Although Spring High School Sports On Hold, George Enjoyed Good Start In Guiding PDS Baseball
BY GEORGE: Pat George enjoys the moment after helping to coach Jackson Memorial High baseball team to a Group IV South sectional title in 2018. Earlier this year, George took the helm of the Princeton Day School baseball program, succeeding Brian Dudeck.
By Bill Alden
Pat George is only 31 years old, but he has paid his dues when it comes to coaching baseball.
After playing for the St. John Vianney High School baseball program and then going on to Rutgers where he took a break from the game to focus on his studies, George had stints as an assistant coach at St. John Vianney, Bishop Eustace, and Jackson Memorial. In addition, he helped coach Hamilton Post 31 of the Mercer County American Legion League (MCALL) to the 2017 state legion title game.
In reflecting on those stops, George said he was influenced by two head coaches in particular, Bishop Eustace’s Sam Tropiano and Jackson Memorial’s Frank Malta.
“Eustace is one of the premier powers in the state; coach Tropiano has been there since the late ’80s,” said George. “It was incredible to learn from a guy like that, all of the knowledge he has of the game helped me boost my knowledge and my career. Jackson is a big power in the state and coach Malta has done great things over there. Being able to see those kids in the hallway every day and talk to coach Malta every day, that was best of all the coaching experiences.”
Growing from those experiences, George got the itch to become a head coach himself.
“Last year, I decided that I wanted to run a program and build my own program,” said George, a history and social studies teacher at Jackson Memorial.
When George learned that Princeton Day School was looking for a new baseball head coach after Brian Dudeck stepped down, he applied for the job and felt an immediate comfort level upon coming to the campus for the interview process.
“Right off the bat, the staff and everyone were very welcoming,” said George. “The players went on some of the interviews so I got to see them and what they felt about the old coaching staff, what they really liked and what coaching staff before me could have improved on. I took that into consideration in developing my answers and my routine for what I wanted to do.”
Learning early this year that he had been selected for the position, George was excited for the opportunity.
“I was speechless; I am at a young age but I have been coaching eight years and had the experience under my belt,” said George. “Now I could start testing myself as a head coach to see if I could build a program to be one of the top in the state and the region.”
Meeting with the PDS players in January, George made his goals clear and his approach resonated right away.
“The message was to build on the program and the tradition that they already have in years past,” said George, who is taking over a team that advanced to the state Prep B final last spring. “They have been pretty successful, they have had state champions. My message to them was that we are going to build on this tradition, we are going to get back to where we are supposed to be. I told the kids my expectations and what I wanted them to do; to set the bar high and have them achieve that every single day. It was perfect, you could tell how amped up and excited they were.”
That excitement translated into a strong work ethic as the squad started its preseason practices.
“They were ready to go; they were group texting and group emailing each other,” said George. “We saw it at practices, every drill we did was quality rep after quality rep. There was no time off. They showed a lot of improvement from day one. Once we established the routine and what we were supposed to do day in, day out, everyone followed it to a tee. They went above and beyond, they stayed out afterwards to get some extra swings and some extra reps and work on the things they thought they were weak on. That is a big compliment to them. They know their skills better than I do so for them to take responsibility and build on that, it is incredible to see at such a young age.”
It was upsetting for the players to have that progress put on hold as the PDS campus was closed indefinitely in March due to the coronavirus outbreak, with the school going to remote learning.
“There was anxiousness, they were ready to go and just get the season started,” said George. “It was a somber moment. They were so down after all of the work they had put in. It is what it is; it is out of our control.”
While George can’t guide his team on the diamond for the time being, he is still coaching the team virtually.
“I am keeping in touch with the team; there are a couple of days of check-in a week where I ask them what they are doing and they will respond that they are working on this or working on that,” said George. “They have actually taken more initiative and they are doing online workouts through Google Hangouts or Zoom where they are all on together virtually.”
In the time that George did get to spend with the team on the field, he saw his players’ batting prowess as a strength.
“I think our strength was going to be our offense; my game plan, my strategy, and my philosophy is that we were going to be aggressive at the plate,” said George.
“I am giving the kids the chance to go up there with an approach instead of just free swinging at any time. They have a plan in mind. They really impressed me, we could do a lot of different things. It wasn’t just like every hitter is the same. Some guys could drive it on the gap, some guys were slap hitters, and some guys could put it on the ground and run it out to first.”
In the event that the season is resumed, George believes that the Panthers can be formidable.
“I think we could definitely do some damage in the Prep league and Prep state tournament,” said George. “We have enough bats and enough arms to get us through. The defense was coming along every day. We were seeing their arms are developing, we were seeing their glovework. We were seeing the natural athleticism, being athletic definitely makes them better.”