Coaches Corner: Tony Geraci

copyright Peter Wallace   Register-Citizen
Coaching, more than most other authority positions, requires maybe 40 percent knowledge, 60 percent ability to earn respect, in a 100 percent package leading to success. Sure, you have to know your stuff, but it’s all for naught if nobody’s paying attention. So meet the Bethlehem Plowboys’ Tony Geraci and marvel.
Geraci, 24, has just finished his sixth year with the team, his second as player/coach. The Plowboys are champions of the an 18-team Tri-State Baseball League that’s become as good an adult baseball league as there is in Connecticut. Geraci enjoys universal respect in the league and on a team that includes a few players who have been Plowboys for more than 20 years. “It’s not easy,” says Geraci, who’s also one of the league’s best catchers. “It’s difficult to tell one of your good friends he’s not playing today.” And yet the Plowboy dugout is one of the last places in the league to look for skirmishes.
“It starts with the guys we bring in,” Geraci says. “Top-notch players who are going to stick around. Then it’s the whole team thing. We want guys who understand how we play baseball and make sure they’re going to do it the right way.” Geraci says the player/coach position fell into his lap. Plowboy veterans who filled the role for years had new family responsibilities; they could no longer spend the necessary time as coach. Geraci, who’s single, had the time; more important, he has the percentages right. His personal sports history seems perfect for that kind of balance.
It starts at Wilby High School in Waterbury, where Geraci played baseball for four years as a shortstop/pitcher, all-city in his last two years. In basketball, he was first off the bench as a junior, when the Wildcats matched Torrington’s running style to beat the Red Raiders in Torrington in a game in which both teams went over the century mark on the scoreboard. A shooting guard, he was a starter as a Wilby senior in 2003. But baseball was his sport. Division III North Carolina Wesleyan College recruited him. Geraci stayed closer to home, at one of the best Division III baseball programs in the country, Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU).
In three of his four years there, the Warriors went to the Division III College World Series; Geraci, working his way up a very tough ladder, finally made the trip as a senior.
Meanwhile, he stayed flexible and worked his fanny off. He looked for a summer Tri-State connection as a freshman. While Geraci waited for leaders of the Brass City Brew to make a decision, family friend and Plowboy pitcher Jamie Krofssik said, “No, you’re playing with us.” At Eastern, head coach Bill Holowaty and his assistants looked for ways to play Geraci more often — at third base, then as catcher. “It was a more natural position for me,” says Geraci, who looks like he’s played there forever.Think talent and hard work. At Eastern, he played behind a guy picked up by the Red Sox in 2007. He caught for the Plowboys and, in 2006, for the Twisters in their bullpen on nights he didn’t have a Tri-State game. And he learned the Plowboy way of baseball.
“My first year, there was a 2-0 pitch; I swung at it and popped it up. I went back to the bench and (veteran Bob McMahon) said, ‘What are you swinging at?’ I said, ‘It was right down the middle.’ He said, ‘But he’s not throwing strikes; he probably would have walked you. Or you’d get another good pitch to hit.’” The lesson was “Be patient.” The job as a team player is to get on base. “I’ve probably walked more than any other four-hitter in the league,” grins Geraci. “You guys do the little things that others don’t realize are so important,” Geraci quotes premier area umpire Jay Lemere telling him. Willingness to learn; playing a team game; coming through in the clutch (Geraci hit the winning home run in Bethlehem’s championship game). It’s all food for the coaching equation.
The Bethlehem connection led, in 2007, to spots for Geraci as McMahon’s coaching assistant in girls basketball and baseball at Thomaston High School. The Golden Bears won the Class S State Baseball Championship in 2008. Geraci is respected; an important part is the respect he returns. “A lot of (Plowboy) in-game calls are team decisions,” he says, while citing Matt Parlato as the Plowboy who makes many of the pitching decisions from the bench. “I’m busy trying to keep the pitcher in the game,” says Geraci. Still, the coaching equation shines through as he considers differences between coaching peers at Bethlehem and teenagers in Thomaston.
“People don’t really change that much,” he observes. “No matter what age they are, you’re still dealing with people; you have to deal with each one differently. Hopefully, you get it right.” Argue the coaching percentages all you want. Tony Geraci makes them add up to 100 percent.