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Ohio coach eats, sleeps, breathes baseball

Nothing on Joe Carbone’s desk seems out of order. Everything has a place. The desk mirrors Carbone.

It is as tidy as he is.

Carbone relaxes in his chair with his shirt tucked tight into his pants. With his well-groomed appearance, Carbone reflects the same clean-cut image he demands of his players on the Ohio University baseball team.

But Carbone’s office is confining. He spends too much time there sending e-mails and answering the phone calls that never seem to end. The place is his office, but hardly his workplace.

Like any baseball coach, Carbone’s workplace is the baseball diamond. That’s where he teaches baseball. Yet, Carbone will talk baseball anywhere, even in the cloistered world of a tidy office.

As he talks, he searches for metaphors to illustrate a point, and he hops up from his chair to demonstrate the art of hitting mechanics.

Out of habit, Carbone draws out an imaginary home plate on the floor and then goes into an explanation on the fundamentals of quality hitting.

“I have to step straight, have my body balanced and be ready to cover the plate,” Carbone says as he replicates the motion of a good swing.

No matter where he is, the coach is always coaching.

Carbone instructs with nearly every chance he gets, and he revels in his opportunity to teach college athletes.

An old-school coach with a consuming will to win, Carbone’s desire to push his players is demanding on his team and on himself.

“I have a lot of flaws,” Carbone ackowledged, “but my biggest flaw is I want guys to be better than maybe they want to be.”

In his 21-year coaching tenure with the Bobcats, Carbone’s approach has worked, as he has won more games than any coach in any sport at Ohio.

This year, the Bobcats are second place in the Mid-American Conference East Division (22-17 overall, 13-6 in the MAC). Carbone recently won his 600th game with Ohio, and is second for all-time wins as a baseball coach in the MAC.

But Carbone deflects credit for his accomplishments. He hates talking about his records and insists nobody cares how many victories are next to his name.

“It doesn’t mean a damn thing,” Carbone said about winning 600 games. “It’s not something I care about. And I didn’t win those games. Players won those games. I was just the coach writing the lineup.”

Despite all the victories, Carbone never forgets the losses. As much as he would like to move on after a loss, he refuses, and a defeat lingers until the next game.

He has enjoyed victory more often than defeat, but still, the losses eat at him.

After a loss, he replays the game in his head over and over, questioning decisions and reliving the game pitch by pitch. He cares too much about every game to simply brush off a losing effort.

His wife, Pat, knows when her husband returns home after a loss that she will not get much conversation out of him. They talk, but his attention is elsewhere.

“She knows where my mind is most of the time.” Carbone said. “I still take losses really hard. I just take them hard. That’s my personality. I wish I was better about that.”

People say Carbone is old school, and he has no problem with that. Baseball is what he knows, and he respects the game.

He is a no-nonsense coach and expects his players to do their best work every time they hit the field. He preaches fundamentals and does not tolerate laziness.

“Look, these are the rules, these are the laws, this is what we do, this is how we’re gonna do it. If you want to do it differently, you need to go somewhere else.” Carbone said. “I guess you say that’s old school. Call it what you want, this is how we do it.”

Ohio University baseball has been part of Carbone for a large part of his life. As a player, he started for the Bobcats under coach Bob Wren from 1968-1970, and captained the 1970 team that advanced to the College World Series.

During college, Carbone’s goal was to get a degree and return to home to Elkland, Pa. to coach his high-school basketball and baseball teams.

Taking over the Ohio baseball program was not even in the picture.

“That was so far above the realm that I didn’t even consider it,” Carbone said. “I was a rinky-dink geek from northern Pennsylvania, so to come in here and take the spot coach Wren was doing, was not even in the realm of possibility.”

Now, 21 years and 607 victories later, Carbone is an institution at Ohio. He is the face of Ohio baseball and has lasted through three university presidents and a handful of athletics directors.

The Bobcats are having one of their best seasons in five years, and he has no plans to leave town anytime soon.

“I’ve been dodging bullets for 20 years,” Carbone said about coaching. “I’m going to (coach) until I feel I’m not doing any good, or I don’t have the passion or fire to do it. But I don’t know what that day is.”

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Category: Athens News, Baseball, Feature Writing

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