this year the team is a “young team” which has 14 freshmen, but the small number does not seem to daunt the coaches, who believe the players have the desired skills for a great team.

“I think this is a strong group coming in as freshmen. It is going to build a base for the team, so we are really excited about this year,” Ryan said.

According to Cilley, John Rhodes, the head baseball coach who will enter his 9th season, has a busy fall with his job as defense coordinator of the Norwich football team. Having coaches Pecora and Ryan helps pick up the slack for coach Rhodes during the fall practices.

This year, Pecora was promoted from his volunteer position as assistant coach to a paid position as associate coach.

“He came on here to help John Rhodes coach baseball and with our program,” Mariano said regarding Pecora. “He had a big impact on the program and student athletes, so our goal was to try to keep him involved in the program as much as possible.”

The team hopes to improve next spring on their conference record of 7-9, counting on two longtime coaches who bring a lot of experience to the field.

To these coaches, baseball is not just about winning, said Whalley. “Baseball, they’ve been doing it their whole lives, it is about the players understanding what baseball is,” said Whalley.

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