From the Bench: In 35-Plus Years in Dugout, Shields Facing Most Critical Hire in His BHS Baseball History

By Jeff Toquinto on January 22, 2023 from Sports Blog via

Despite coaching for getting close to four decades, Robert Shields has not had a rollover in assistants that you see with a lot of programs. That, among so many other things, is what has Bridgeport as arguably the most dominant statewide program of the last decade and one of the best in the state during Shields’ lengthy tenure.
The only thing unfortunate involving the assistant staff is that the need to fill a vacancy for Shields is the result of a death. For readers of this blog, you already know in October of last year, long-time assistant Chris Colombo passed away.
Along with it being a blow on the personal front to Shields, he also knew losing Colombo was a big loss as it relates to the success of the Indians baseball program. You know the one? The one that just saw a run of seven-straight state championships come to an end a game away from playing for an eight straight.
Yes, that is the one.
Shields has never hid the fact that what Colombo did as his long-time assistant was perhaps as important to the success of the program as the talent Shields gets and the coaching he and his staff provides. While you often saw Colombo coaching first base or in the dugout, when he was not there, there was a reason for it.
Colombo had served as Bridgeport’s junior varsity coach. And while that may not seem like a big deal to some, it is a huge deal for the Indians. Rather, make that a HUGE deal.
“The jayvee program is important, very important. It has meant everything to actually have a full-fledged jayvee team and schedule,” said Shields. “I have never hesitated to tell anyone how that has been so critical to our success.”
That is not hyperbole. Under Colombo, the Indians regularly played 20-plus junior varsity games and would travel all across the state to do so since a whole lot of programs locally do not have junior varsity programs. So, what is the benefit?
Shields and the Indians usually have senior-laden teams. Replacing them with another group of solid seniors is not just a pot luck chance at success. Rather, it is a part of a program where the foundation is laid at the junior varsity level.
If a youngster makes the team as a freshman or sophomore, or even a junior, and cannot crack the regular rotation. Shields sends them to the junior varsity program, and by the time it is their turn, they have already had hundreds of at-bats, played a hundred innings in the field, or have thrown live high school level pitching to the tune of dozens of innings.
“We’re fortunate we have the number of kids to do that,” said Shields. “It is an advantage we take advantage of.”
Shields will soon be turning over that responsibility to someone new for the first time in more than a decade. That person will have the responsibility of developing many of the players when Shields, and assistants Pete Iquinto (who does occasionally assist) and Corey Lakatos are not around.
The reason he knows it will be soon is that the job posting for the position, Shields said, was just taken down. He hopes to get involved with the process with the BHS administration to fine a replacement ahead of the start of the preseason practices.
“This person will handle that, and like Chris, a lot of times you’re left by yourself,” said Shields. “They will be tasked with making sure when one group leaves the group behind them is ready. This is a big deal, and we have to get it right.”
Again, not hyperbole. There were 11 seniors on last year’s team that lost 3-2 in nine innings to eventual Class AAA state champion Hurricane on the team’s way to another 30-win season. There was a bevy of seniors on the team the year prior – and prior to that – and prior to that – and well, you get the point.
“This is as important as a hire as we can make. That coach, this particular assistant position, it’s a double role,” said Shields. “They are a head coach and an assistant and that means we could be playing varsity in one place and they could be coaching the jayvee team in another location.”
The good news for whoever ends up with the position is that Shields said Iquinto will be more hands on to help out like he was last year. Not a bad option to have a Hall of Fame coach like Iquinto willing to assist in the development of the team and whoever the new coach is.
“I think it’s fantastic Pete is willing to do that. He does that because he cares about the kids and loves the game of baseball,” said Shields. “He is another set of eyes, another baseball mind, that will help our next coach get our younger players get ready for varsity baseball. Hopefully, we’ll know soon.”
And when Shields knows, check back here. I will be sure to let you know as well.

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