Tuesday, May 5, 2015

My Coach, Mr. Fab

After my son, Charlie, recently learned that his beloved baseball coach, Chris Fabiani, left our hometown to coach elsewhere, he requested to be a guest columnist in the newspaper and therefore, a guest blogger, for this week. I am, of course, delighted to welcome my son to my blog and hope it's not his only appearance in this space. Here is his tribute to his former coach and lifelong mentor…..

Millennia from now archaeologists excavating New Fairfield’s Tegmeir Field will find a decayed baseball buried somewhere near right field. The only people who could tell you why that baseball is there would be long gone by then - the 2001 WPBA 12-year old travel team and their coach, Mr. Chris Fabiani.

Recently Chris Fabiani, lovingly known as Mr. Fab to generations of aspiring New Fairfield Major League Baseball players, took a coaching job outside of town. 

For years, Mr. Fab coached here, starting with our WPBA travel team and eventually taking over as the high school freshman baseball coach. I wanted to take the opportunity to remember a few stories from my time with Mr. Fab and thank him for all he’s done for this town and those he coached.

Mr. Fab knows baseball and is a fantastic technical coach, but that’s only part of what makes him special. Mr. Fab never lets his players use age or inexperience as an excuse. He expects everyone to acquit themselves as adults, own up to mistakes, and respect him as well as each other. 

Playing for Mr. Fab was fun--after all, he’s a funny guy, but it was also demanding. There was no babying or coddling. In a world of participation trophies, Mr. Fab mixes tough and fair, fun and serious. If you want recognition from Mr. Fab, you earn it the old fashioned way.

Mr. Fab, knowingly or not, also teaches his players lessons with utility far beyond the confines of a baseball field. When I was 10 years old or so Mr. Fab wanted me to try third base for an inning. It was a new position for me and I nervously took my spot at the hot corner. As it goes in baseball and life, the ball finds you when you don’t want it to. With runners on first and third, a batter hit a sharp ground ball right at me. Instinct took over and I fielded it cleanly, but then froze. The runner from third broke home and I was stuck between throwing home to get him out at the plate or taking the easier out at first. Instead of doing either, I panicked and did what any nervous 10 year old would do: Started biting my fingernails. There I am, with a baseball in my mitt, a runner heading to first and home, chewing on my finger nails. Everyone was safe. 

Suddenly Mr. Fab's voice boomed like a foghorn from the dugout: “Get your fingers out of your mouth and throw the ball!” 

The inning ended and on the way in Mr. Fab rubbed my head. “Come on, are you serious? You’re better than that!” He never let me forget that moment and to this day, I use the memory as a prod into action when frozen by indecision.

Mr. Fab also has a great sense of humor. Once, at a skills competition, he engineered a perfect practical joke on a poor unsuspecting player (me). Positioning a cameraman to the front, he slipped silently behind me and plopped a Yankees helmet on my head. Now, I am a proud Mets fan and was horrified enough to have such blasphemous equipment on my head but imagine my further horror when I realized Mr. Fab had sent that picture into this very newspaper to be seen by the whole town. 

Another time, during a particularly awful season — where every hard-hit ball of ours went right to a fielder and every one of their dribblers found its way through the infield — Mr. Fab arranged a ritual burial of a baseball, signifying the end of our bad luck and a rebirth of our season. I can’t remember if it worked, but I’ll never forget the vaguely religious ceremony Mr. Fab concocted for our benefit. Somewhere out there in the right field foul territory of Tegmeir Field that ball is still buried.

Fun stories aside, Mr. Fab is special because he cares and works hard for his kids. He’s special because he’ll drag a bucket of balls to the field and throw extra batting practice and he’s special because he’ll spend hours trying to teach you a knuckle curve, which never, ever, ever works… sorry, Mr. Fab, but it’s true!

Mr. Fab has spent a lifetime crafting young ballplayers and helping turn them into men. He’s done it for hundreds of people in New Fairfield, and we were all better for it. Speaking for the NF kids you’ve coached over the years: Thank you, Mr. Fab, for demanding the most of us, treating us like adults, and making us better young men. The lessons you taught us on the ball field stay with us still.

Good luck on your new team, although I suspect it was actually their good luck to land you as their new coach.

Charlie Szold

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