WAYNE, NJ – There are not many long-term residents of Wayne who haven’t heard of legendary PAL baseball and basketball coach, Al “Aly Cat” Robin. This spring, Robin will begin coaching his fiftieth year in a row as a baseball coach and is currently coaching his forty-third season as a basketball coach.
To put that in perspective, Robin is currently coaching the grandchildren of some of his original players.
Born in Brooklyn in 1934, Robin grew up playing baseball in the lots and streets in his neighborhood. “I never played for any real team because we couldn’t afford the gloves,” said Robin. But like any other boy growing up in Brooklyn he loved the game itself.
After moving to Wayne in 1968, Robin, who had been a boy scout, wanted to get involved with the scouts along with his oldest son David but soon discovered that his help was not needed. “Oh, they were fantastic,” said Robin of the local scout troop. “They were so good; they didn’t need me.”
It wasn’t until David began playing baseball, that Robin saw where he was needed.
In 1970, Robin watched his son’s first year in organized baseball as he played for the Wayne PAL American League. “In my view, they weren’t getting the best out of the kids,” said Robin. “So, I asked them if I could have a team the next year. I was very lucky because the coach that was coaching my son had just moved up, so that left a void and I took over the team.”
Robin’s first season of coaching was in 1971, and no one at the time knew that a career spanning generations had begun.
“I just had a lot of fun from then on in,” said Robin and from then on in, Robin became a staple in Wayne baseball.
Fifty years later, Robin was honored for his contributions to Wayne sports at this week’s Wayne Town Council Meeting.
In the council chambers at the podium in front of the room, Wayne Police Chief, Jack McNiff presented the 2020 Police Chief’s Award for Volunteerism to the legendary baseball and basketball coach.
“Wayne Township is a great place to live and what makes it so great is the enormous number of generous volunteers who try to make our town a better place each and every day,” said McNiff. “Mentoring our children through sports and coaching is a very important part of volunteerism and making Wayne the amazing community that it is. This evening I have the opportunity to recognize the epitome of altruism: Al Robin.”
Standing next to the tall, broad-shouldered police chief, Robin looked diminutive, but his infectious smile lit up the chamber and was reflected in the smiles of all the council members, the Mayor and all the people in attendance that evening.
Robin accepted the award and the proclamation from Mayor Chris Vergano with very few words: “I enjoy when the kids are having fun. I can’t help myself. I would pay to have that job,” he said before thanking everyone and stepping from the microphone.
That is Coach Al.
During his fifty-year tenure, Robin coached almost every level of little league baseball. At one point, while he was coaching his grandsons, Robin was simultaneously coaching four teams in three age groups.
And this was just baseball.
Robin coached basketball for the Wayne PAL, having started in 1978 when his son Steven’s coach had to quit the team because his wife had taken ill.
When he was first asked to take over the basketball team, Robin said: “Gee, I don’t know anything about basketball.” But he was needed, and Robin agreed. Leaning on a friend’s help, Robin did what he did best: motivated, kept it fun and learned as he went.
The key to Robin’s coaching success was not about winning. Winning was incidental.
“Winning is very important to a lot of people but If I had to coach to win, I would have to bench a lot of kids,’ said Robin. “What I wanted was for a team to become a team, then we sacrifice nothing.”
Coach Al went on: “I just wanted to make sure every kid enjoyed themselves. I still do it now. You got to be having fun. I was offered coaching jobs in the schools, but I couldn’t take the jobs because it was all about winning. I just wanted to teach the kids how to play. I enjoy that.”
It was important to Robin that he got the most out of each kid’s ability and made sure that everyone was involved.
“Though we did win the league championship two years in a row,” said Tony DeFuria, who played for Coach Al’s baseball team in 1981 and 1982, “that’s not what I remember most about Coach.”
DeFuria spoke about Robin’s teaching style that was uniquely his. “He taught us philosophies that I used when I coached my children,” said DeFuria.
You hit with your eyes because if you can’t see the ball, you can’t hit the ball. You catch with your legs, because if you aren’t in the right place you can’t catch it. And, you run with your head - if you use your brain and are smart on the bases, you’ll get that steal / extra base that may help your team win.
Nick Hoy posted the following on Facebook about Coach Al: “I’m 26 now and still remember the vanilla cokes in his truck after we won or lost the game. We had some stacked teams but i always remember Coach Al playing everyone fairly and making sure everyone had fun. Thanks Coach Al for teaching us sportsmanship and making baseball fun.”
If you played on Coach Al’s teams, after every game win or lose, you got bubble gum and soda. “And, on my team you get rewarded,” said Robin. If you caught the ball in the outfield, you got to keep the ball. If you stole home, I gave you a gold dollar.”
“Not everyone could hit the ball, so I taught them how to bunt and how to steal bases,” he continued. “You have to use your feet and your brain and be daring.”
In Basketball, the gold dollars were earned if a player scored after getting their own rebound. “Most kids take a shot and stand there and watch it go in,” said Robin. “I wanted my kids to always be moving and following their shots, so I gave the gold dollars for those kids.”
At the end of each season Robin would take his team out for a party. Back in the day, those were held at the Fuddruckers that used to be on Route 23. And, before each party, there would be the parents vs. kids game. Why? “Because it was fun. That’s all,” said Robin.
Al Robin Field
If you’ve visited Captain Kilroy Memorial Park off of Kiwanis Drive in Wayne, you may have seen the baseball field there that was named for Al Robin.
Former player, Jon Budesa had something to do with this.
“I remember Coach Al’s grandson Daniel and I played on the same team when I was nine,” said Budesa who played for Robin for the next four years. This was back when Robin was coaching three teams in the spring: his normal 10, 11, 12 year-old Wayne PBA team, an 8-9 year-old team and T-ball with 6 and 7 year-olds.
Three years later, when twelve-year-old Budesa was asked to do a project in school about someone who he looked up to, he named Coach Al.
“My hero is Al Robin,” wrote Budesa for his project. “He is my hero because he taught me how to love the game of baseball and basketball. He is the best coach you could ever have!”
This project was part of what triggered Budesa’s parents along with many other parents to lobby the Wayne Town Council to honor Robin’s contributions to the town.
In 2008 that lobbying came to fruition as the Township of Wayne renamed Tom’s Lake field at Captain Kilroy Memorial Park to the Al Robin field.
Now Budesa is twenty-seven and having played baseball for Wayne Hills High School and DePaul Catholic as well as in college at Iona, Budesa thought about his time playing for Robin: “Just thinking about why you started playing while you’re doing the hard practices and the early mornings,” said Budesa. “You remember those times when you were little; practicing with Coach Al and the games. It really would bring me back and help me with why I started and what makes the game so enjoyable. Coach Al was instrumental in me developing a love for baseball.”
Wayne Town Councilwoman Jill Sasso is a volunteer basketball coach for the Wayne PAL league. She coaches a team that plays against Robin’s team. “I was intimidated by him last year to be honest with you,” she said with a laugh. “During one of my first practices, we were sharing a court and he was teaching his kids ‘stacks’ under the basket for inbounding plays and I’m just teaching how to dribble and basic rules of the game. He was miles ahead of me.”
Robin has a field named after him, he’s received a proclamation from Wayne Township and an award for a lifetime of volunteerism, he has and continues to receive a level of respect from players and fellow coaches throughout generations, but none of this compares to what truly motivates the man to continue coaching: “I want to make everybody happy. That’s all,” said Robin. “If you felt good, then I felt good.”
What is Robin’s goal for the future? “I want to coach until I can’t,” said Robin with his wide smile. “Because it’s fun!”
Notable Al Robin Quotes:
- “I absolutely love teaching kids because I love to see them excel. It doesn’t matter if they excel in sports, as long as they excel in their life.”
- “When I see a child smile and happy, that’s what gives me the best.”
- “Winning is zero but winning a kid over is the best.”
- “I plant seeds in everybody, so they can excel later.”
- “What makes somebody happy? Getting? No. Giving makes somebody happy. All I did was give and it made me happy. If I can make you happy, then I’m happy.”
- “I like to be low-key. It takes away the heat. I like everything nice, and low. No jealousy, no envy.”
- “If you make the son happy, you make the Father happy, you make the Mother happy, the Grandfather and the Grandmother happy. You make five or six people happy.
- ‘All I wanted a kid to do was try. You are what you are, and you can always get better if you try.”
- “I enjoyed the teams so much that I rarely thought about individuals. It was always about the team.”
- “I would tell the kids: When I was young, I couldn’t do a lot of things. And the only way I learned how to do things was by playing. And nobody was there to tell me I was doing it wrong, so I kept on doing it wrong and had fun.
- The best thing to do is to make somebody happy and you’re happy. When someone is down on themselves and you help to pick them up, and they become happy, then you’re happy again.