BANGOR, Maine — Jeff Fahey’s baseball career as a player and coach has spanned four decades, and rarely has he had to change uniforms.
Save for his Little League days, and for one year right after college when he coached at Hermon, his sole diamond allegiance has been to the cardinal and white of Bangor High School.
It has been a productive relationship.
As a player Fahey patrolled center field while helping the Rams win the 1982 Class A state championship.
He returned to his alma mater after a year in Hermon as a teacher and to work under legendary Bangor baseball coach Bob Kelley — and he’s still there 25 years later.
When Kelley retired in 2000 after a 32-year career that featured eight state titles and 15 Eastern Maine championships, Fahey took the helm. He has averaged more than 14 combined victories per season during the last 14 years — a statistic particularly impressive given that Bangor plays just 16 regular-season contests each spring.
He reached 200 career victories with a 5-4 win against Brewer on May 20 and his record now stands at 205-47 — an .814 winning percentage — after Bangor concluded its regular season Monday with a 4-0 victory over Brunswick.
The Rams (14-2) are expected to enter postseason play as the top-ranked team in Eastern Maine Class A.
“I think it seems like a long time since I started coaching baseball, whether it’s been varsity or JV,” said the 49-year-old Fahey. “Going on 26 years is a lot of springs we’ve been starting inside and then watching the weather every day.”
Fahey’s head coaching tenure has been highlighted by Bangor’s 2006 Class A state championship, followed by a second straight regional crown a year later.
The pursuit of the next championship is one of several factors that continue to drive Fahey, who serves as chairman of the physical education department at Bangor High.
“When I first took the job my biggest concern was getting a staff that I thought could continue the legacy of Bangor being a baseball powerhouse in the state,” he said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of maintaining that but I also remember thinking, ‘If I could just get to one Eastern Maine final I’d be happy.’ Then it was, ‘If I could just get to a state championship …’ Then when we did that and won, it was, ‘OK, let’s get back.’ We did that next year but we’ve only been to one Eastern Maine final since then so that bothers me and probably is what motivates me to continue, besides enjoying the kids and the competition and strategy part of it.”
Part of Fahey’s success stems from the relative stability within his coaching staff — all Bangor High School alumni. Fred Lower has been the Rams’ junior varsity coach throughout his tenure, while John Tennett was the team’s longtime pitching coach before moving into school administration.
Rob Gould, an original assistant coach under Fahey as well as former teammate during their playing days, has returned to the dugout in recent years. He is joined by Dave Morris, who coached against Fahey during his 12-year tenure as head coach at Brewer High School before returning to his alma mater in 2010.
But much has changed during the last 14 years, too.
Bangor joined the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference in 2006, providing the Rams with a full Class A schedule stretching as far south as Brunswick, Lewiston-Auburn and Oxford Hills of South Paris.
Previously Bangor competed in the Penobscot Valley Conference with a mix of Class A and Class B opponents on its schedule because of the steady decline in the number of Class A schools in the northern half of Maine.
“The schedule we’ve had since we went to the KVAC in 2006 is really a much more difficult schedule than we ever had before,” said Fahey. “And in the last couple of years it’s gotten even more difficult because we now play everybody (in the KVAC), which is good. I think the competition level is much better than it was, and you need to use your personnel a little different because there are no ‘gimme’ games. You can’t look by anybody.”
The athletic backgrounds of the players he coaches also has evolved since the turn of the millenium.
“Rather than having a lot of three-sport athletes like we used to have I’m not so sure we have as many now,” he said. “Today it seems like we have a lot of two- and one-sport guys.”
While winning remains crucially important to Fahey — he admits that like most coaches he doesn’t deal well with losing — a quarter-century in the Bangor dugout has provided additional perspective on his many roles as a mentor.
“There is some pressure of winning in Bangor, but I’ve been able to insulate myself from those that may have other thoughts on the direction of Bangor baseball and I just do what I think is right,” he said. “Above all we want our kids to leave here learning something about life as well as baseball. If it’s teamwork or honesty or trust or loyalty or whatever it is, I hope they leave our program as a better person, not just a better baseball player.”
Morris said Fahey’s relationship with his players is just one of his strengths as a coach.
“Number one, he’s a very good teacher,” said Morris. “Two, he’s a very detailed-oriented coach, very organized, so there are a lot of things that run very smoothly just according to what he wants to accomplish.
“And he has a great rapport with kids. In a lot of ways he has a high expectation of kids to perform at a high level, but his greatest strength is that he’s extremely organized yet he keeps things simple. There’s a lot to that.”
Fahey’s veteran players understand the benefits of his direct approach.
“He’s very straightforward in his philosophies,” said Rams senior pitcher Justin Courtney. “He doesn’t leave much up to question when he’s coaching. He’s one of those guys who will tell you what he wants, and if you don’t give it to him he’ll tell you what you need to do to fix it and I think that’s great for helping high school players to develop. You just want to know what you did wrong so you can fix it the next time and he’s very good about that.”
That style, said Fahey, is designed to prepare his players for success as the regular season gives way to the pursuit of that next championship.
“We try to instill that in the kids, that especially at this point of the season, it’s really up to them: Their fate is in their hands and they know what they have to do,” Fahey said. “My job as a coach is to put them into a position where they can win, but they have to execute.
“Every win we’ve ever had the kids won, I didn’t, but if we prepare them well hopefully things will work out.”
Bangor enters the 2014 playoffs armed with a deep pitching staff anchored by University of Maine-bound Courtney, sophomore left-hander Trevor DeLaite and junior right-hander Andrew Hillier and an offensive lineup with a team batting average well in excess of .300.
Whether that combination translates into another championship for the Rams remains to be seen, but Fahey couldn’t imagine making the attempt anywhere else.
“The other night I was thinking that in the last 46 years, almost half a century, there’s only been two head coaches at Bangor High, and when I think of it that way it’s kind of cool,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to go 32 years like Bob Kelley, but you never know.”