Carrying on a Tri-City tradition

Published 1:35 pm Friday, July 6, 2018

HAZARD — Tom Vicini leaned forward on a step in the back of the visitors’ dugout at Perry County Park as 12 Tri-City Little Leaguers sat quietly on the bench in front of him and listened while “Coach Tom” shared some of the same wisdom about baseball and life that he has talked about to Tri-City youth through 40 summers of coaching.

Vicini discussed mistakes and missed opportunities, but he didn’t dwell on the negatives or sound the least bit angry or exasperated, turning the focus to tomorrow’s game before telling the players to be sure to leave the dugout “with their heads held high.”

Postseason baseball has been a regular occurrence for Vicini during his years in the league, starting when he was approached about coaching in 1979.

“I got a call from a parent and they said they needed somebody to help because (longtime Tri-City teacher) Walter Dick was going to retire as a coach,” Vicini said. “I said no at first, but I had a lot of respect for Walter and when they said it was the Yankees, I said ‘what time is practice?’”

Vicini’s connection to the Yankees took root many years earlier.

“When I was 12 my dad took me to see the Yankees play at Yankee Stadium (during the record-breaking 1961 season) when they had Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris,” he said. “I was hooked for life with the Yankees.”

That wasn’t Vicini’s only reason for coaching though.

An opportunity to work with children helped draw Vicini to the field. He had spent 17 years before that helping with a basketball league at Lynch, the place where he grew up as a member of one of the best-known families in the legendary coal mining town.

“I just love working with kids,” he said. “That’s been my ministry in life, working with kids. Win, lose or draw I love being with kids out here.”

Baseball takes up much of Vicini’s free time in the spring and summer. He led the Yankees to their fifth straight league title this year and the first undefeated season of his coaching career. Vicini said he has never grown tired of the routine of coaching year after year.

“You always have new faces and new challenges,” he said. “I enjoy the challenge of working with kids, and I see the need for someone to care about kids and work with them. They go through a lot of things in life today, and they need to have good role models, people who love and care about them and try to help them in every aspect of life.”

Several parents marked Vicini’s 40 years with a party that included current and former players.

“Tom Vicini is an absolute godsend to the Tri City Little League and the players he has coached,” said Christy Casolari, a board member for the Tri-City Little League. “His 40 consecutive years of dedication to the youth of the Tri City area is unrivaled. The long-term relationships with past players and families is amazing. He has become part of our family outside of baseball and is a true blessing to our community. Coach Tom is simply an amazing individual full of love and compassion for the youth of our area. His guidance has touched countless lives.”

Vicini takes a lot of pride in the success of his former players in high school and college. Cumberland won eight regional championships under Roger Morris, beginning in the mid 1980s during an era when Tri-City made multiple appearances in the Little League state tournament.

“I call my players my sons, so I follow them throughout their baseball career and really all throughout their lives. I get messages from people who played for me 35 years ago,” he said. “When they did well with Cumberland, or now with Harlan County, it’s a star in my crown. I really enjoy seeing them do well.”

Vicini said he has no plans to walk away from coaching any time soon even though this season’s performance gave him an opportunity to go out on top.

“We had the first perfect season I’ve ever had this year and I think some people thought I was going to retire, but that’s not the reason I coach,” he said. “I have a grandson coming up in two years, so that could mean at least six more years if the Lord blesses me with health.”

Fundamentals, teamwork and class are still important in Vicini’s world, points driven home by watching his team and how he interacts with his players.

Even though he knows the game has changed through the years, Vicini’s approach to teaching it hasn’t wavered. When a player in the dugout told a teammate to watch for the curveball from a Hazard pitcher, the same pitch that had continually confused Tri-City hitters, Vicini walked over from the third base coaching box to remind his team they always “look for a fastball and adjust.”