Gooley leading Bobcat baseball team into a new era

By on April 4, 2007

Legal pads are stacked in perfect piles, along with a phone and a laptop on the desk of the compact office. A couple of wooden baseball bats, bobblehead dolls and photos adorn office-issue file cabinets. Only when the blinds are open can you see the multimillion dollar view of the Arnold Bernhard Library, the tennis courts, the courtyard and a good chunk of the main campus.

It is a view worthy of an icon.

Head baseball coach Dan Gooley, 59, knows Quinnipiac like squirrels know nuts. His hair is gray now, but fashionable, and he wears a sleeveless Quinnipiac golf sweater over a collared shirt. He is sturdily built with a handshake as firm as his voice. His speech is peppered with punctuation marks and he ponders tougher questions with his hands steepled on his desk. On his right hand is a bulky, worn, gold ring with a blue stone signifying his place in Quinnipiac’s Hall of Fame.

Not only has Gooley coached here for 23 years, but he graduated from here. Gooley, class of 1970, still holds the school record for strike outs, wins and E.R.A. The road to Quinnipiac College, then 1,900 students, was rutted.

“I was a horrendous student in high school,” Gooley said.

Thanks to an aunt, Gooley got “a legitimate academic kick in the rear” while attending Cheshire Academy. From there, he picked up his degree at Quinnipiac.

Gooley was a very good college pitcher with an outstanding breaking ball and exceptional control, but he was not good enough to be a pro.

“I had a major league attitude but had a minor league arm. If I was a scout I wouldn’t have signed me,” he said.

Gooley was the coach at Quinnipiac College from 1971- 1987, which included leading the Braves, the old school nickname, to the Division II college world series in 1983. Then opportunity came a knockin’ at the University of Hartford.

“It was a dream I had to coach at the Division I level,” he said. That is when Gooley’s coaching career at Quinnipiac got sidetracked.

Gooley, who still lived in Hamden, was able to commute to Hartford and fulfill his dream of coaching a Division I program. In the process, he got to coach the best player of his career and a possible Hall of Famer, Jeff Bagwell.

Quinnipiac pitcher Turk Wendell, who was recruited and coached by Gooley, was his only other major leaguer.

Baseball geeks may know of Wendell’s theatrics, which included wolfing down black licorice and brushing his teeth between innings as well as jumping over the foul lines as if they were a trail of fire. But few know what Gooley knows.

“Most were harmless idiosyncrasies,” Gooley said. “But the guy liked to run behind the bus. We played Southern [Connecticut], he ran behind the bus. We played U.N.H. [New Haven], he ran behind the bus. It’s when he wanted to run back from U.B. [Bridgeport] that I had to end it.”

Gooley only coached Wendell for one year, but remains a friend in spite of Wendell’s disappointment at not being able to run behind the bus.

Gooley, who now has more than 400 victories, cites two pitchers as being the best opposing players he ever faced as a coach: Ron Darling from Yale and Frank Viola from St. John’s. Gooley’s coaching influences in Connecticut are Bill Holowaty of Eastern and Frank “Porky” Vierra from New Haven.

“Both are in the top five in the country, I could never in a million years be in the same box with these guys,” he said.

After five years at the University of Hartford, Gooley’s career took a detour from the collegiate ranks to the world of business. For six years he worked for Starter Corporation and was in charge of monitoring the licensing agreement with Major League Baseball. In addition, he was in charge of new looks each season.

Quinnipiac by then was expanding with a law school, state-of-the-art library and Division I sports. Bigger and bigger plans were on the horizon and Quinnipiac wanted Dan Gooley back. Not as a coach, but as a fundraiser.

The vision of President John Leahy, Athletic Director Jack McDonald and senior vice presidents was quickly becoming a reality. The sports and recreational facilities were being elevated one by one, inside and out.

Last year, a million-dollar lacrosse and field hockey complex was opened.

“The team definitely benefited from the new field,” head lacrosse coach Eric Fekete said.

Gooley’s stint as Head of Athletic Development ended after three years and he returned to the helm of Quinnipiac baseball. Now the Braves are called the Bobcats, players are now called student-athletes and there are distractions unheard of 20 or even 10 years ago. Although the faces changed, one constant was motivation.

“Players today are motivated no different than they were 30 years ago,” Gooley said. “They want to be the best players they can be. We will give them everything we have to teach them and opportunity. The rest is up to them.

“It’s real simple. I tell the players that the minute they step on the field the clock is ticking. For 98 percent of them, organized baseball will be over after that last game.”

The trappings of D-1 sports are accompanied by an uphill climb, however.

“We’re only 10 years old. Where were you when you were 10, fourth grade, fifth grade?” Gooley said.

In 2005, Gooley’s Bobcats captured one of 64 national tournament spots and appeared in an NCAA regional at Austin, Texas. Quinnipiac was pummeled by Texas, 20-2, and then eliminated by Miami of Ohio the next night, 35-8.

Nonetheless, Gooley describes the experience as “great,” although he didn’t expect to get “ripped around the way we did.”

Two players on that team, Bryan Sabatella and Ari Kafka, are currently playing in the minor leagues.

Being one of 64 teams vying for a national title goes a long way in the recruiting process. It also helps to set up players with summer opportunities. Two of Gooley’s pitchers will be playing in the Hawaiian Collegiate Baseball League next summer.

Winter is a slower time for Gooley, but his job as baseball coach and overall ambassador to Quinnipiac never ends. Each season, like the players themselves, has a shelf life. Although reluctant to guess the team’s overall record, Gooley discussed the team’s potential in 2007.

“I think we’ll be very good if I don’t screw it up,” he said. “We have enough talent and baseball attitude to win the NEC championship and postseason. We could win a regional.”

Two seniors who will play major roles are Pat Egan and Randy Gress.

Egan missed all of last season after blowing up his elbow in a fall ’05 game. The Baltimore Orioles drafted and hold the rights to the hard- throwing 6′ 9″ right hander.

Gress is a hard-hitting infielder that Gooley feels may have the potential to become a pro.

Gooley has embraced his second stint as a Division I coach, yet he remains a throwback. If you gave him a vote at the league meetings, wooden bats and pitchers hitting would be adopted.

Even as he approaches 60 years old, Gooley is still a gung-ho kind of guy. He’s just more seasoned, well-rounded and thankful. He speaks of Quinnipiac in utopian terms and plans on coaching “as long as the baseball gods allow.” In the meantime, he will nurture the current crop.

After all, times a tickin’.


About John Gozzi