When Dan Oliastro isn’t on a baseball field or spending time with one of his 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, he can sometimes be found helping out his wife, Linda, operate the antiques store she owns just across the Ohio border.
“It’s called grunt work,” Oliastro said. “She’s the one who actually runs it. I just go and help out. It’s mostly manual labor.”
In the world of high school baseball, Oliastro himself is sort of an antique, as this 79-year-old coach in his 55th season continues to pile up wins and titles and seemingly becomes better and more valuable with age.
This season was unlike any other in Oliastro’s fabulous career. Riverside not only won WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A titles, but also the Panthers became the first WPIAL team ever to win a PIAA title with a perfect record. The Panthers finished 25-0 after beating Camp Hill, 4-0, in the championship.
Yes, this was quite a memorable season for Oliastro, who now has 696 career wins (most in WPIAL history), six WPIAL titles (tied for most in WPIAL history) and five PIAA titles (most in WPIAL history).
This wily veteran’s latest career accomplishment? He’s the first PUP baseball Coach of the Year. All coaches in the WPIAL and City League were considered for the honor that was selected by the PUP sports staff.
Q: Where does this team rank among the best you’ve had at Riverside?
A: Our ’06 team was 26-1, if I’m not mistaken. We lost our last game in our section and won the next nine games. It’s hard to compare the two because that team didn’t use BBCOR bats. That team in ’06, we probably had 26 or 28 home runs. You don’t get that anymore with this new bat we’ve used for the last 8-10 years, so it’s hard. But I would probably call those two the best.
Q: What made this team so special?
A: We really liked this group. There was a lot of unity. You could tell the kids cared for each other.
Q: What did you tell the team after the state title win?
A: I don’t know if I said anything. By the time it was over, they rushed us over to get the medals. I probably just told them that I was proud of them.
Q: The players didn’t get you with the Gatorade jug this time. How nice was it to not have to make the bus ride home soaking wet?
A: My goodness. That last time [in 2006], it was a really hot day, probably 85 degrees. And it was mostly ice in that thing. I went from 85 to probably 0 in like 10 seconds. On the way home, I was so wet and there was nothing I could do. So we went to a restaurant and I actually took off my shirt in the restroom and threw my undershirt away. Then someone lent me a hoodie, and I wore that home.
Q: John Marnicio has been one of your assistants for 53 years. What has it meant to have him by your side for all these years?
A: He’s the nuts and bolts of our operation. He does all the fine tuning of stuff. He basically does the infield. He works with catchers a little bit. He’s my best friend, and we talk almost every day. He’s been invaluable. It’s very hard to get someone to stay with you that many years.
Q: One thing you would change about high school baseball?
A: I don’t know if you want to hear this, but I don’t think private schools should be playing against public schools. It’s totally unfair. Some of these schools recruit kids. Where I’m at, whoever comes to me, that’s who I’ve got. As a result of that, everything comes in cycles. We’re not always going to have a top-level team.
Q: Your players are big into social media. When can we expect you to start an account on Facebook, Twitter or even TikTok?
A: Probably never. I know my wife has Facebook. But seriously, as a high school coach, I wouldn’t want to do it. That could be a little dangerous. Kids put stuff on there that they don’t think about, and I’ve seen some examples of that.
Q: OK, the question you love getting asked every year — will you be back next season?
A: Yes. I need the money.
Q: Riverside’s previous four PIAA titles were back-to-back (2005-06, 2011-12). That said, should we expect another PIAA title next season?
A: My coach said that to the team this morning. He said, “You guys realize we did this in pairs?” It’s really possible because we’re only losing a first baseman and shortstop, and we’re losing one pitcher. [Christian] Lucarelli is only a sophomore. Hunter Garvin is only a sophomore. The Camp Hill coach said to me afterwards, “We’ll see you here in this game next year.”