April 20, 2010
by Lana Morelli
With a fifth-inning home run at Delaware on April 14, Saint Joseph's senior David Valesente became just the 10th player in SJU baseball history to notch 200 career hits. While this is an impressive accomplishment, there is another piece to the story of David's career at Saint Joseph's that many aren't aware of.
History repeats itself.
The age-old saying strikes again, but this time on Hawk Hill. George Valesente, head coach of the Ithaca College baseball team since 1979, coached Fritz Hamburg during Hamburg's junior and senior years at Ithaca. Now, Hamburg, commonly referred to as "Coach Fritz," is the head baseball coach at Saint Joseph's University. Saint Joseph's welcomed Hamburg to Hawk Hill in August of 2008 and since that time he has had the opportunity to coach current senior David Valesente - his former college baseball coach's son.
This unique opportunity gave Hamburg two years to coach David, which is the exact amount of time that he was under George's tutelage. Hamburg played for George Valesente for two years and David Valesente is currently in his second year playing for Coach Fritz.
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Fritz Hamburg is originally from Doylestown, Pennsylvania. After high school he started college at Virginia Tech. During his time there he had the opportunity to see the Ithaca baseball team play.
"They had a great team and they were graduating two catchers, so the timing was right" for a move, Hamburg said. He decided to transfer to Ithaca for his junior year and won the position as catcher for the Ithaca Bombers. Hamburg said he had heard nothing but great things about IC head coach George Valesente, and says that he was excited to be playing for him in Ithaca. Fritz completed his degree there and played for George for two years, earning All-American honors and winning a Division III national championship with the Bombers in 1988.
After college, Hamburg played in the Phillies organization for one year. He signed with them after a tournament in New Jersey in the fall of 1989 and went to spring training as a free agent in 1990. He played that summer in South Carolina but after that year went directly into coaching.
Hamburg started coaching high school baseball in 1991. Over the next few years he coached baseball at Cornell, Cal-Poly Pomona and the University of Georgia. It wasn't until 1996 that he returned to his alma mater in Ithaca and assisted former coach George Valesente.
George had pitched in the Washington Senators organization at the AAA level and has been the head coach at Ithaca for 32 years. Hamburg was excited to be working with the elder Valesente.
"My rapport with George was built after I graduated and returned as an assistant coach," Hamburg explained. "As a player you see things differently and through the maturation process I realized how lucky I was to have George as a coach and as a mentor."
George agrees and emphasized that a big part of the coaching job is to help youngsters mature and be part of the academic system.
"I knew that as the years went on, Fritz matured and I was happy to have him back as my assistant coach," he said. Hamburg remained the assistant coach of the Ithaca Bombers for four years. He eventually left in 2000, got a teaching job and went to West Point, where he served as an assistant coach at the United States Military Academy for eight seasons.
In August 2008, Hamburg accepted his first collegiate head coaching position at Saint Joseph's University, where he is currently the head coach of the Hawk baseball team.
"It was an opportunity to come home to the Philadelphia area and be head coach for a team and university with such a great reputation," he said. "It was a perfect fit for me."
To add to the excitement Hamburg learned that he would have the opportunity to work with David Valesente, his former coach and colleague's son. David, a sports marketing major at Saint Joseph's, is an infielder on the SJU squad.
"When I accepted the position here, I knew David was here and I thought it was such a neat thing," Hamburg said. David ended up at Saint Joseph's in large part due to the previous coach, Shawn Pender.
"I chose Saint Joseph's because I liked the campus, the city and Coach Pender," he said. "I wanted to play for a Division I program and try something new." George supported David's decision to branch out and move away for college.
"David has had the opportunity at Saint Joseph's to stand up on his own two feet and make a place for himself. My wife and I are very proud of both of our children," George said. David's older sister, Christine, played ice hockey at Clarkson University.
Upon finding out that Pender was leaving at the end of David's sophomore year, David admits he was disappointed, but he was also excited to hear that Hamburg would be taking his place. David does note some parallels between Hamburg and his father.
"There are definitely some similarities between how Coach Fritz runs practice and how practice was run with my dad," he said.
George was thrilled to find out that Hamburg was going to be the coach at Saint Joseph's. When the juxtaposition of the scenario was revealed, George was happy that his son would have the opportunity to work with Hamburg. George believes that the junior and senior years of college are crucial because the player is maturing and understanding the importance of the game.
"Fritz and David are both competitive and headstrong; as players they have a lot of similarities," he explained. George described Hamburg as very stubborn player, referring to him as a "hard-nosed, tough competitor." He also notes that, as a coach, that is a wonderful characteristic to have. It is something that drives a person to be successful in the spirit of competition.
Hamburg credits some of his coaching style to George's influence.
"I learned a lot as a player about discipline, and as a coach, I learned a lot more about the intricacies of the game because George has such a great baseball mind," he said.
Four years coaching side-by-side allowed Hamburg to absorb and retain a lot of George's style. Hamburg has also tried to emulate the type of coach that George is.
"George took the time to teach me, to talk to me and to help me learn," he explained. "That is something I tried to carry over into my own coaching." Time is precious on and off the field and both men believe in investing time in their jobs, their teams and their players.
Hamburg says that coaching David is different than what people may expect. Fritz and David have a very professional coach-player relationship despite Fritz's connection with George.
"David is a serious player who wants to play professional baseball, and although I have a close relationship with his father, he is very much like the other guys," Hamburg said of his senior infielder. "My expectation for David, and for all of my players, is to help provide opportunities for them to get to the next level and achieve their goals."
Hamburg admits, however, that he sees George's influence on David.
"In a lot of ways I see the same discipline that I would from his father," he said.
Although George doesn't get to see David play as often as he would like, thanks to technology and Gametracker he is able keep up with his son's team.
"I wish that George could come down and watch more games and share more insight, but he has his own schedule," Hamburg said.
Despite the distance, George admits that he is learning a lot through this unique situation.
"Through my friendship with Fritz I get the coaching side and through my relationship with my son I get the player side," he explained. "It is a neat thing. Hearing both perspectives helps me to be a more insightful coach."
David says he could see himself coaching in the future.
"I want to keep playing as long as I can but I absolutely see myself coaching down the road," he admits.
Who knows? Maybe the tradition could continue...