by Andrew Garda
The Montclair baseball community, as well as the town as a whole, recently lost a member of the community whose impact will reverberate long past his life.
Andy Giuliano, known as “Coach Andy” to many, passed away on April 27 at the age of 73. His family said he passed peacefully.
“Andy was a great guy,” Montclair High School head baseball coach Ron Gavazzi said. “He was very fond of baseball. I met him around ’07 or ’08. I always found him to be genuine and truly appreciated his support of the high school baseball program.”
Giuliano was a well-known fixture in Montclair, if you knew where to look.
“You’ve probably seen him in town and didn’t know, he spoke to you if you spoke to him,” said Garland Thornton, activities coordinator in the Recreation and Cultural Affairs office in Montclair. “Not an outspoken guy, stayed within his boundaries, but he did a lot within his boundaries, you know?”
Those boundaries encompassed both the rec leagues and travel baseball, along with a tenure as the president of the Montclair Baseball and Softball Club. Thornton said he believed Giuliano coached around 1,000 kids.
Giuliano always made time for you, Thornton said.
“[He] was always willing to help others, never said no,” said Thornton, who coached with Giuliano for 20 years.
“He loved Montclair, and he was always asking about the kids in different sports.”
One of those kids was Montclair High School graduate Keith Harrison, who played ball with the coach and credits him for his love of baseball.
“Andy was my coach for travel ball from, I believe, 9 years old,” he said. “But it’s kind of hard for me to remember exactly how old I was when he stopped being like officially my coach because he always kind of seemed like he was our coach. He was always around, even in high school, even when we were playing college ball. He came to a few of our college games.”
Harrison was one of three teammates who went on to play collegiately at Franklin & Marshall College, along with Sam Ackerman and Chris Vincent.
“He just immediately kind of gravitated to a core group of guys that we had on a team and knew he saw something,” Vincent said. “[He] knew that we all kind of had a passion, and there was a great group of parents, and I mean he just took off with it and ran.”
According to Vincent, Giuliano always challenged his kids, entering them into tournaments and scheduling games against tough teams.
“Because he knew that would make us better as athletes, make us better as people,” Vincent said. “You saw us struggle at first, but as we started to come together as this core group of guys on the team throughout the years, we just took off.”
That group went on to win the Greater Newark Tournament as juniors in 2012, and both Harrison and Vincent credit the foundation Giuliano laid for them as young players.
Gavazzi said, “Andy played a very important role in a young player’s experience. He wanted kids to have fun and enjoy the game as they developed. I admired his commitment to the kids in town. I am grateful to him for making youth baseball better.”
Giuliano wasn’t just about the core group of kids, though. One similar story was repeated by every person who talked with Montclair Local.
The team would be practicing at Glenfield, or, more frequently Edgemont Park, when suddenly Giuliano would spy a kid coming off the playground, stop practice, and invite him over.
“He went over to the kid and said, ‘Hey, want to come play with us?’ A random kid [who] didn’t pay [the league fees],” Vincent said. “[He’s] never seen the kid in his life before, but we had extra gloves, we had extra bats, extra pairs of cleats. And he brought over the kid to come and practice with us.”
Joel Dnistrian, president of the Montclair Baseball and Softball Club, said it didn’t end there.
“Andy was the type of guy that, like, you know, the kid might not have the means to pay for travel baseball or uniforms or be able to get to games,” Dnistrian said. “And Andy would go to pick him up and drop him off to every single game and practice.”
“That story in a nutshell just speaks to who the guy was,” Vincent said. “He just wanted everyone to be involved, and to have fun. His number one requirement in all aspects of life on the field, off the field, when you’re at dinner, when it’s been a tough week, whatever it was, was you had to have fun. I mean if you weren’t having fun, then [he felt] he was doing something wrong. He took it to heart. It was an incredible quality.”
As with so many people, Dnistrian said Giuliano became a permanent fixture in his life — in his case, when they met at Dnistrian’s son’s T-ball game 15 years ago.
“I was very fortunate to meet him, I really was,” he said.
Thornton said, “You could always find him every weekend up at Edgemont Park with 200 kids in the park. Just an all-around great guy.”
Gavazzi said the high school program had been planning to celebrate Giuliano this spring as their coach of honor at Youth Day, but the event — as well as the rest of the Montclair High baseball season — has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will certainly be honoring him and celebrating his life at next year’s Youth Day,” Gavazzi said. “He is going to be dearly missed by our entire baseball community.”
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Montclair Recreation Department, 205 Claremont Ave., Montclair, NJ 07042, attention Michele Cammarata.