Normally the baseball programs at St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, and Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, are bitter rivals on the diamond.
However, for one autumn night, these two programs got together to honor their varsity coaches.
The Greater New York Sandlot Athletic Alliance (GNYSAA) hosted its 14th annual Raymond F. Church Service to Youth Baseball Awards Dinner on Nov. 28 at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach.
St. Francis Prep head varsity coach Brother Robert Kent, O.S.F., and Xaverian head varsity coach Frank Del George were the deserving recipients of coaching excellence awards for their dedication to the advancement of local sandlot programs.
From Holy Name to the Prep
A native of Holy Name of Jesus, Park Slope, Brother Robert began coaching Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball and baseball at the parish while he was a college student at St. John’s University, Jamaica.
He decided religious life was the right path for him and spent two years studying to become a Franciscan. In September 1968, he arrived at St. Francis Prep, then in Williamsburg.
Brother Robert taught history and later math and immediately became involved with the school’s athletic program. From the start, he coached freshman basketball and junior varsity baseball. He eventually took over the varsity baseball team in 1981, in addition to serving as the school’s athletic director.
This spring will mark Brother Robert’s 52nd season as a coach at the Prep. In baseball, his teams have won five junior varsity city championships and three varsity city championships. He reached the 600-win plateau in April 2014.
He was inducted into the CHSAA Hall of Fame in 2003 and was a member of the Prep’s inaugural Ring of Honor class in 2014. All these accolades aside, Brother Robert has more so enjoyed developing relationships with the people in the Catholic league over the years.
“It’s not about me,” said Brother Robert, who is also the school’s alumni director. “It’s all my assistant coaches and my players. They deserve most of the credit. There were so many great coaches and players.”
In receiving the award from a sandlot organization, Brother Robert said he knows the value these local leagues bring in developing young baseball players.
“The sandlot leagues have made thousands of kids – even millions of kids – better people and keep doing great things for the young men and women,” he said.
As the players transition from sandlot ball to high school ball, Brother Robert is there to ensure the student-athletes possess a strong work ethic to help them in their future vocation – whether that involves baseball or another chosen path.
“We want him to become a whole person, to become a hard worker,” he said. “We only have a couple of rules: Be on time, work hard and do the right thing in the community, the classroom and with your family.”
It’s this philosophy that has kept Brother Robert coaching for so long. He knows what it takes to succeed in a competitive league, both on the diamond and in preparing the young men for whatever lies ahead.
Brooklyn Ball at Every Level
Xaverian’s head varsity coach Frank Del George grew up playing CYO baseball at St. Fortunata, East New York, and Little League baseball at the Louis H. Pink Houses.
From there, he played shortstop for legendary coach Herb Hess at St. John’s Prep, then in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He was named All-City his senior year and also played defensive back on the school’s football team.
His great speed earned him an athletic scholarship to St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights. He played third base and left field as a freshman, was named an All-Conference player at third as a sophomore and shifted to shortstop as a junior and senior – also being named All-Conference both seasons.
After graduating in 1975, Del George played in the Long Island Men’s League for coach Ray Church, the namesake of the GNYSAA Awards Dinner. At one of his games, a professional scout for the Italian baseball league took notice of his skills.
He wound up playing six years professionally in Italy for the Anzio Sharks, located south of Rome. During the school year, he remained in the states as an assistant coach for the Terriers baseball team.
At age 26, Del George was named the head coach at St. Francis – making him the youngest NCAA Division I college baseball coach in the country. He coached the Terriers for 25 years, winning two Northeast Conference championships and earning an induction into the school’s Hall of Fame.
Del George served as an assistant coach at Xaverian under Lou Piccola starting in 2011, a year in which the Clippers won the city championship. Since taking over as head coach, Del George’s teams have won two more city championships: 2014 and 2018.
Through his entire baseball journey, he’s never forgotten his sandlot roots. He once played on the same Cummings Post sandlot team as MLB veterans Willie Randolph, John Candelaria and Pete Falcone.
“Sandlot ball was heavily populated back in those days,” said Del George, Xaverian’s Physical Education Department chairman. “You couldn’t find a field vacant at all.
“I’ve been in sandlot ball my whole life up until 45 years old. That’s where we got our fundamentals. It taught us how to play the right way. I played for a lot of good coaches along the way, so that helped too.”
Now coaching in high school, Del George stresses the importance of academics and discipline to his players. He enjoys nothing more than seeing how his student-athletes have matured as men years later.
“That’s the reason why we coach,” he said. “That’s the reason why we’re in the business for when these kids come back.”
Both Del George and Brother Robert coach because they love baseball, and they’ve successfully parlayed that love of the game into a means of preparing young men for college and beyond.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.