By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING – How do you say goodbye to a legend?
If the legend is Frank Carey, coach of the North Reading High School varsity baseball team for 47 years and the winningest high school baseball coach in the history of Massachusetts, you say it with respect and admiration, inspiration and nostalgia for a lifetime of accomplishment in molding the lives of hundreds of young men.
And humor. You say it with a lot of humor.
All of those qualities were on full display at the Hillview Country Club last Saturday night, as 325 people attended the “Tribute and Roast” to mark the end of Carey’s coaching career.
In addition to master of ceremonies Mark Bisognano, 10 speakers took the microphone to offer their personal reflections and memories of Carey, who wore many hats in his coaching career that spanned parts of six decades, including that of teacher, mentor and friend. But all agreed the hat the fit best was a baseball cap.
In his storied coaching career at NRHS from 1968 to 2014, Carey’s teams won a state record 736 games, including five state championships. He was elected to the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame and was named National High School Coach of the Year in 2012. His 315 North Reading baseball alumni are scattered in all parts of the country but 100 of them made the trip back to North Reading for his retirement party.
Peter Hill, NRHS Class of 1970, who played for Carey and a former North Reading teacher, joked that the evening’s entertainment would be “a big boost for Frank and his fragile ego and poor self esteem.”
It’s hard to believe now that Carey was hired in September of 1965 to teach science at NRHS “after a stellar career at URI, where the only thing lower than his batting average was his g.p.a.,” Hill kidded.
John O’Brien, current varsity baseball coach at Lynnfield High School, “and the only one here from the enemy camp,” spoke of their friendly rivalry over the years as coaches of two of the Cape Ann League’s premier baseball programs.
“We had some great battles between Lynnfield and North Reading over the years and we always respected each other’s programs and players. At the end we always shook hands and wished each other well.”
O’Brien called Carey “a terrific coach and a great friend.”
“The legacy he has left here will be hard to match. He is a true sportsman who lives the game of baseball 365 days a year. His kids play for him and they play as a team,” O’Brien said.
Other speakers included former NRHS Athletic Director Roy Condon, soccer coach and teacher from 1971 to 2005, Carey’s son-in-law Mark Marcinko, former players Adam Kacamburas, Class of 2000, Pat Lee, Class of 1973, Bill Moss, Class of 1999, Steve Cappezzuto, Class of 1988, Greg Stewart, Class of 1974, Jon Bernard, the principal of NRHS from 2003 to 2014 and now superintendent and School Committee Chairman Jerry Venezia.
Moss, an all star catcher for Carey and now a major in the U.S. Army, said that before he left North Reading and joined the military, he learned a lot of things in this community, through his parents and also at the high school and especially from baseball.
“I learned things like shared suffering and that it was something special to play for North Reading. In the military I learned never to lower your standards to be like someone else. And that was a lesson I also learned in the batting cage, in the gym and on those spring afternoons. Never lower your standards. There’s always going to be a Lynnfield but we’re North Reading.”
Stewart, who graduated over 40 years ago, took the microphone and asked the 100 baseball alumni in the hall to stand up. When they all did, Stewart said, “We’re with you now, coach. We’ll always be with you.”
Supt. Bernard and Venezia appeared to tell Carey that the School Committee had voted to officially retire his uniform number, 13, and present him with a framed “Carey 13” North Reading baseball jersey. Venezia joked that he never knew Carey even had a number because no one ever saw him in anything other than his green baseball jacket.
Bernard saluted Carey as someone “not afraid to give his personal time in the service of others. You saw baseball as a vehicle for instilling important life lessons in hundreds of young people whose lives you have touched.”
Carey was also presented with a joke gift – a cane shaped as a baseball bat – and a gift certificate to a Viking River Cruise presented by his admirers.
When it came time for the guest of honor to speak, Carey said he was surprised and touched to be honored in this way. He thanked the Diamond Club and all those who organized the tribute.
Looking back, Carey said he was proud that in the more than 1,000 games he coached, he was only ejected by an umpire once and that was a bad rap because, he, not the umpire was right.
He thanked the parents, the school administration, his fellow teachers, family and loved ones for all their support.
“I never got into coaching with the thought of winning 100 games or a state championship. I got into coaching because I had high school coaches who helped me along the way. I wanted to help kids get into college and direct them and to help them become the best baseball players they could become. I wanted to help these kids indirectly with life’s lessons.”
On the top of their locker room door, there was a sign, “Team First,” Carey recalled. And in every single game they played, every player touched that sign when they left the locker room to take the field.
“There’s two ways to get to the top of a tree. You can sit on an acorn and wait for it to grow or you can go out there and climb that tree. That’s what I expected of my players.
“No one remembers who comes in second and I asked my players to take that with them wherever they’ve gone in life.”