STANDISH – When cars pulled up to the gas pumps at his family’s service station, young Will Sanborn hustled out to greet the customers. The tanks filled and purchases completed, Sanborn headed back to the chair in the office.

Until the day his grandfather walked in. What are you doing, Will?

Waiting for the next customer, Sanborn said. No, said the older man, the tires need to be re-sorted and re-stacked. The restroom probably needs cleaning. Go find work before it finds you.

That explains why Sanborn was back in the baseball office at St. Joseph’s College this week after his team finally was knocked out of the 2010 NCAA Division III New England regional tournament. A season on a breakneck pace for weeks was suddenly over.

His boss told him to take a few days off. Consider it a reward. St. Joseph’s was seeded eighth in the tournament that sends its winner to the national championship. The Monks lost their first game and baseball pundits expected a second defeat and quick exit.

St. Joseph’s was the Great Northeast Athletic Conference champion this year, but the league hasn’t earned much respect. Its teams typically don’t fare well in the postseason.

St. Joseph’s won its next three games. Many in the crowd at the Eastern Connecticut State tournament site became converts, if only for a couple of days. When top-seeded Tufts sent St. Joseph’s home with a 6-5 win that took 11 innings last Saturday, it was with respect.

Back in Maine, Sanborn might have gone fishing. This was his 18th season. Seven times his teams have won 30 games or more. They typically play 40 or so.

No one questions Sanborn’s coaching ability. C’mon coach, you earned the week off. But no, Sanborn had to find work before it found him.

“I feel a little dirty when I don’t work,” he said, pausing. “Don’t worry, I know how to take time off.”

He has 200 names of high school players in his data base. In the perpetual cycle of college sports, he needs recruits. He has trips to plan.

“I want to see players with my own eyes,” he said. “You look for talent first and foremost and then you look a lot for those intangibles. I love to see the kid who runs out to his position, how he carries himself as a ballplayer and not like a 2-year-old with (a dirty diaper.)

Sanborn has little time for players with supersized egos in need of attitude readjustment. Only two of his players have signed professional contracts: outfielder Steve Osborne in 2001 and Charlie Furbush in 2007, after he transferred to Louisiana State University.

Yet one large wall in Sanborn’s office is running out of room for the photos of the ballplayers who earned conference honors and their coach’s admiration.

“He’s a holistic coach,” said Father John Tokaz, formerly the chaplain at St. Joseph’s for nine years. “He coaches on all levels. Baseball primarily, but he coaches guys to develop themselves morally, socially and spiritually.

“When a player is in a good place, he’s going to play better.”

Now a parish priest in the Finger Lakes region of New York, Father John was in Maine last week to celebrate a wedding. On his return trip to New York, he veered off the interstate to stop in Mansfield, Conn. He watched St. Joseph’s lose to Tufts.

“I told them progress is never a defeat. This was a disappointment, not a defeat.”

For Sanborn, the loss is a sting that is slowly lessening.

“You don’t know when you’re going to get that close again,” he said. “We’re still a small Catholic college.”

Each year he works to improve one of the nicer small college baseball facilities.

“After Larry Mahaney was so generous in giving us the money for a field, we really don’t have million-dollar donors. Everything’s done one hot dog, one raffle ticket at a time.”

Sanborn calls it kicking the can forward. Arlo Pike was Sanborn’s teammate on St. Joseph’s teams 25 years ago and recalls his friend’s patience.

“He didn’t have the best swing. It wasn’t the most fluid,” Pike said. “You’d never mistake him for (Alex Rodriguez.) But he was our leadoff man and he drew the most walks.

“No one on our team outworked Will, either. He never settled for second best. Coach (Jim) Graffam organized a team competition once between the freshmen and the upperclassmen. Will lost a foot race by a step or two and felt so bad he couldn’t help his team, he was apologizing.

“I don’t know anyone who’s more humble than Will.”

I made the mistake of asking for Sanborn for an interview, saying it was time he stepped out of the large shadow cast by the University of Southern Maine program and its veteran coach, Ed Flaherty. USM has won two national Division III titles and advanced to other national tournaments.

Sanborn didn’t want a light shone on his team’s accomplishments if it somehow darkened Flaherty’s legacy. Then he mentioned his son Lincoln, a star at Bonny Eagle High School, who attended Flaherty’s summer baseball camp.

“They had something going last year,” said Sanborn. “Linc would wear a USM shirt if Ed wore a St. Joe’s cap.”

The temporary swap in allegiances was pulled off nicely. Humility aside, Sanborn appreciates your tip of the cap.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]