Joe Carbone has gotten lots of notes in the mail recently. But those notes aren’t valentines, and his birthday isn’t until May 16 — ironically, the day before his final series against rival Miami begins.
Instead, those notes are from former Ohio University baseball players who are grateful for the lessons they learned from Carbone, the 63-year-old coach who is in his final season as the Bobcats’ skipper.
During his 23 years as Ohio’s head coach, Carbone has amassed 661 victories and two Mid-American Conference championships. Numerous players have continued their baseball careers professionally. But what Carbone takes the most pride in is his players’ success after baseball.
“The high points to me have been all of the young men I have coached who have gone on to be very successful, not only in baseball but in all aspects of life,” he said. “It’s amazing how many emails and notes and cards I’ve gotten.”
Carbone officially retired at the end of last season because of a buyout from Ohio University and changes in the State Teachers’ Retirement System of Ohio benefit plan. He accepted a one-year extension to fulfill contracts with sports equipment companies and to keep the promise he made to the newest Bobcat recruits.
The 2012 schedule is, in a sense, a goodbye tour for Carbone. The Bobcats will host and visit Marshall, where Carbone earned his master’s degree and had his first collegiate coaching job. The team also will visit Toledo, where he served as an assistant under head coach Stan Sanders, and Ohio State, where he coached from 1977 to 1988.
But Carbone is a traditionalist, geared to coach the whole person but only the next game on the schedule. That means he’s busy preparing for this weekend’s season-opening road trip to play UNC-Wilmington.
He’s planning to think about retirement when he’s — well, retired.
“I haven’t thought of anything to that effect,” he said. “My focus has been on getting these guys ready to play. We’ve got a good bunch of guys; they’ve been working real hard.”
The fundamentals of coaching and playing baseball have not changed during his time at Ohio, Carbone said, but certain aspects of the game have evolved. Recruiting now requires more foresight, as players are orally committing to universities earlier in their high school careers.
“You’ve got to change with the flow if you want to survive,” he said. “Now you have to make decisions a year or two earlier on kids than you did back when I first started coaching.”
Carbone proudly runs a tight ship. He expects his players to be fundamentally sound, polite and upstanding representatives of the university.
Those ideals date back to Carbone’s playing days for coach Bob Wren.
“We have some team rules that I expect my guys to follow and enforce,” Carbone said. “When I played here, we dressed right, we acted right, we were clean-shaven, we were gentlemen, and we played hard, and we played to win.”
That drive to win led to tweaks in Carbone’s philosophy through the years. But the fundamentals of hitting, fielding, pitching and base-running never changed. He and the late Bill Toadvine, Ohio’s pitching coach for 17 years, always found a laugh despite the pang of defeat that ends every season.
“(Toadvine) and I would sit down at the end of the season, because every season ends with a loss,” Carbone said. “We’d sit here the day after the loss, and Toad would be frustrated, and I would say, ‘Bill, do you think we can figure this out better?’
“And he’d say, ‘Nope, we’re too stupid, ’cause that’s why we’re coaching.’”
After leaving Ohio, Carbone plans to continue coaching collegiate summer leagues or professional baseball. His love for the game is still present in everything he does at work, from his meticulous planning and attention to detail to the occasional harsh message he delivers to a slacking player.
Carbone will retire with more wins than any Ohio coach in any sport in school history. Barring any rainouts, he will coach his 1,300th game with the Bobcats against Miami.
Ohio finished ninth in the Mid-American Conference last season, and Carbone’s players are determined to make sure he exits on a better note.
“I don’t see it as negatively affecting the team,” said Seth Streich junior pitcher and infielder. “If anything, it’s going to motivate the team more. We want to go out and make it a good one for him.”