AP NEWS

Baseball A baseball bloodline

April 13, 2019

The 1989 film “Field of Dreams” romanticized every father’s and son’s desire to play catch. The final scene tugged at the heartstrings of every American who grew up with baseball in their bloodlines.

But for Joe Garbowski, this isn’t just a dream. He has been able to live that scene as both the Kevin Costner and Dwier Brown characters for most of the last decade, combining his two biggest passions of baseball and family into one memorable ride.

The New Fairfield coach is sandwiched between two other generations of Garbowskis, who have given their immense commitment to the sport. His father, Mike, has been an assistant with the Rebels since 1993, while son Matt is a rising prospect who is expected to head to a Division I school in the not-too-distant future.

It’s been a dream come true, said Joe, a teacher in Carmel, N.Y. and coach of the Rebels since 2009.

“I think it’s really cool,” said Joe, who led the Rebels to an SWC title in 2016. “There’s no question it’s something that is special. Every dad dreams of it, especially when you’re a sports enthusiast. The first thing you bring to a hospital is some type of sports paraphernalia that you believe in. And that is just instilled.”

Joe graduated from New Fairfield in 1995 after playing varsity for four years. He was part of a state final run in 1994 and was an All-State selection. He, along with his brother, played four years at LIU-Brooklyn. A brief minor league career ended with the transition to family life in the only town he knows.

New Fairfield has maintained its consistency in the decade Joe has been at the helm. Four straight years of 12 wins will likely become a fifth this term.

“When you have a vested interest in a town, it’s different, because you see everyone at the gas station,” Joe said. “I saw (boys lacrosse coach Marty Morgan) commit himself from the 4-year old to the senior in high school. That’s something we have to do for baseball. It’s working; something is.”

LESSONS AT HOME

Mike’s father, Al, was a talented player in his own right, but never told his seven children. Al worked in a sugar factory in Yonkers, N.Y., and played for the Detroit Tigers in 1952. Mike, who discovered the secret in his teenage years, stopped playing the game in high school and immediately took up coaching when he moved to New Fairfield to raise his own family.

The town postmaster while Joe grew up, Mike was constantly involved in his son’s baseball upbringing. In town, travel and Babe Ruth leagues all featured a Garbowski at the plate or in the dugout. Taking an old-school approach, there was the opposite of favoritism.

“Every other kid got a nice easy pitch to them when it was time for dad-son pitch,” Joe said. “When I got up the story was, ‘Why is that kid getting a harder ball thrown at him?’ We had some good times.”

Mike assisted on several coaching staffs during his close to 30 years at the school.

“(Joe’s) group of friends, about 90 percent were from single-parent families,” Mike said. “We went to games and there would be only one or two mothers. … The 12 guys needed my guidance and I was more than just a coach to them, (often) I was their father. I found it very rewarding with the younger ones.”

NEXT GENERATION

The oldest of three children, Matt has appeared to combine the natural athleticism of his dad and the dedication of his grandfather. A jitterbug who wouldn’t stop moving, from throwing, catching or swinging, Matt grew up on the town’s fields asking his grandfather to play catch while Joe coached older groups.

Joe began coaching his son in T-ball, applying the same lessons he learned 15 years earlier. After a few years apart, the pair joined up earlier than expected in 2018.

Just like Joe, Matt, a natural catcher, made varsity as a freshman last season in left field. Both were concerned about perceived favoritism, but it didn’t take Matt’s talents long to shine through. He led the team with 15 RBIs.

“I was very excited, but I started to think I felt like I had this pressure on me,” Matt said, “with parents and kids saying, ‘Well, obviously the coach’s son is going to be on varsity.’ ”

Matt is coming off a big summer on the travel circuit, which led to his verbal commitment to the University of Connecticut. He was a last-minute addition to a team from Massachusetts, and attended a showcase event in Indiana that featured 252 colleges. Displaying his skills in front of this group was a slightly different type of pressure from home.

“Going to these showcases with 252 schools and pro scouts was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” Matt said. “I loved it because the baseball competition was the best I’ve ever been around at my age level.”

A love for a particular school led Matt to be comfortable with making an early decision.

“UConn was my dream school,” Matt said. “When I was younger we’d go to UConn games with aunts and uncles and tailgate. From then, that’s when I knew I wanted to go there.”

The last decade has seen roles shift to Mike assisting his son with the varsity program at New Fairfield. The student-pupil relationship remains the same, though.

“As far as teaching and coaching goes, everything I know I owe it to him,” Joe said. “The knowledge of the game, the intricacy of the game itself; I learned a lot from him and he learned it from his father.”

For the next two-plus years, Mike, Joe and Matt will share the same field, and that Garbowski baseball chapter will close. Another will begin when Matt’s younger brother, Kyle, reaches the high school level.

“I think (Matt) is going to surpass his father and his uncles; he’s so dedicated,” Mike said. “I had to force him into going fishing with me, and force him to love it. Because otherwise he’d be swinging the bat.”

rlacey@bcnnew.com, twitter.com/ryanlacey11