By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When Frank “Butch” Servideo became the head baseball coach at his high school alma mater Lyndhurst back in 1986, he never gave a thought to how long of tenure he would enjoy.
“I think John Gascione was the winning pitcher for the first one back then, but I have no idea who it was against,” Servideo said. “As a matter of fact, I remember my baseball coach at Lyndhurst was a guy named Frank Ruggiero, who was a big Marine type of a man and coach. I remember him having 249 wins as a coach and thinking that it must have taken forever to get to that total and I would never get there.”
Last Saturday night, Servideo got to his coach’s win total – times two.
When the Golden Bears defeated Bogota, 3-0, as part of the program’s annual special Mothers’ Day Game, it gave Servideo his 500th career coaching win, a milestone reached by only a handful of coaches throughout New Jersey and in Bergen County.
“I think it was a flashback to see how fast the time went by,” Servideo said. “I’ve been coaching 28 years and you think how long of a time that is. It feels like just a few years. I guess if you stick around long enough, you can get that number.”
Servideo knew that legendary Bergen County high school coaches like Ramsey’s John Ponchak, Paramus’ Joe Cervino, Emerson Borough’s Bob Carcich and Frank Salvano of St. Joseph of Montvale had all reached the 500-win plateau, so he was pleased to be in such great company.
The win Saturday was the 18th straight for the Golden Bears, breaking the longest win streak in a single season. Both the 1960 and 1966 teams had won 17 straight in a year, so the win had even more importance.
For the last quarter century, Lyndhurst has played Bogota on the Saturday night before Mothers’ Day.
“We bring the mothers out and give them corsages,” Servideo said. “They wear their son’s jersey. It’s a special night, a great night. My mother was big on it.”
Servideo’s mother passed away four years ago.
“It’s always a big night for our seniors,” Servideo said. “I always let the seniors start in that game.”
So Servideo gave the ball to little-used senior Nick Galvez, who earned his first start.
“I didn’t know how long we were going to go with Nick and the kid went the distance, throwing a two-hitter,” Servideo said. “So I’ll always remember the answer to that trivia question, that Nick Galvez was the winning pitcher in the 500th win.”
Servideo said that he was happy to share the milestone with his three assistant coaches, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Radigan and Pat Auteri, all three of whom once played for Servideo at Lyndhurst.
“All three could be head coaches, but they choose to stay with us,” Servideo said. “The only reason why we’re good is because they help to mold young men into baseball players every year.”
The current Golden Bear squad is a tribute to that coaching dedication.
“Before the season, I knew we needed 19 wins for 500 and I said that there was no way it could happen this year,” Servideo said. “They exceeded every expectation.”
Servideo said that he was moved to see one of his former high school coaches Phil Cierco back for the special occasion.
“He was an assistant to Ruggiero in 1968 when we won the Bergen County Tournament,” Servideo said. “It was great to see him again.”
There was so much joy in Lyndhurst on Saturday night. Less than 24 hours later, the joy ended when the Golden Bears lost, 2-0, to Emerson Borough (and fellow 500-win coach Carcich) in the Bergen County Tournament.
“Incredibly, they were the last team we lost to before the streak and they’re the ones who stopped the streak,” Servideo said. “It was a tough loss.”
Senior right-hander Max Hart pitched a one-hitter – and lost.
“We were really high after Saturday night,” Servideo said. “The kids were really pumped up. It was a touching moment and then it was like we went back to reality the next day. It was really tough. We couldn’t hit.”
The Golden Bears will now await their fate in the upcoming NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II playoffs, where they should receive a top seed. They can still win the NJIC Liberty Division championship with a few more wins.
And Servideo will march on.
“I don’t know about getting 600, but we’ll move onward, that’s for sure,” Servideo said.