John Steadman once wrote of Brooks Robinson, “There’s not a man who knows him who wouldn’t swear for his integrity and honesty and give testimony to his consideration of others. He’s an extraordinary human being, which is important, and the world’s greatest third baseman of all time, which is incidental.”
Joe Falls wrote, “How many times you approached him and got only courtesy and decency in return. A true gentleman who never took himself seriously. I always had the idea he didn’t know he was Brooks Robinson.”
Steve Bazarnic is our Brooks Robinson.
More to the point, Steve Bazarnic is our Steve Bazarnic because he is an extraordinary human being, which is important, and one of the greatest baseball coaches in the world, which is incidental. He is our one and only because I always had the idea he didn’t know he was Steve Bazarnic.
I have grown weary of saying goodbye to people I care about, so I’m not going to say goodbye to Steve, because I won’t allow myself to believe he is going.
Sure, today is the day he is supposed to retire (and while I do believe it, I will really believe it when I see it) from Allegany College of Maryland after 49 wonderful years as teacher, athletic director, one of the greatest baseball coaches in America and the guy who filled any position in the interim if he believed the college and the students needed somebody to do so.
He is uniquely ours, because from the moment Steve and Cathy and their daughter Christie arrived here for the first time from State College, Pennsylvania, in 1970, it seemed as though they had never left. It was as though they belonged here because it seemed as though they had already been here forever. And because they are who they are and live their lives as they do — with kindness, courtesy and decency — they will be here with us always.
This man coached his baseball teams to over 1,400 wins, at one time leading the nation in career victories. He’s sent countless guys to the big leagues, to the television booth, to four-year schools, to careers as law enforcement agents, public servants, United States servicemen, doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, coaches — name a profession and one of Coach Bazarnic’s lads makes his living in it because that is what Steve was put here to do.
Most importantly, he sent his players on to the rest of their lives with the foundation of honesty, care and treating others better than you treat yourself — not by lesson planning or lecture, but by example.
Steve Bazarnic is an NJCAA Hall of Famer; in fact, he was in the Hall of Fame in the very prime of his career. He has won countless championships, took teams to nine NJCAA World Series, has been named Coach of the Year as many times as some of us go to the market, and has been honored twice by the Dapper Dan Club of Allegany County for being the person to bring our area the most national recognition through athletics.
Yet he’s never understood what the fuss it about, which, of course, is precisely what the fuss is. We love Steve Bazarnic as he loves all of us.
The Allegany County Board of Commissioners declared June 10 to be Steve Bazarnic Day. I wonder how they had to trick him to attend?
You’ve seen Steve running or riding his bike in just about every neighborhood in town, you see him tirelessly preparing the ACM field — affectionately known as The Rock — by himself so his players will have the perfect surface to practice and play on. You see him throwing batting practice. You see him in the market helping older customers by carrying their groceries. You see him in the West Side during the winter shoveling his neighbors’ sidewalks.
You would think his being in a baseball uniform would be Steve in his true element because he looks so natural and perfect when he is and, God help him, he does love it so. Yet Steve’s true element is teaching, being with his family and his friends and meeting new friends and helping others; not because he sets out to do these things, but because that is just what you do.
The first time I met Steve was in May of 1984 when I covered the Trojans’ doubleheader sweep of Brookdale, New Jersey, in the District Tournament championship, which sent them to the World Series for the first time. The stars of the day were two local pitchers, Robbie Russell and J.R. Perdew, who pitched complete games and silenced the mighty bats of the Jersey Blues and bested their heralded pitcher, Jim Hunter.
Russell, who would go on to enjoy a good career pitching in the Pirates organization, was easy to talk to afterward, but, for the most part, a pretty quiet and reserved guy.
Perdew, on the other hand, made Russell look like a stand-up comedian by comparison. Getting J.R. to speak at all in those days was a task within itself. Yet now, thanks to the influence of Steve Bazarnic, you can’t get J.R. to shut up in several different languages he has learned along the way as a Chicago White Sox pitching instructor.
It was a grand and glorious day on The Rock; one I will remember for the rest of my days because it still brings a smile to my heart. I had never been so happy for anybody I had just met as I was for Steve Bazarnic that afternoon, for I had never met a more humble or gracious person in my life up to that point than Steve Bazarnic. Thirty-five years later, I still haven’t.
Steve Bazarnic had me at hello, which is why I refuse to say goodbye. All I can say to him is what he has always said to me, which is, “You done good.” And, “Hey, thanks.”
“Hey, thanks,” from the bottom of the hearts of all of us in this very grateful community.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeCTN.