Above: Before he coached the Bears, Coach Bob Hirschfield (left) pitched in the 1968 NCAA College World Series. His best pitch: "Strike one," says the West Babylon native.
By Michael Schiavetta (M.A. '07)
Sitting in the Bears’ dugout at President’s Field on the Old Westbury campus, four steps down from the brick and brown hues of infield dirt, catcher George Carroll reflects on the coaching style of a man whose name is synonymous with NYIT baseball.
“Hirsch is old school,” says the business major from Queens, N.Y. “He knows so much, he probably invented the sport.”
A metal clang signals another base hit for the home team as players cheer along a chain fence in front of the dugout. One ballplayer steps down near Carroll to grab a dark blue NYIT batting helmet hanging over the bench. A new hitter moves on deck for the Bears.
“He wants his players to show they want to be here,” says Carroll. “Here, you become a better player because there are more opportunities to excel.”
“Hirsch,” better known as Bob Hirschfield to many outside the dugout, remains an icon of NYIT athletics both on the diamond and off. For more than 30 years, he has shaped hearts, minds, and lineups.
Hired in 1978 as a pitching coach by former Bears manager and NYIT Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Rich Tappin, Hirschfield brought with him experience that included pitching in the 1968 NCAA College World Series and on the 1970 USA College All-Star Team, in addition to serving six years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Around the end of his tour of duty, NYIT’s baseball team, then a Division II contender, was looking for someone to help their players make the leap to Division I play.
“That’s the reason I came over,” says Hirschfield. “Rich wanted someone with experience as a player, someone who knew their way around the Division I ranks.”
His pitching expertise proved invaluable as the Bears earned a 55-10-2 record during their first two Division I seasons. In 1981, NYIT Director of Athletics Sam Stern offered Hirschfield the job as manager. He gladly accepted and since then has helped hundreds of NYIT student-athletes achieve national prominence in the world of baseball, including major leaguers Ray Giannelli (B.S. ’96), Allen Watson, and Brian Brady as well as All-Americans Paul Bruno, Fred Leone (B.S. ’86), and Tom Merkle (B.S. ’04).
In addition to his coaching duties, Hirschfield runs the New York Baseball Academy at NYIT-Old Westbury—now in its 35th year—which teaches young players ages 7 to 18 about the fundamentals of the sport. Many of the youths at the academy end up as NYIT students.
“The best part is seeing all of these young men become better players, better people, and better parents,” says Hirschfield. “I have players today who are the sons of players I coached years ago.”
Siblings, too, as evidenced by pitcher Matthew McDevitt, whose brother, Garrett (B.S. ’04), played as a catcher for Hirschfield from 2000 to 2004. “I was exposed to NYIT’s baseball program at an early age,” says the senior from Howard Beach, N.Y.
Hirschfield’s experience as a college player, combined with decades as a teacher, is what McDevitt says makes him a great coach. “Consistency is what he demands, and an understanding of how to translate that into a winning game.”
In addition to his experience as a U.S. Marine, baseball coach, and college player, Hirschfield served for more than 20 years as a guidance counselor and special education teacher in Freeport, N.Y. His ability to provide individual attention to his players is what helps bring out the best on his bench.
“I love to see every player have their day in the sun,” says Hirschfield. Along with assistant coaches and NYIT alumni Michael “Butch” Caulfield and Jamie Loeb, the manager makes sure every player has the opportunity to contribute. One of the most important lessons he imparts is teaching them to make their own decisions on the field.
“I don’t call every pitch,” says Hirschfield. “It’s important for players to learn how to make their own calls and see the plays through by themselves.” Doing so, he adds, helps them build leadership skills that will prove vital in their future careers.
He attributes his decades of success and happiness to Rita, his wife of 39 years, and his “partner in business as well as in life.” The pair met in college when Hirschfield was originally studying to become a lawyer. And though he traded defending the law to helping players steal bases, the coach still enjoys the occasional legal thriller.
But it’s baseball that has been his passion for more than 30 years. “I’ve never wanted another job,” says Hirschfield. “The most important thing is that my players get a great education to become productive citizens and pass along the guidance I’ve instilled over the years.”