From the Bench: A First for BHS Coach Robert Shields in Nearly 40 Years and a First for Sammy Belcastro

By Jeff Toquinto on April 21, 2024 from Sports Blog via

When you have coached for approaching four decades in the same sport at the same school, chances are good you either have seen it all or done it all. Bridgeport High School baseball Coach Robert Shields might be the posterchild for that statement.
Yet, every so often something happens that becomes a first. And it happened this year for the multi-state championship winning head man of the Indians baseball program.
Shields has coached the children of kids he has coached in the past too many times to mention. He has had more than one former player on his coaching staff. He has even had to go up against more than one former player coaching the opposition.
This year, however, something happened that has never happened before. The newest member of his coaching staff was not only a former player but is the son of one of one of Shields’ former assistant coaches, which is a first.
The person filling the unique role is volunteer assistant Sammy Belcastro. The 2007 BHS graduate was a hardnosed infielder for the Tribe on some of the school’s best teams that were unable to cross the finish line with a title. During his time there, he played for Shields and his father Jimmy Belcastro.
Jimmy Belcastro coached with Shields from 1996 until 2010, which was just prior to passing away after a battle with cancer in 2011. Although Sammy Belcastro is filling a volunteer assistant’s position, Shields is glad to have someone he’s familiar with – someone he can trust – serve in that capacity.
“I’ve always been a fan of no-nonsense, get-after-it types of ball players and that’s what Sammy was. To have him bring that mentality here is a benefit, particularly after we lost Corey Lakatos as a volunteer assistant.”
Lakatos, let Shields know last year he probably would not be back due to having a newborn in the household, the BHS coach said. While happy for his friend and former assistant, Lakatos served as a pitching coach, which Shields said Lakatos did at the college level.
“That took pressure off me, so then you’re in position knowing you’re going to have to reshuffle things and responsibilities with whoever you bring in as the next coach, but you want the right person to do it,” said Shields. “Fortunately, Sammy was getting ready to be that person.”
Shields said Belcastro approached him in 2023 about the possibility of serving as a volunteer coach. In the fall during the team’s annual golf fundraiser, they spoke more about it – and the opening was there.
“He got certified by going through the WVSSAC process, passed the background check and was eligible for us when we needed him to come on as a volunteer,” said Shields.
Sammy Belcastro, in his first high school coaching gig, has joined a lengthy line of former players who came back to volunteer for Shields and also join a Hall of Fame volunteer in Pete Iquinto on the bench. There was Mark Harrison, Jason Nicholson, Brett Hathaway, Adam Belcastro, and others.
“I hope I didn’t miss anyone,” said Shields, who said Jimmy managed a paid assistant spot during his time with the Tribe. “I do know Sammy’s the first son of a coach that has coached with me. I know he’s a lot like his dad. I see the idiosyncrasies now that Sammy’s a man, and the things I see in him that are similar are good things that made his dad a good coach and will make Sammy a good coach.”
Right now, Sammy Belcastro is working with middle infielders. He’s doing some work on hitting, and he’s instructing the team about running the basepaths, and there is something else.
Belcastro’s fulltime gig is a physical therapy assistant, which he has done for 10 years, including his current stint working for Dynamic Physical Therapy. Shields said that brings something unique to the table.
“With him doing that, he knows a lot about proper stretching of the body and healing the body. That is an added dimension we’ve not had, and one that could turn out to be really important,” said Shields.
The younger Belcastro was born into baseball. It was handed to him through his father’s DNA.
Jimmy Belcastro, also a graduate of Bridgeport High School, was an all-stater like his son for the Indians. He earned a scholarship to play at Michigan State University before spending most of his college days at Salem College. He loved the game of baseball, and he passed it on to Sammy, who also played in the former West Virginia Conference, at Fairmont State University.
“In a way, I feel like I’m carrying on what he left behind after getting sick,” said Sammy of his father, who passed due to malignant melanoma. “Being here is a blessing first and I thank God for it. I’m in a situation where I get to help kids learn to play baseball and improve their skills with coaches like Robert Shields, Pete Iquinto, and Robbie Buffington. Those are guys who built, or continue to build, the entire foundation of this program.”
That would be hard to argue. Shields has nine state championships to his credit. The team has been a threat even since moving to Class AAA and is a threat again this year with one of the best records in the state against one of the most difficult schedules.
“The ultimate goal is to get better, get another state championship and, if you desire and have the ability, to get to the next level,” said Belcastro. “In my opinion, Robert Shields is the best coach in West Virginia and it’s an easy argument to make. I think my father would be really happy with my situation right now.”
The situation, barring something unusual, should continue for a while. Belcastro said he has no desire at the present time to move on to another coaching job at another school. He said he enjoys being around the program he once played for.
“This is where I want to be and I hope to help Robert for many years to come, as long as he’ll have me,” said Belcastro. “A big part of the reason is I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be is because of my father. I feel, and some may think it’s odd, that’s he’s watching this and smiling. He’s also proud because with me here there’s still a part of him here.”
Editor's Note: Top photo with Sammy Belcastro clapping (and with Coach Robert Shields) and bottom photo of him instructing one of the players are by Joe LaRocca. Middle two images showing Sammy's father Jimmy and Sammy during his playing days are courtesy of Sammy Belcastro.

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