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Norwich — Hanging out before Friday's game, Phil Orbe looked nothing like the beaten down man that appeared on the verge of walking off into the sunset last August.
Orbe enthusiastically talked about the Mystic Schooners' fast start from the Dodd Stadium dugout prior to their New England Collegiate Baseball League game against Newport.
It is the same Newport that ended Mystic's season last summer in the Eastern Division Championship series.
Orbe took the loss hard and expressed doubts about returning for his third season as Mystic manager. But he never seriously considered stepping down.
"Physically and emotionally, I was drained from just the ups and downs of the season," Orbe said. "I always think that's a good thing because you're emotionally invested into something. The kids gave us everything they had and I felt as if we let them down by not being able to get to the next round because we played well enough to win.
"At that point, it's like a boxer who just went through 15 rounds of fighting and was beat to heck. I'm not sure he's thinking about his next fight. But it's a wonderful organization. Our management team that we have is second to none. So it makes it very easy to decide to spend a summer doing this."
Mystic's management team includes dedicated owner Tom Marra and general manager/pitching coach Dennis Long, two people who share Orbe's passion for the game. Marra celebrated his birthday Friday by throwing out the first pitch.
During a dinner meeting last fall, Marra reassured Orbe that he remained fully committed to pushing the Schooners, who had the best season in Mystic franchise history last summer, in the right direction.
"It made me feel good," Orbe said.
Orbe couldn't survive the daily grind of summer baseball without help from Long. Orbe also received the backing of the MVP in his life - his wife, Paula, who plays a vital behind the scenes role.
There's certainly no doubt that Orbe has baseball in his blood. Take what happened just a few weeks ago.
All in a matter of hours, Orbe went from coaching his Montville High School team in a crushing 11-inning loss in the Class M quarterfinals to driving to Wakefield, R.I. for Mystic's season opener against Ocean State. He arrived in the fourth inning.
The next morning, Orbe went back to the high school field with Paula to close up for the season.
"It was a good thing my wife was with me," Orbe said, "because those moments of solitude when I'm cleaning the field at the end of the season are not always my shiniest moments. It was good but I'm still not over the high school season."
Orbe has shifted his focus to the Schooners, who saw a six-game winning streak end with a 9-5 loss on Friday.
Mystic (7-2) is tied for first place in the Southern Division.
Mystic has its usual cast of good characters. The Schooners also can point to superb pitching and timely hitting as reasons for a successful start. Their defense still needs work, though.
It should be another enjoyable summer season for Orbe, who doesn't appear to be slowing down.
He says he'll know where it's time to quit.
"The one day I wake up and I don't want to go to a practice and I don't want to go to a game, I'll start thinking about it," Orbe said. "But it's not all of me. I'd like to think I'm a lot more than just baseball. For Christmas and Father's Day, believe it or not, I get some books that have nothing to do with baseball. I have some interests other than that.
"It's certainly a big part of who I've become, but I don't think it defines me as a whole."