The year was 1987. “The Simpsons” made its television debut, Prozac hit the stores in the United States for the first time. “Lethal Weapon” and “Good Morning, Vietnam” were raking in big bucks at the movie theaters. And Michael Jackson’s “Bad” had just hit the record stores. (Remember record stores?)
It also was the year Pete Nizzari first became involved with coaching high school baseball in the Bronx. And, after a long hiatus, the 75-year-old baseball lifer is back for more: Meet the new head baseball coach at the High School for American Studies.
“I missed it a lot and it’s good to be back,” Nizzari said.
For almost two decades, Nizzari led Columbus High School to many successful seasons as the school’s head baseball coach from 1987 until stepping down following the 2005 season. But a chance conversation with his friend, former American Studies coach Howard Blitz, led to Nizzari’s comeback in the dugout.
“I was a little burned out and I had a home in the Hamptons, so I went out there with my wife and I enjoyed myself,” Nizzari said. “But last year, I went to one of Howie Blitz’s playoff games, and he said to me, ‘Do you want to coach next year?’ I said, ‘I’m old.’
“But I eventually said yes, and now I feel rejuvenated. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to work with kids in your 70s, and I’m 75. I look pretty good, huh?”
Yes, it looks like No. 23 hasn’t missed a beat since his Columbus days, and now is guiding a very young American Studies team to a possible playoff spot in his first year back. Heading into the final week of the Public School Athletic League’s regular season, Nizzari has the Senators sitting with a 6-5 record with five games to play, and needing a couple of victories to snare that postseason bid.
“You need eight wins to qualify for the playoffs in AA,” Nizzari. “So we have (a) busy week, and we’ll see what happens.”
A 6-3 loss to the IN-Tech last Friday made the road to the playoffs a bit more challenging. However, despite their relative youth, Nizzari said there is no quit in his Senators.
“It’s doable,” Nizzari said of reaching the postseason. “I’m excited about this team. It’s a very young team and the future is bright. But the future could be now, you never know. These kids don’t quit on me, and they give 100 percent.”
Nizzari said he knew he made the right decision to return to coaching after meeting with his new players at the start of the school year.
“I met with the boys in September and I got a positive feeling from them,” Nizzari said. “After two or three meetings with the kids it was like I never left. It’s in my blood, I love the game and these kids are the best.”
“I love the kids, I love the game, and it keeps me young,” Nizzari said. “It’s the best vitamin you can take. I’ve lost 10 pounds and my blood pressure, believe it or not, is 100 over 70. It came all the way down, so my doctor said, ‘God bless you.’ It’s the best medicine. I feel great.”
At 75 years young, Nizzari is back having the time of his life as he tries to guide his young Senators into the playoffs. But is this just a one-year respite from living a life of leisure in the Hamptons?
Nizzari insists it’s not.
“I’m committed for at least two more years, until all the 10th graders graduate,” Nizzari said “Two more years and that’s it. Well, at least two more years. Nobody wants to see an 80-year-old man on the field do they? But maybe they’ll let me coach from a rocking chair.”