Phil Delgado has often kidded about his being on an island, when it comes to his work as a softball coach and mentor.
But truth be told, Delgado’s vision for a coach, when it comes to his players, is to help them reach their potential, both on the diamond, and, more importantly, in life.
For a few years, Phil had coached Montclair High, and injected a lot of excitement in his second season when he guided the Mounties to the Essex County Tournament’s championship game. That accomplishment was even more incredible, considering the team had gotten off to a very slow start in 2016, before winning a bunch of games, against quality opponents, to move into contention for a county title.
Delgado’s coaching carousel moved to the collegiate ranks in 2017, as he became an assistant at William Paterson University, where he will once again coach in the ultra competitive NJAC this spring.
What also drives him is the work he does with his softball travel team, the NJ FIGHT, where he, along with some dedicated assistants, coach the youth of today, as well as up-and-coming stars.
And once a year, Delgado and his staff get together to say thanks to those players who have, in essence, aged out of the process, as those ‘kids’ begin college. And while they will no longer play for FIGHT, many return to help the next generation of kids learn the game.
Delgado likes to come off as that gruff guy, who takes no-nonsense in practice. And if you’ve seen those practices, you’ll see him running from field to field, yelling one minute, encouraging another minute and, somehow, never missing a play in practice.
But when it comes to saying goodbye, Phil isn’t good at that.
He doesn’t want them to leave, but knows it’s part of the process.
Phil gathers all the players in the program, along with parents and friends, at a field house in Nutley, and asks the departing players to sit up front, while he, without any props (index cards, notes, etc) talks glowingly of each player. He’ll talk about obstacles the young lady may have faced, and how she not only endured, but prospered.
One minute, he’s laughing. Another, he’s trying not to cry. And in the end, you know that just because a player may be leaving FIGHT, the FIGHT will never leave a player.
He’s helped players become coaches. Just recently, Delgado recommended former Livingston star Jess Peslak to Caldwell University softball coach Dean Johnson, as a potential assistant coach, after Johnson had an opening on his staff. Today, Peslak is on that staff and Johnson noted, without hesitation, how Delgado’s referral was helpful in the process.
Phil has worked tirelessly on helping players get the chance to compete in college. He was so proud to announce that Ayana Zygmunt, a player on his roster, would be going to Barry University.
He’ll speak, with pride, of others who have committed to college, but still have a few high school years ahead, such as Cedar Grove’s junior pitcher Mia Faieta, who has chosen to attend St. John’s University and IHA’s Ryleigh White, who is just a sophomore, but already committed to the University of Tennessee.
(Read more on Faieta’s college choice here: (https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2017/10/31/cedar-groves-dynamic-pitcher-mia-faieta-gives-verbal-commitment-to-attend-st-johns-university/)
And he’s helped others with the opportunity to just become better, in general, in playing softball.
If you’re an Essex County softball fan, many of the FIGHT players’ names are familiar. There’s Amber Matthews and Francesca Testa of Montclair, Columbia’s Catherine John, Bloomfield’s Jamell Quiles and Ayana Zygmunt, Faieta, Livingston’s Emma Cooney, Verona’s Renata Primmer, AnnaMarie Campanile of Mount St. Dominic, Belleville’s Cheryl Ann Nicosia and Millburn’s Helen Casey.
Other players, outside of Essex, include White, Kylie Carr, Jillian Ward, Ashley Gardner, Alliyah Rivera, Nicolette McDonald, Katie Wright, Jacqueline Rever, Natalie Decena, Kayla Campbell, Isabella Simon, Melissa Konopinski, Cara McMahon, Madison Amdur and Emily Gyongyosi.
There were plenty of young faces there, with their parents, taking it all in. And Delgado told those kids, mostly in grades 5-8, that one day, they’ll be providing the same leadership that the current seniors provided.
But Phil also loves to talk about the adults who have helped him make FIGHT a successful program today. He says those coaches, like two-time state champion Diana Fasano, the outstanding coach at Immaculate Heart Academy, and Jim Stoeckel, III, an umpire, coach and devoted parent to two young daughters, keep him balanced.
Fasano, as low-keyed as they come, is sometimes so deadpanned you can’t tell if she’s serious, or not. But she relates well to Delgado’s craziness. Stoeckel will sometimes let Phil go on and on, and then suddenly says, in essence,’ okay, that’s enough’, and the two of them figure out how to handle a situation.
He speaks, with reverence, of the late Anthony LaRezza, who helped mold a number of young coaches.
It’s a good ‘team’, for sure, and as a new season nears, the man who runs ‘PDG Island’ can’t wait to get back on the field.