STANDISH — Will Sanborn pulled his St. Joseph’s College baseball team together following a practice Monday for a few final words, then dismissed them. As the players dispersed, Sanborn had one more thing to do.
He hopped into the driver’s seat of a four-wheeler and dragged the baseball field at Mahaney Diamond. When the infield dirt was again smooth … that’s when his work was done on this day.
You’d think a guy who recently won his 600th career game might have someone else do this. Not Sanborn.
He is in his 22nd season as head coach at his alma mater, where he played baseball at a time where the team had to play its home games off campus. It has been his hand guiding the program to be one of the best – and best-kept secrets – in New England Division III baseball.
The Monks (28-13) will be making their fifth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Division III regional tournament this week. St. Joe’s, seeded sixth, opens on Wednesday with a 4:30 p.m. game against No. 3 Tufts in the double-elimination tournament at Whitehouse Field in Harwich, Massachusetts.
The University of Southern Maine received an at-large bid and the No. 2 seed in the tournament. The Huskies will play No. 7 Worcester State University at 8 p.m. Wednesday. USM won two games from Worcester State early in the season.
Others may seem impressed by Sanborn’s achievement but he would rather talk about what his Monks have accomplished. Over the last 10 seasons, St. Joseph’s has a record of 320-125.
“I look at it the way you should look at it,’’ said the 50-year-old Sanborn, who has a career record of 601-332-5.
“The teams that I’ve coached have won 600 games. I haven’t won one myself. We’ve had a lot of great players over the years, and kids committed to what we’re trying to do here. That’s made it enjoyable and, yeah, we’ve had our share of success.
“It’s a nice milestone, I think, for the program. But we don’t put too much stock in stuff like that.’’
Maybe that’s why his No. 600 celebration was somewhat subdued. He managed to duck away from most of the water-cooler shower his players tried to throw on him. Later, he took his wife, Lynn Brown, out for a quiet dinner.
“Her birthday was the next day,’’ said Sanborn. “So it worked out great.’’
Almost as if he planned it that way.
“He doesn’t like to talk about accolades,’’ said Alex Lorenc, a senior right fielder from Nanuet, New York. “He’s all about the next game. And that’s probably why he’s been so successful.”
Sanborn is the 44th coach in NCAA Division III history to win at least 600 games, and the eighth in New England. That list also includes USM’s Ed Flaherty (873 wins in 29 years) and Tufts’ John Casey (who, like Sanborn, achieved that milestone this year and stands at 607 wins in 31 years).
“That is an outstanding program and Will, in particular, forms that,’’ said Flaherty. “It’s his tempo, it’s the way he wants to do it, it’s the kids he wants to do it with. I have nothing but the utmost respect for what he’s done at St. Joe’s. When you play them, it’s tough.’’
Steve Merrill, an assistant on Sanborn’s staff for the last three years, said Sanborn has established a culture of success, much like Flaherty has done at USM – one of the nation’s premier Division III programs.
“It’s about being respectful, trying to do the right thing,’’ he said. “And that extends to the game of baseball, playing the game the right way.
“That’s really at the foundation of all his success.’’
Merrill lauded Sanborn’s organizational skills, his ability to recruit kids “who like baseball’’ and his attention to detail.
His players say he is very easy to play for.
“He really knows how to put confidence in his players,’’ said Nick Whittaker, a senior pitcher from Yarmouth. “That’s one of his best attributes.’’
“When you go away to college, you want to play for a coach you like,’’ said Lorenc. “Coach Sanborn does a good job. He tells you how it is and how to get there. And he obviously helps you get there … He never tells you things you do wrong, he tells you how to do them better.’’
His son, junior pitcher Lincoln Sanborn, said Will Sanborn has a special relationship with all his players.
“As long as you hustle and give your all, that’s what he looks for in guys,’’ said Lincoln Sanborn, who grew up watching his father improve their playing field piece by piece. “The bullpen catcher, who will never get an at-bat or see the field, he treats those guys the exact same way he treats the .350, all-conference guy. I think he’s a player’s coach.’’
Coach Sanborn recently gave his players a history lesson of the program. He wants them to know where the program came from and what it will take to keep it going forward.
“It means a lot to me and the guys to be part of something that is bigger than yourself,’’ he said.
“Now it’s their responsibility to keep it moving forward and going to the next level.’’
Raking the field and taking out the trash? “The guys take pride in that,’’ said Sanborn.
And he has great pride in where his program is now. That’s why he’s never considered leaving.
“I live eight miles from campus, I grew up in Standish,’’ he said. “Sometimes I think, ‘Gee, what place could I have gone?’ But I really enjoy where I’m at. You rarely get to build something and continue to see it grow. I’ve always said I’d stay as long as there was room to grow and get better.
“Right now we’re a New England contender. But there’s still room to grow. I think this program can win that regional and get better.’’
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: