Stamford softball coach Tony Esposito
You won’t find any quotes in this post from its subject, Tony Esposito. For one thing, no coach makes a more concerted effort to stay out of the spotlight than the leader of Stamford High School’s softball program. For another, no coach is more superstitious, and Esposito likely will consider this bad mojo leading up to Wednesday afternoon’s Class LL semifinal game with Southington.
But his obsession with staying out of the public limelight has taken away from what privately is expressed constantly by his colleagues: Esposito is not just one of the best high school coaches in Stamford, but one of the best softball coaches in the state.
The fact that the Black Knights have reached the Final Four is a testament both to a hard-working group of players and the leadership provided by Esposito. He guided the program to its only state title, in 2000, the same year he (Esposito will stress the team) won the first of his three FCIAC championships.
But perhaps the true measure of Esposito’s worth as a coach is that his teams have never underachieved and often overachieve. He has made a habit of getting the most out of his players, which is why he will be coaching a game Wednesday afternoon.
Esposito may not be willing to talk about himself, but his daughter, Shanna, gladly will. She pitched Trinity Catholic, her father’s alma mater, to league and state titles as a sophomore in 1996. For the last two seasons she has been an assistant for her father, working with the pitchers.
Stamford softball players celebrate after scoring a run during last Friday’s state quarterfinal win over Darien.
“It is wonderful,” Shanna said. “I kind of get emotional when I talk about it. When I went for the job I was nervous. I asked him if he was OK with it because I didn’t want it to be awkward. When I ended up getting the job, even though I am an assistant, I don’t question anything he does. I’m there to learn. He’s a mentor. I’m a sponge, trying to absorb everything.”
Many don’t realize Esposito was one of the most talented youth baseball players in Stamford history. He worked his way up from Little League, to the former Stamford Catholic, then played collegiately at Iona. Though they were two years younger, Esposito played against Bobby Valentine and current NBA referee Bennett Salvatore. Esposito also played basketball and ran cross country.
Esposito’s softball coaching career started in 1992 at Westhill, when Danielle Simoneau, who just led New Canaan to the FCIAC title, was the star pitcher. Esposito stayed at Westhill for three years, then took the next four off to follow Shanna before taking over at Stamford.
Not long after college, Esposito was an assistant baseball coach to the great Mickey Lione at Stamford Catholic. Like anyone who worked with Lione, the impact was huge. It also softened being in the spotlight on Sunday night, when Esposito was honored by the Stamford Old-Timers as their Mickey Lione Coach of the Year.
“It meant a lot to him because Mickey meant a lot to him,” Shanna said.
Esposito is popularly referred to as “Espo” by his players. He has mastered the fine line of being both respected and well-liked by the girls he coaches. One of his trademarks when his pitchers are throwing is to shout “Beauty.” Sometimes it is a compliment. Others it is trying to steal a call on a close pitch.”
Shanna had a great appreciation for her father’s coaching ability before joining his staff. Now she has been afforded a different view.
“I’ve learned being on the inside now,” she said. “It’s one thing from the outside looking in. I see him get into it and so over the top. I thought he was more impulsive than he actually is. I didn’t realize how thought-out everything was. I’d ask him why he did something and he’d give an exact reason.”
Shanna has also gleaned insight to one of the skills that has made her father such a successful coach.
“I envy the respect the girls have for him,” she said.
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