Carey becomes state's all-time wins leader

NORTH READING, Mass. -- When it was over, there was no pomp and circumstance.

After North Reading defeated Newburyport twice on Thursday, the team gathered at the foul line in front of its dugout, briefly exchanged high-fives, slapped its coach on the back, then went to shake its opponents hand.

It was not until the Hornets took care of business and came back to the dugout that the coach allowed himself to soak in the moment.

The parents, loyalists, and players all stood to give Frank Carey a standing ovation. He was now a part of history after all.

With the two wins, he passed Leominster’s Emile Johnson for first place on the all-time Massachusetts high school baseball wins list. Johnson retired last season, so Carey’s 726 wins and counting will not be threatened any time soon.

“I see Emile at our state coaches clinic all the time,” said Carey. “Emile is a terrific coach in his own right. The other coaches would say, ‘Hey, how many more do you need?’ and I’d say I don’t know. Emile is a great coach.”

As he stood alone almost like it was his own personal on-deck circle, he raised both arms in the air and in the most Frank Carey-like show of gratitude said, “Thank you! And I’m sorry what I might have said to your son earlier!”

For a 70-year old coach, he still moves with the speed and energy of a younger man. He still runs his team’s fielding practice before every game, hitting the baseball to both the outfield and spots in the infield with ease. On the field, he never misses an opportunity to teach, no matter the score.

Before playing their regularly scheduled game Thursday afternoon, the teams first had to finish a game that was suspended back in April. They picked up the game in the top of the tenth inning tied 2-2. North Reading went to work early and put up seven runs in the top of the inning. Even with the game 9-2 and well out of reach, Carey was chiding his players whenever possible.

On a pickoff attempt at first base, he asked the baserunner why he did not slide head first back to the bag, even though he was safe anyway. There was a sequence later in the inning where two runs came around to score on a base hit, but the second run was a play at the plate.

As the team was offering congratulations at home plate, Carey walked over and asked again why a player chose not to slide, which put an abrupt end to the celebration. It did not matter that his team had just gone up by five runs. It was an opportunity to make his team better.

Throughout his 49-year career Carey has won 25 league titles, three Eastern Mass titles, four North sectional championships and two state titles. His most recent state championship came in 2012 when North Reading won Division 3. That is remarkably consistent for someone who started at the school as a science teacher in 1964 and just hoped to supplement his income by coaching baseball.

“There are three characteristics I look for in a team,” he said, after getting doused with ice water by his team. “I look for kids with character. We don’t have a tryout system, everyone is part of the program. The kids that come eventually to the varsity are the kids that have character. They also have a certain mental toughness, because we put them through an awful lot.

“The last thing is loyalty here. There’s loyalty from me as a coach to them, I’ll do whatever I can to help them get into college. In the meantime, when they get into college and get out of college, they do whatever they can to help my kids right now. So over that period of time we’ve built up a real good group of alumni here.”

His teaching and attention to detail manifested itself early in the record-breaking 3-2 win. Tommy Day walked to start off the bottom of the first. Shane Driscoll laid down a bunt to move Day to second. Noticing the defensive coverage had shifted and there was no one covering third, Day took off in a sprint to the next base. The first baseman overthrew the play and Day was able to score after he was only supposed to take second. His heads-up play gave his team the early lead.

It is those minute details practiced on field bearing the coaches name and in the school gymnasium on rainy days that give his team the advantage it needs to win all the games he has. His team won its 2012 state title hitting only six extra-base hits all season.

“I never said a word about (the record) to the team,” Carey said as the crowd was dispersing. “We never said a word about it or focused on that. We just took it one game at a time and whatever happens, happens. It happened, so.. I’m glad.”

Like almost all of his teams over the years, this one has postseason aspirations. The two wins Thursday made North Reading 10-3 on the season. Carey has admitted last year was the first time he thought about retirement. How long will he keep coaching? Only he knows. With the record now broken, he can turn his attention back to what he loves: coaching baseball.

“This record means we’ve had some good players that have come through this program over the six decades that we’ve been here,” he said. “This is a tribute to all the kids that have played here because we play good baseball here at North Reading. Our kids take it pretty serious. Down the road 10 years from now I’m going to think about it, but right now I’m just glad that we won two games.”