Joe Messina loves the art of pitching.
Involved in baseball in South Philadelphia for the past quarter-century, Messina has been an assistant coach for the Neumann-Goretti High School baseball team for the past 11 years. He has held the title of pitching coach for the last eight.
“I’m a pitching guy through and through,” said Messina, 49, of South Philadelphia. “I played at Neumann-Goretti and although I wasn’t good enough (to play after high school), I really wanted to teach the game and pitching.”
In addition to his role at Neumann-Goretti, Messina works as an instructor specializing in kids ages 8-13 at South Philly Sports Training. While the facility has various experienced instructors, he has carved his niche as the pitching guru.
“Down here, in this area, there wouldn’t be anybody else if my son wanted to pitch,” SPST co-owner Dom Nardini said. “He’s by far the best pitching guy I know.”
Messina has been able to mesh his duties at Neumann-Goretti with his instruction at SPST. Neumann-Goretti often practices at the facility during the fall and winter months.
“It’s a perfect fit for Neumann-Goretti to work out there, as well as for me to be able to give lessons to younger kids,” Messina said. “We have open practices in the fall where anybody can come in and get swings in. Having Nicky (Nardini), who’s younger brother (Eric) is on the team, as a coach, they can come in and workout whenever they can.”
The facility has proven to be a hidden gem for the team. This past spring, the Saints won the Philadelphia Catholic League Championship and the Class AA District 12/City Championship. They capped the year off by winning the PIAA, Class AA State Championship.
“It’s definitely been an advantage,” Messina said. “It’s tough because you only have so many months to get practices in with the weather. SPST provides that place where we can get swings in on a Sunday night before a game on Monday.”
In the nine months since the facility opened, Messina has seen progress from not only his own team, but SPST as well. The two have come full circle, with former players Albert Baur and Nicky Nardini now working as instructors alongside Messina.
“I’m the older guy and I get to work with these kids, and watch them grow up,” said Messina. “It’s been a great ride thus far. It was slow at the beginning, but with word of mouth, it’s really grown.”
-Text, images and video by Tim Merrick.