Ithaca College Announces Naming Of Valesente Diamond At Freeman Field and Fazio Batting Tunnel
ITHACA, N.Y. – Ithaca College named its baseball facility Freeman Field in 1965 in honor of James A. “Bucky” Freeman, who coached the Bombers from 1932 to 1965. On Friday, Ithaca College celebrated the completion of a successful fund-raising campaign for the baseball program by naming two portions for current coaches who both played for Freeman, George Valesente and Frank Fazio. The playing surface has been named Valesente Diamond in honor of the head coach who competed his 34th year this spring. The newly renovated batting tunnel has been named Fazio Batting Tunnel, honoring the veteran assistant coach who has spent 28 years with the program.
Friday's ceremony, which kicked off the Bomber Baseball Alumni Reunion, included the dedication of the field's new backstop. The backstop features a padded four-foot wall stretching between the two dugouts with a 25-foot netting running along the wall's length and elevated bleachers for up to 200 fans behind home plate.
The backstop enhancements are the latest renovations to the field, which has hosted Bomber baseball since 1958 and was named Freeman Field in 1965. These enhancements are the result of a successful fund-raising effort that the college undertook over the past year. The backstop renovation project raised $126,130 from 219 alumni and friends of the college.
Robert Coleman '92, an all-American first baseman at Ithaca and member of the school's Athletic Hall of Fame, led the effort to name the Valesente Diamond at Freeman Field, along with Stephen Guinan '86, the Pinnacle Companies and the Tompkins Trust Company. Coleman also spearheaded the improvements to the batting tunnel.
"George has undoubtedly left an imprint on the lives of those he's touched through his work as head coach, and now I am proud to say that his imprint will be left in an even more tangible way," said Brian McAree, vice president of student affairs and campus life, in his announcement of the diamond's naming.
Valesente completed his 34th year as head coach of his alma mater this spring; the season was highlighted by his 1,000th career coaching victory. The win (9-5 at Pomona-Pitzer during Ithaca's spring trip) made Valesente the sixth Division III coach ever to reach the 1,000-win plateau. His overall record, which includes stints as head coach at Brockport, SUNY Maritime and New Paltz, is 1,023-458-8. Only 50 coaches at any level of college baseball have won 1,000 games dating back to the sport's 1859 inception.
A 1966 graduate of Ithaca College, Valesente has served as the Bombers' head coach since 1979. He is a member of Ithaca's Hall of Fame and the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Hall of Fame.
“I am so honored and humbled by this,” Valesente said. “This is not a one-person accomplishment; without the coaches I've worked with, these things would not have been possible.”
As a collegiate athlete, he lettered in soccer, basketball and baseball and played on NCAA playoff teams in all three sports. From Ithaca, Valesente entered the professional baseball ranks. He spent four seasons in the minors, advancing as far as the Triple A level with the International League's Buffalo Bisons, the top farm team of the Washington Senators, in 1969.
Valesente has guided the Bombers to two national championships (1980 and 1988), nine World Series and 29 NCAA postseason berths in all. His teams have never had a losing season and have won nearly 70 percent of their games.
He has been honored many times for his coaching accomplishments. The Ithaca Journal selected Valesente as its male coach of the year in 1980 and 1988, he was voted the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Division III coach of the year in 1980 and 1988 and he earned district coach of the year recognition in 1980, 1981, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1992 and 1994.
Fazio has spent 28 seasons as an assistant coach on Valesente's staff, serving as the team's hitting coach from 1980 to 2002 then rejoining the staff in 2008. He's helped the team to 25 NCAA playoff trips and national championships in 1980 and 1988. A 1967 Ithaca graduate, Fazio is a member of Ithaca's Athletic Hall of Fame and served as captain of the football and baseball teams. Fazio hit .370 as a Bomber and his .488 average is 1965 in the program's third-best single-season mark.
“This program has had wonderful players and great people,” Fazio said. “We're proud of the fact that those players have been scholar-athletes and good people.”
Fazio and Valesente both played for Freeman during their collegiate careers. Freeman spent 31 years at the helm of the Bomber program, posting a record of 281-82-2 (773) and leading Ithaca to four NCAA tournament appearances at a time when all NCAA teams played in the same division. His 1962 team reached the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., (Ithaca is still one of the smallest schools to ever reach the World Series), upsetting Missouri in the opener before dropping one-run decisions to Florida State and Texas.
Freeman was inducted in the ABCA Hall of Fame in 1969 and became a charter member of Ithaca's Hall of Fame that year.