This spring, for the first time in 35 years, BC High will have a different head coach roaming the freshmen baseball dugout. Don’t worry, he will still be in the classroom, but legendary baseball coach Nick Argento is stepping away from the diamond. We caught up with Coach Argento to discuss his career in the latest BC High Athletics Q&A.
Question #1: When was your first year coaching Freshmen Baseball at BC High?
Nick Argento: “I started coaching baseball in the spring of 1984 as a volunteer assistant with Mike Moresco, another social studies teacher. When Mike left to become a guidance counselor at another school, Jim Cotter’55 and Norm Walsh’70 hired me. Little did I realize it would continue for 35 years.”
Question #2: Do have any interesting recollections of that team that you would like to share?
Nick Argento:“It’s funny that you ask that question. The old baseball field was natural grass and the drainage was poor. It had rained a lot the night before and there were puddles all over the field. Norm Walsh’70 was the varsity baseball coach. He said that if I wanted to play the game, the field had to have the water bailed off the field. So off I went to do that during a prep period. While bailing the water, I saw this man driving a tractor coming towards me shouting to get off of the field. He asked me who I was? I told him that I was a social studies teacher here at BC High. “What’s your name?” “Nick Argento”, I replied. “Get off of the field now”, he said. “Who are you?”, I asked. “I’m Joe Cavanaugh.” As he drove away, I wondered who was Joe Cavanaugh? When I returned to the office, I asked who was Joe Cavanaugh and told what had happened. Remember, I was new to BC High. “Don’t get Joe angry at you. He’s the head of physical plant”, I was told. The next day, while teaching in Room C-20, Joe appeared on a ladder outside of the buildingand started hammering on a window frame. It interrupted the class! And it was then that I learned, don’t mess with Joe Cavanaugh!” (Laughing)
Question #3: Why was it so important for you to coach the Freshmen Baseball players at BC High for all these years, and not move up to a higher level?
Nick Argento:“After I had coached baseball for about three years at BC High, I had the chance to move up to be the j.v. coach. Norm and I talked about it. I thought that since the freshmen year at BC High is important to their formation, it might be better for the program to have consistency there. There is a lot that happens to a freshman in the spring as they begin to transition to the sophomore year. Remember with teenagers, each month is like a dog-year. And for high school freshmen, they enter the school year as over-sized eighth graders and leave the year as budding sophomores. I thought– and still think– that stability for the player’s baseball development and formation as a person would be enhanced by consistency in the freshmen level.”
Question #4: Have you seen the sport of baseball change over your tenure? In what way? Nick Argento:”The game has evolved with the practice today including questions about launch angles, pitcher pliability, fielders’ strength, and player acumen. There is an excessive emphasis upon the development of the individual player at the expense of the player’s understanding of team play. Baseball show cases are an example of what I mean. I understand the rationale behind the show case, but such events do not care about the long-run development of the player as an adult.
There is a misconception that baseball is an individual sport. That is not true. So many times, I have watched players in the bottom of a lineup produce that winning hit or, smartly, take that extra base. What has not changed is that baseball, like most sports, develops and reveals character. How a player responds under pressure provides an opportunity for the coach to engage the player in reflection about a particular situation and I think it prepares the player for other situations he/she might encounter in life.”
Question #5: What were some of the ways you were you able to adapt over time as a coach?
Nick Argento:“Our coaching staff loves to study the game of baseball. We talk about the game frequently and try to adopt the game to the skills of the players we have. There are some principles of hard work, commitment, fidelity to a team,humility, and supporting one another where we insist that the player adopts to BC High’s expectations. Norm Walsh’70, Fr. Frank Belcher, SJ, John Lynch’70, Steve Healy’81, Dan Cobban’13, Joe Perna, Steve Giordano, and I attended many coaching clinics in Massachusetts and nationally. The baseball coaching community in Massachusetts is small. So participating at the Mass. Baseball Coaches Association, the Baseball Coaches of America convention, and the American Baseball Coaches Association helped us gain new ideas, practice approaches, and player development. We wanted to be aware of new coaching approaches to make our players competitive and to best develop their skills. I started using the Pyramid of Success, developed by the late, great UCLA Coach John Wooden. I read about Wooden’s work in a coaching philosophy book and decided to adopt it for the freshmen baseball program. Additionally, after attending a national coaching convention, I began having all freshmen baseball players read Ken Ravizza’s Heads Up Baseball: Playing the Game Pitch By Pitch. I think it helped the players develop their mental confidence with the game of baseball. In response to a player who told me that his local town team mattered more to him, I began to emphasize why playing baseball at BC High was different. I started to explain the significance of wearing the BC High baseball hat. It went something like this: “You are joining a rich tradition of athletics at BC High whose baseball program spans more than a century. Wear the hat properly, the way a baseball player who is prepared to play wears his hat. This hat has been worn by people who have given their lives for this country, by people involved in medicine, law, education, business, social services, priests, languages, science, and math. Honor them with the way you wear this hat because you have the advantage of enjoying the reputation they paved for you.”
Question #6: Coaching so many talented baseball players at BC High for a long period of time, could you tell right away if a freshmen player had the potential to play college baseball?
Nick Argento:“Not always. Freshmen change physically and mentally during a season. For some players practicing and playing six days per week can be invigorating. For others it can become grueling. Some players fell in love with the details of the game, the monotony of practice, and the commitment to play, while others discovered that it was not for them. A part of my job was to mimic the structure of varsity practices and college practices. I did that in small bits because of the players’ age level. In doing it that way, it prepared the player’s readiness and expectations for the next level.”
Question #7: When an alumnus who played baseball at BC High returns to campus, what are some of their memories/recollections of playing for you that they share?
Nick Argento: “When I was a young coach, Fr. Belcher once told the players at a team mass that they will never remember the record of the team or the scores of games. Rather they would remember the friendships made, something humorous or unique that happened. He was so right. Alumni tell me about particular trips such as visiting Fordham Prep in Bronx, NY, touring Yankee Stadium, team masses, or a post-season celebration to minor league baseball games. They ask me if I ever hear from their former teammates. There is a brotherly love that they express which I think illustrates what Fr. Belcher preached and it always reminded me that all coaches at BC High have an important role in the formation of these young adults. However, the most important comments I have heard are from alumni who I cut from freshmen baseball. One time I had an alumni introduce me to his wife at a reunion: “This is Mr. Argento. I had him as a teacher in economics class and he cut me from freshmen baseball!” That player was at a 10 year reunion. The comment resonated with me because it illustrated how impactful athletic cuts are upon the person. Imagine, that man was 28 years old and had been cut by me 14 years earlier. Yet he still remembered being cut. It led me to conduct cuts in-person. While the conversations could be difficult, I decided it was an important for the dignity of the player to talk to him one-on-one. Also, I thought it might serve as a model because someday he might have to deliver bad news to an employee.”
Question #8: What will you miss most when you are not on the baseball field this spring?
Nick Argento:“Working with the so many gifted players has been a blessing and any coach who works at BC High knows that. It is something I have never taken for granted. The challenge of taking an amorphous group and building a team has will be something I miss. A freshmen baseball is broken into four parts: the tryouts, team formation, mid-season struggle, and a strong finish. The latter part of the season is the most rewarding because you get to see the change and grow. And I will miss the collegiality of the baseball coaching staff and the coaches from other programs whose advice and counsel formed my coaching practice. I am still planning to coach soccer in the fall. The support from the athletic directors has been to the success of the freshmen program. I am grateful to Jimmy Cotter’55, Steve Hughes’73, and, you Jon, for your support. I have been equally blessed to have coached with some patient and talented assistant coaches: Mike Normant’03, Greg Smith’02, Tim Westfield’02, Anthony D’Amato’10, and Steve Lynch’76. BC High has an enormously talented coaching staff. I am privileged to have been a part of this staff for such a long time.”
From everyone at the school, past and present, thank you Coach Argento for your dedication and commitment to the school and the freshmen baseball program. You are a true ‘Man for Others’!