COLONIE: Stepping up to the plate

It's getting to the point where Casey O'Connor knows the first thing someone is going to say to him.

If I had a dime for every time I heard, 'You have big shoes to fill,' we wouldn't have to play here because I'd have my own stadium, said O'Connor.

The "here" in question is Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in Troy " one of the facilities The College of Saint Rose baseball team has been using for home games this season.

The "big shoes" in question belong to former manager and program founder Bob Bellizzi, who died last year after a long battle with leukemia.

When Bellizzi's illness became too much for him to continue managing midway through the 2006 season, O'Connor helped run the team. Shortly after Bellizzi's death, O'Connor " a Shaker High School and Saint Rose graduate " was named the second manager in the team's history.

"Until now, I always planned on being the assistant coach," said O'Connor, who joined Bellizzi's coaching staff in 2000. "But I'm glad to continue teaching the game the way coach Bellizzi wanted it to be taught."

O'Connor had plenty of time to learn from Bellizzi. Beginning with his playing days at Saint Rose, O'Connor spent more than a decade either as a player or a coach in the NCAA Division II program before being named the manager.

"I learned a lot from coach Bellizzi, and because of that, the transition hasn't been difficult," said O'Connor.

The team O'Connor inherited is a young one. More than half the 34-man roster is made up of first-year players, and O'Connor has started several freshmen in his lineup. The result is a 10-24 record entering Tuesday's home game against Southern New Hampshire.

"We can win, but we haven't been consistent yet," said O'Connor. "I think we have great talent, and we've done a great job finding talent. There is a big difference between the high school and college game, and the kids are finding that out."

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