Pat Bassi taking break from Pittsfield Post 68 after 18 years coaching American Legion
PITTSFIELD — The year was 1968 when an up and coming left-handed pitcher from Saint Joseph High School suffered an injury to his pitching hand that derailed a promising playing career.
The injury could've discouraged some from remaining so involved in the game, but for the 20-year old Pat Bassi, his love for it was too strong.
Over the last 50-or-so years, Bassi has continued to step between the white lines of the baseball diamond. Now, though, it is to give his team some words of encouragement or to make a pitching change.
"You have to go back to the great coaches I had in my playing career," Bassi explained. " Jim Garrity, my Little League coach. I was also fortunate enough to have George Pellerin, and his son Buddy as coaches. They had a very heavy influence on my enthusiasm for baseball. They taught me my love for baseball."
Bassi will be stepping away from his position as head coach of the American Legion's Pittsfield Post 68 in 2020 to spend time with his wife, who is dealing with medical issues. This will be only the second time Bassi has taken time away from the game since becoming a coach.
He originally took up coaching in the spring of 1969 in the local Babe Ruth league. His team made it to the championship game, but standing in their path to the crown was a Berkshire County legend.
"I had to beat Lou Orazio Sr.," Bassi said. "He is a legend who won something like 116-straight games."
Orazio's team defeated Bassi twice in the regular season, so he made a bold decision in order to turn the tides.
"The game featured Billy Madden, who I started at pitcher, something he had never done before," Bassi said. "We won the city championship and he would eventually earn his way to a pro contract in 1973."
Some may call it beginner's luck, but Bassi continued to find success at every level, ranging from Babe Ruth to American Legion summer ball, where he has spent the last 18 seasons coaching Post 68.
"I demand the best of my kids," Bassi said. "I never chastise a kid for making a physical error or striking out, but I firmly believe that if you keep your mental mistakes down to a minimum you'll win a lot more games than you'll lose."
Winning isn't the cause for his coaching style, but rather an effect.
"Sometimes, I've been accused of being too focused on winning, but that is not true," Bassi explained. "I was taught to respect the game. Baseball is like a beautiful woman, you learn to love and to respect it. I'm proud to say I've never been ejected from a game and neither have my players. I teach them to respect the game and each other because we are a family."
Over the last 18 years, Bassi, along with Post 68 founder Jim Mazzer, has given local young adults, the opportunity to play baseball deep into the summer.
"Coach Mazzer is the driving force of Post 68," Bassi said. "We've been great teammates and have had a lot of great times and successes."
"We were friends before baseball," Mazzer added. "I asked him to join the Post 68 staff and we've been on the same page ever since."
No American Legion success is closer to Bassi's heart than the 2015 team that won the state championship.
"We knew the group and their families, which was important," said Mazzer, who spent parts of the summer dealing with an illness and following the team's progress through phone calls. "The kids played together and grew together. This group was a few years in the making."
As that squad's shortstop, Kevin Donati, noted, it was a high-pressure summer.
"We had high expectations going into the season," said Donati. "Our goal was to get to states and we wanted to win for coach Mazzer."
Members of Post 68 would often go and visit Mazzer to offer support throughout the summer.
"It did me a world of good in my recovery," Mazzer said. "It was a great run."
To this day, Bassi will sit on the benches at Clapp Park, on a field now named for his former coach, Buddy Pellerin, and relive some of the wild comebacks, what he called some uncharacteristic coaching decisions that paid off and the memories that were created during that run.
"I get emotional thinking about it now," Bassi said. "Buddy Pellerin and I were life-long friends and he was like my baseball father. I was lucky enough to coach his grandson (Donati) and to win a state championship with him on the team the year before [Pellerin] died. It was so special to me."
Buddy and Bassi talked before every game.
"I've known Pat as long as I can remember," Donati said. "Him and my grandfather were pretty close."
Pellerin often said that he wouldn't tell Bassi what to do in terms of coaching, but there is nothing Bassi wanted more than to hear his mentor's opinion.
"The vision he had ... watching a game with him and seeing him pick up on different things, I thought I was a good coach, but wasn't close," Bassi said. "His unselfishness impressed me and he always credited the kids — just an incredible coach."
After a handful of wild comebacks, the Post 68 team earned the state championship.
"To see the difference in generations," Bassi said. "He was my coach and now I was coaching his grandson. Seeing the joy he shared with his grandson the year before he died was so special."
Donati, who now plays at the University of Albany, remembers a lot of Bassi's lessons from the diamond and elsewhere.
"Pat taught me a ton about the game. More than I can put into words," Donati said, "But he taught me a lot more off the field and it has had a huge impact on my life. He is such a positive person with great advice to offer."
The other memory on the diamond that has a special place in Bassi's heart came a year later, and he has his daughter, Colleen, to thank.
"My wife, Mary Ann, and I used to have talks about what type of guy my daughter might marry," he said. "I didn't know ... probably someone in sports."
Bassi's premonition came to be as she married a baseball coach in Garrett Kendziera, who was offered the head coach job at West Springfield High School and wanted Bassi to join the team as a pitching coach.
"After calling myself crazy, I decided to do it with him," Bassi joked. "I am glad I did. It's been another rewarding career with a really good D-I program. It was like a daily double, Legion championship in 2015, then a state high school championship in 2016. It was pretty special to win with my son-in-law."
Bassi has continued to coach with his son-in-law ever since.
Some of his off-the-field accomplishments include a four-year stint as the athletic director at Saint Joseph, where he convinced Pellerin to come out of retirement to coach softball. While president of Pittsfield Babe Ruth, he introduced the fall ball program.
Bassi's family remains the biggest aspect of his life and the only reason he has ever stepped away from the game. The first being when his kids were making their way through youth sports.
"I saw so many fathers either treating their kids with so much favoritism, or they went so hard on their own child," he explained. "I didn't want to be either of those and just wanted to be a father that watched. At times it was nerve-wracking, but I think I did it pretty well."
In 2020, Bassi will again be stepping away from the game to spend time with Mary Ann, who is currently ill and undergoing treatment.
"It is time to give her some time because she really deserves it," Bassi said. "Without her patience and everything she has done, a lot of what I've done wouldn't be possible. She deserves a lot of credit. Hopefully, after she is finished with her illness we can share a fun summer together and get on with life."
Bassi doesn't know where he will be locally coaching in the future, but does know he will be back on the diamond. Bassi's legacy has helped countless kids throughout Berkshire County and beyond fall in love with America's pastime, but he is adamant it is the other way around.
"This is about the great kids I've coached and the great coaches I've had," Bassi said. "I treasure every moment on the diamond, even when I am not having a good day."
Jake Mendel can be reached at Jmendel@berkshireeagle.com, @Jmendel94 on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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