When it came to Orbe coaching the Schooners, it was destiny

This was last September, the start of another school year and a grand time for Phil Orbe to sit down with his favorite book, "The Alchemist." It's an international best-seller about finding one's destiny and fulfilling it.

"I always want to challenge myself and better myself," Orbe said.

This is not necessarily easy, especially for a guy who won state baseball championship No. 3 at Montville High a few months earlier.

So there was Orbe reading his book about personal betterment when a day or two later, he was reading again. This time an email. And under the category of "eerie coincidence," the email's subject matter was about Orbe's personal betterment.

The email came from Bill Donovan, publicist for the Mystic Schooners, the summer league college baseball team that had just completed its first summer. The Schooners wanted to talk to Orbe about the head coaching job.

"I'm not overly spiritual, but I do believe things happen for a reason," Orbe said. "I was truly flattered. I went into the interview not necessarily expecting much. Three hours later I'm the coach. Unbelievable."

And in one email and three-hour interview, the Schooners' relevance swelled like a passenger's side air bag. The Schooners were a new team last summer with few connections to the community. Tough sell. Until now. It's no longer some random team. It's Phil's team. The baseball community knows him. The curiosity factor alone should mean more butts in the seats at the new lawn of Fitch High.

"I've watched him coach now for several years," said Donovan, who has broadcasted many of Orbe's games. "He is organized, has the respect of his players, puts in the necessary time to make the Montville program a success and has had a number of players go on to college and to the pros. He's one of the best 'game coaches' around."

Orbe recently earned his 300th coaching victory at Montville. His players, current and former, are invested. Orbe allows his coaches freedom. It's a program to be copied and envied.

But there's life clear of 800 Old Colchester Road. And in quieter times, Orbe let his mind run a little, thinking about coaching older players. Not many coaches get this kind of chance a few minutes from home.

"I spoke at length to both John Schiffner (a two-time championship coach on Cape Cod) and Chris Podeszwa (former assistant on the Cape) to get a feel for summer baseball and to balance the high school thing and the summer thing," Orbe said.

Orbe, a teacher at the high school, isn't home much from mid-March to mid-June. Coaching the Schooners would demand more time. Hence, time for The Talk with the family came quickly: wife, Paula, and three daughters.

"They were the most important people I talked to," he said. "It would impact their summer. There's not necessarily going to be a family vacation. I won't be home a lot in evenings. The girls didn't mind. And getting four women to sit down at a table and agree on something is not the easiest thing to do."

Orbe joins general manager Dennis Long, the former East Lyme High School and UConn great, in the all-eastern Connecticut production for the summer. The Schooners came here largely because of Groton Board of Education member Bob Peruzzotti, whose diligence allowed for the new field at Fitch and a new team to root for over the summer.

The Schooners will have players from Virginia Tech, Duke, San Diego State, Seton Hall, Notre Dame, UConn and Central Florida, among others. Now they'll have a coach, general manager and other employees who know that "Mystic" is a town in eastern Connecticut and not some guy who practices spiritual intuition.

"I'm not looking to leave Montville," Orbe said. "This is the perfect opportunity to coach elite college players 15 minutes from my house, rather than having to go somewhere else to do it. I'm blessed to have this opportunity. Our home games will be events this summer people won't want to miss."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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