BENNINGTON, Vt. — As the dog days of summer continue to roll on, so does a professional baseball experience for yet another member of the Southern Vermont College program as assistant coach Robby Hisert has settled into a coaching position for the Memphis Redbirds, the St. Louis Cardinals' AAA affiliate.
Memphis competes in the AAA Pacific Coast League's American Southern Division, and Hisert is on a Redbirds staff led by second-year head coach Mike Schildt. Hisert's duties with the team include scouting opposition from behind home plate, coaching first base from time-to-time, catching bullpen sessions when needed to save other players who might enter, and working with the Memphis hitting coach during batting practice.
"It's amazing," Hisert claimed about coaching guys who could be sent up to the Big Show at any moment. "The very first day in Memphis, we were about to take infield/outfield and a call came in for Aledmys Diaz to head to the Majors. Seeing a guy get that call to make his debut at the top level- and the expression on his face and excitement of all the guys who have worked with him over the years- was incredible. Since then, we have had quite a few guys go up, as well as come down, and it's just amazing to see the family these guys truly become. When Jeremy Hazelbaker made his debut, there was a great picture on Twitter showing the entire Redbirds clubhouse glued to the TV to see his first at bat with the Cardinals. Being a part of it is a moment I'll never forget."
Hisert brought a slew of coaching experience to Memphis, including being on the Southern Vermont staff with head coach Dave Gage since the 2013 season. He has also worked as the first base coach with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Clubs and was an assistant in the summer of 2012 for the Amsterdam Mohawks, a team ranked third in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League that year while also winning the league championship.
While with the Mohawks, Hisert coached Matt Gage, a currently rostered left-handed pitcher for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the San Francisco Giants' AA affiliate; that situation connected Hisert with Matt's older brother, Dave, which eventually spawned into Hisert coming to be on the Southern Vermont staff as a hitting coach.
"Robby has been a major piece to our program," Dave Gage commented. "He has been a part of this since day one of fall ball during our first year in 2012. We sat down and created a vision, and now to see that come together is special for the both of us. Robby will always be a coach in our program no matter where his own journey takes him.
"There have been plenty of nights in the past four years that I have sent him a text at midnight asking his opinion, and that will not change whether he is in Bennington, Memphis, or St. Louis," Gage continued. "It is very exciting for Robby and our program. My goal and hope for all of my assistants is that I can help them progress in their careers. Robby earned this opportunity and is making the most of it."
Hisert said that there was nothing but positives and congratulations from Gage when he landed the job with the Redbirds. "I actually had previously applied and interviewed for this job and was not chosen for the position-- which was fine, because it kept me at SVC where I truly enjoyed being on Coach Gage's staff and helping him to move the program forward. When I got the call from Memphis this year and I told Dave that a dream of mine was coming true, he was completely supportive of me trying to take the next step and was just as excited as me."
The Redbirds also got a coach with a great deal of success as a player as Hisert played professionally in Parma, Italy after college, a stint that earned him a chance to work with the Italian National Team. He played at Schenectady County Community College where he was named the 2005 SCCC Male Athlete of the Year while also garnering All-Mountain Valley Conference First Team and All-National Junior College Athletics Association Region III honors as a Royal. Prior to enrolling at SCCC, Hisert grew up and played high school ball in Amsterdam, N.Y., completing a career that landed him in the Amsterdam Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011.
In the summer of 2013, Hisert was selected to play in his third Baseball Hall of Fame Classic where he was able to meet and chat with some of the game's greatest past players including Ricky Henderson, Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers and Jim Leyritz.
"All I have done this year is attempt to listen and absorb anything and everything I can from all of our staff, rovers, and front office," Hisert said of his learning experience. "Although I don't have familiarity with anyone else in affiliated ball, I will go out on a limb and say this organization is second-to-none in class and integrity. Guys with character are everywhere, and I am yet to have a conversation with anyone top-to-bottom where I feel less important than them."
Being so far away from his wife, Sara, and two-year-old daughter Emilia, who still reside in the Capital Region, has been one of Hisert's biggest obstacles. However, it's one that comes with a constructive aspect as he says that his opportunity with the Redbirds has given Emilia an increased love for the game, one that started to gain traction back in the fall of 2015 with his involvement at Southern Vermont.
"I would love to stay in baseball," Hisert said of what might happen after his one-year deal is up in the fall, "especially now that my daughter has taken such a passion towards it. Every game my wife and she can't be at, we video chat before the start and it always begins the same way: 'Hi, Daddy. I want to see baseball!' So I have to turn the camera for her to see whatever stadium and field I'm playing at. She just loves being at the games, and it started at SVC this fall. The 100-inning game at Southern Vermont let her be in the field and hang out with me and the guys. Since that, spring training, and through now- she just keeps getting more-and-more interested. For me, this is key because it is hard being away from my family; but knowing she is excited that I am at the game allows me to also stay excited to be there."
Hisert's role with the Redbirds marks the third experience at the pro ball level for someone who previously wore the Mountaineer uniform, all of those coming since Coach Gage took the reins of the Southern Vermont program. Most recently, Christopher Nicastro Jr. '15, another current assistant for SVC, signed and played with the VCardinals of the World Baseball Pro League last summer after graduation. Additionally, Connor Murray '13 played in the California Winter League in 2013 where he had the chance to be evaluated by professional organizations.
"We tell all of our recruits and players that we will help them play the game and be around the game as long as we can," Gage added. "So this is another step in the journey of this program. What is most important about Robby, though: I believe it shows the family atmosphere that we have at Southern Vermont College. In our program, we want what is best for everyone and do what we can to help everyone reach their goals."