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Mystic - It is something of an irritant to the proud folks of Mystic that youth sports teams in Waterford - baseball and softball - command many headlines here in the spring and summer. They've had it up to their drawbridge with 06385, the winning, the history.
After all, the Mystics reason, they can trumpet tradition, too, not to mention a current starter in the majors (Matt Harvey) and a recent Gatorade State Softball Player of the Year (Brianna Turgeon).
And nobody else at the moment symbolizes Mystic baseball and softball better than Tom Taber, the face of it all. The man is busier than Times Square. He is a husband and a dad. He is a businessman, running the Taber Inne in town. He coached daughter Caroline's softball team to the state Junior League (ages 13 and 14) championship and within an eyelash of the World Series. He was the assistant coach on son Tommy's 10-11 baseball team. And next year, he'll coach daughter Fiona's 9-10 softball team, too.
But it's his persona - confident, swagger, cool shades coaching third base - that merit the occasional wrinkled nose across the river. Tom Taber's teams haven't merely beaten Waterford in recent years. He's become a bit of a villain. Every good story needs one.
Taber's baseball/softball summer has ended. No more games until fall ball. It was unforgettable. Even better, next summer bears as much promise.
"The kids who are a year ahead of my daughter had never won anything. And they're a real good group of kids," Taber said Wednesday. "That group got a chance to win this summer (in Junior League). That was the best part about the whole thing. I was happier for them than I was for my own kid. I've coached a lot of them since they were six or seven."
It began for Caroline Taber, a promising pitcher, last fall. Their team played in a Rhode Island league, doubleheaders every Sunday through October. Then came workouts at Connecticut College every Saturday at 8 a.m. and at Mike Turgeon's baseball facility every Sunday during the winter. Caroline also worked with a pitching coach, Christy Dukehart, the former Ledyard High great.
Taber used the room with the indoor pool at Taber Inne, reasoning that it was climate controlled in the winter, for Dukehart and his daughter's lessons.
Told you he's a busy guy.
"I'm up at 6 every day," Taber said. "I open the hotel every morning. I don't miss a morning. I work till two or three, go to practice or a game and then go home for dinner and to hang out with family. At about 9:30 at night, it's back to the hotel till midnight."
There isn't a hint of hyperbole in suggesting that it's the Tom Tabers of the world who fortify communities. Some towns are disjointed, awash in distractive noise. Mystic has a center. It's because Taber and some people who came before him care so deeply.
"I wouldn't consider myself such a sports guy," he said. "I was a CPA. My wife (Gerry) is a doctor of chemistry (at Pfizer). I make it a point to stress education to the kids. I'd give up all of baseball and softball for that."
That's not to suggest, though, that Taber's not proud of what he's wrought. His softball team has beaten Waterford two straight summers now in Little League and Junior League.
"I don't want to use the wrong words here, but Waterford's just another team," Taber said. "Their kids are just like our kids."
Besides, Mystic has a budding rivalry with someone else.
Taber's team lost to Fairfield in the 2011 state championship but managed some revenge this summer.
"I was watching the Little League World Series the other night and Terry Francona (on ESPN) kept raving about all the Fairfield programs," Taber said. "To be honest, Fairfield is more on the radar these days than Waterford."
Oooooh. That was a direct hit.
Taber, also heavily involved in the Mystic Irish Parade and the soccer programs in town, has plenty to occupy his time until it's time for bats and gloves again. Look for him at third base. He's the guy with the shades. And plenty of pride in his town.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.