Love of baseball pulls Orbe back to NECBL's Mystic Schooners

Phil Orbe once called managing the Mystic Schooners "a young man's thing."

Orbe was reminded of those words, which were uttered when he walked away from coaching the Schooners after the 2017 season, on Monday afternoon while talking about his comeback.

Apparently, coaching baseball is his fountain of youth.

Orbe, 48, will return to the dugout this summer for the New England Collegiate Baseball League season. He's already engaged in helping Mystic owner Dennis Long build a roster and doing the behind the scenes work to prepare for 2019.

"Being away from it for a year proved to me that I did miss it and maybe I wasn't quite ready to be done with it," Orbe said. "Fortunately, sometimes you get to have a do-over.

"I feel a little similar to that boxer who announces his retirement, sits out for a year and then comes back to fight again. That wasn't the intent of it. When I walked away that fall, the intent was that I wasn't going back. But situations change and my perspective on some things have changed. I'm happy to back. I'm fortunate that Dennis and (co-owner) Don (Benoit) welcomed me back.

"We're going to make it a good summer for the boys."

Orbe is most successful coach in Schooner franchise history, leading Mystic to 136 wins, including 13 in the playoffs, in six seasons and to its only NECBL championship in 2016.

A season away from the Schooners made Orbe realize how much he enjoyed the job and relationships with his players and extended Mystic family. He's gotten a lot of phone calls and text messages from host families since his return.

"It's the connectivity that you get with the kids," Orbe said. "That's something you understand how it is while you're doing it, but you don't understand how addicting it is when you're not doing it. You kind of take it for granted. ... You don't really realize how genuine and authentic it is until you're not doing it anymore."

Rest and rejuvenated, Orbe started looking for a baseball coaching job last year, using Long as a reference. With Rob Bono leaving after one season as Mystic manager, Long reached out to Orbe about coming back.

After thinking about it for a few weeks, Orbe, Montville High School's athletic director, gladly accepted the offer.

Long will return to his position as pitching coach after taking a season off. Eric Degre, a former assistant coach for the NECBL's Newport franchise, will serve as as an assistant coach. He was hired as an assistant coach for the Coast Guard Academy baseball team last fall.

"He's someone I've been in contact with since his days in Newport," Orbe said. "When this opened up, he was the first call I made for the assistant coach."

Orbe takes over a Mystic team that went 22-22 last season and qualified for the NECBL playoffs for the sixth straight year, the longest active streak in the league. The roster already was in the process of being assembled before Orbe's return.

Catcher Nick Cardieri (Stetson), outfielder Steve Barmakian (George Washington), outfielder Shane Kelly (Bryant) and Central Connecticut State University infielder TT Bowens, a Montville graduate, will return to the Schooners, according to Orbe.

Bowens is recovering from a knee injury that he suffered last fall.

"He won't be back until April for Central," Orbe said. "He should be all set to go for us this summer."

Orbe's return to the Schooners will mean fewer things will get done around the house during the summer months. His wife, Paula, gave her blessing for Orbe to return.

"She is always very supportive of me," Orbe said. "There were a lot of things that I was able to accomplish around the house that we had put off — cutting back the shrubs, doing the lawn, building a deck in the back. There's only so much of that. I can't build an addition to the house or anything.

"She was happy, I think, about all the things that I was able to get done last summer. I think I've got at least a pass for this summer."

g.keefe@theday.com

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