A BASEBALL MAN D
an Gooley sits in the cool shade of the visiting team dugout. Ball cap secure on his head, he leans back on the bench and loosely grips a bat between his hands. A timeless scene unfolds in front of him. Green grass. Blue skies. The snap of a ball hitting a glove. This is Gooley’s kind of day in a life full of these kinds of days. Glancing at the scene around him, he pronounces it his “pure, unadulterated home.” But those days are running out for the man universally known as Skip around the Quinnipiac University campus in Hamden, Conn. Gooley is retiring at the end of the 2014 baseball season after a career worthy of an oldtime baseball movie – but not the one you’re thinking of. It’s not the one where the underdog hits the pinch-hit, walk-off home run to send the team to the World Series. It’s the one where the good guy from the common clay struggles, yet ultimately inspires loyalty in his players and keeps the purity of the game alive, even if just for a little while. When Quinnipiac athletic director Jack McDonald first met Gooley, he thought he was too good to be true and pinned him as an Eddie Haskell from “Leave it to Beaver”: a gentleman in public, but a villain on the side. It didn’t take him long to realize just how wrong he was. “This is a quality guy,” McDonald said. “He’s everything you’d want in a head coach. Everything I’d want as a head coach for our student-athletes – follows the rules, energetic, knows the game, always positive.” Whether his team is on a hot streak or enduring a slump, Gooley’s mentality is simple: learn, but focus on the next pitch, the next game. “Say we’re playing a doubleheader,” junior pitcher Matt Lorenzetti said. “We lose the first game, in extra innings, on a walkoff home run. Totally demoralizing. If you saw Skip 25 minutes later and we’re getting prepared for the next game, you wouldn’t have even known.” Players often feel at home the moment they meet the man. Such was the case for Lorenzetti when he visited Quinnipiac as a prospective recruit. “Once I was here I didn’t want to leave,” Lorenzetti said. “He’s very passionate and you can really see it in terms of players who just came
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back. We get guys coming back to practices, we Among his top players: Turk Wendell, who get guys coming to visit us in games … players went on to a sturdy career as a reliever in Major are still so loyal to him even after they’ve League Baseball. graduated [and it’s] a real testament to the kind In 1988, Gooley left to coach the Division I of guy he is.” baseball team at the University of Hartford. There Gooley, 67, is a baseball and Quinnipiac he coached Jeff Bagwell, who has since played 15 lifer, a university Hall-of-Famer whose career years in the MLB and earned National League spans generations. Coming into this season, MVP honors in 1994 with the Houston Astros. his Quinnipiac coaching record was 406-442“You get lucky once in your life to have Turk 7, making him the school’s all-time leader in Wendell, and you get lucky to have Jeff Bagwell,” coaching victories. Gooley said. “I mean he’s the greatest player He grew up in New Haven, Conn., and I ever coached. I don’t know if I ever coached attended first Hillhouse High School, then him to be honest with you.” He laughed. “I don’t Cheshire Academy for a year before he was think I did. I think I got smart, I just got out of recruited for the Quinnipiac baseball team by the the way, let him do what he wanted.” athletic director, Burt Kahn. Yet even in a life defined by the wisdom he Gooley first set foot on the Quinnipiac has imparted from the dugout, Gooley took a baseball field in 1966, detour once that proved decades before the school he could succeed in any became a university and “If you’re in a facet of the game. changed its team nickname baseball dugout, After five seasons, he from the Braves to the left Hartford in 1992 to whether it’s snowing join the Starter Corp. Bobcats. Baseball was a bit different New Haven. At the or ice or rain or sleet in when he starred as a pitcher time, Starter stood as one on the Quinnipiac team ... the baseball gods of the premier official – before there were thick suppliers of apparel for are smiling. They rosters (14 players then, professional sports teams. 27 now), lengthy seasons smile at you.” Gooley worked in the pro(25 games then, 56 now), team service division and specialized pitchers and - DAN GOOLEY oversaw the Major League aluminum bats. When he Baseball apparel account. graduated in 1970 with a degree in marketing, In his last year he became director of the entire he was part of the first-ever class to spend all pro-team division. four years on the Mount Carmel campus. At Starter, Gooley’s combination of charm and “It was great,” Gooley said of his college persistence revealed itself, all on behalf of his dad, experience. “I had a very solid career … we won Raymond. His humility also showed, because two championships. It was awesome. My college very few actually know what he did there. baseball playing days were the best.” In 1995, Gooley’s ailing father gave him The The following year, Kahn hired Gooley to Ultimate Baseball Book for Christmas. Gooley serve as assistant coach of the baseball team. said he wanted to do something special for his His job description expanded to assistant soccer father, at the major league level. coach, physical education teacher and sports “Well, what do you think about changing information director as well. He soon became the look of the Yankees’ jacket?” Raymond head baseball coach. proposed, as he casually flipped through the Gooley coached at Quinnipiac for 16 years, pages of the book. The Yankees had worn jackets leading his team to the 1979 NCAA Division with the interlocking NY since the era of New II Regional Tournament and then the NCAA York greats like Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio and Division II College World Series in 1983. Mickey Mantle.
April 23, 2014
BY REBECCA CASTAGNA