When the crocus start to peek through the ground, it’s a sure sign that baseball season is almost here. And, for new baseball coach Jim Hastings, there’s not too much else that makes him happier, except for his family.
But, he’s even more pleased than usual this spring because the 1999 graduate of Fox Chapel Area High School is living his dream.
“I think if there was ever a job I wanted, it was this one,” says the mild-mannered coach who previously headed the baseball program at Springdale High School and has taken his teams to the WPIAL playoffs the past several years.
Coach Hastings hit the ground running, so to speak, when he inherited the program late last summer. He first shepherded the team through a voluntary eight-game fall season and got his first good look at some of the returning starters and other players who gained experience last season. He instituted practices several other days a week and then over the winter had them working out with the high school’s strength and conditioning coaches on the days they weren’t practicing.
“We want to build upon last year’s positives and then improve everyday,” explains Coach Hastings, who played baseball and football for the Foxes for four years and basketball for two. “That incudes picking up our record, batting averages, and all of our statistics in order to be competitive. Last year the team lost eight or nine games by one or two runs, and they were against good teams. Winning those close games will definitely be one of our goals this year.”
And the coach likes what he sees so far.
“We’ve had great, consistent participation during the off season and I see these guys as being eager to learn and get better,” says Coach Hastings. “We have some talented kids coming back who care about doing well and want to do well. They are putting in a lot of effort and it’s been fun watching these really good kids because they are hard workers.”
He’s also put together a coaching staff that plans on putting in a lot of hard work too.
Dave Kotts, a Fox Chapel Area grad, will remain on board as the JV coach and so will John Susi, who is also from the Fox Chapel Area. Additionally, Steve Zehnder will return.
“Matt Iannazzo is our pitching coach this season,” says Coach Hastings. “He played at Pitt and in the Chicago Cubs’ minor league. He just recently stopped playing and we’re glad to have him. The kids seem to really like him. Orlando Bellisario was with me at Springdale, has a wealth of coaching experience, and will be a big asset for us.”
“Jim is going to do a great job for us,” says Mike O’Brien, director of athletics for the Fox Chapel Area School District. “He cares greatly about the team and their success on and off the field. He has been alongside of them all preseason to help them get better and I’m impressed with his desire to not only teach baseball, but also life lessons. That’s the most important thing we can do as educators, whether it’s in the realm of academics or sports.”
The team’s home opener will be Friday, March 23 versus Peters Township High School.