AKRON A familiar face to longtime baseball fans in Ohio is now the return of the sport to the University of Akron.
Chris Sabo, who was part of the Cincinnati Reds’ 1990 World Series win and holds the World Series record for assists a third baseman in a nine-player game, was unveiled at a news conference last week at InfoCision Stadium – Summa Field.
Former UA President Scott Scarborough retired from the baseball program in 2015 as part of a series of cost-cutting efforts at the university. The move sparked an immediate, sustained backlash that eventually led his successor, Matthew Wilson, to begin the process of returning to the program.
Wilson has since stepped down to return to law school, but UA track and field director Larry Williams was part of the baseball revival process at Akron and pointed out Sabo’s game and coaching resumes as part of it why he was selected as head coach.
“We are excited to welcome Chris Sabo to the University of Akron,” said Williams. “His illustrious career as a player shows that he has mastered the fine details of the game. He also has exceptional leadership skills and a proven ability to educate, coach and motivate young athletes. His work ethic, dedication and commitment to excellence made him perfect. ” fit to lead the Zips baseball program. “
Sabo has spent the past four years as a manager at the IMG Academy in Florida. His team, ranked 2nd nationwide in 2015, was voted 5th last spring, and 10 of his IMG players were drafted in Major League Baseball amateur draft.
As a player, Sabo played at the University of Michigan from 1981 to 1983 and received the First Team All-America Award from The Sporting News and Baseball America. He was a second round draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds in 1983, was named National League Rookie of the Year in 1988, and was a three-time National League All-Star (1988, 1990, 1991). During his season, he became known for both his fundamentally solid approach and looks, which included Rec Specs glasses and an ubiquitous crew cut hairstyle.
Sabo knows that the Zips won’t play their first regular season game until 2020, but that there isn’t much time left to get the program going.
“I want to get (my coaching staff) to start recruiting as soon as possible,” said Sabo. “We have another year. Really, we won’t start practicing until September. The sooner we can get this thing going, the better.”
The only elements of the program still in effect as of 2015 are the facilities, albeit in slightly worse shape after almost four years of minimal use by various tournaments and local amateur teams.
Sabo knows that when it comes to staff, there is no real connection to baseball as there was at Akron before. He sees this blank board as an opportunity to create something special.
“We can build a good legacy here,” said Sabo. “This is a team that is about to start over. We’re giving 35 opportunities to kids who may not have had one before. That’s 35 lives that baseball can affect me.”
Prior to the end of the program, Akron had made two strong runs in the Mid-American Conference tournament, including an appearance in the MAC championship game against arch-rivals Kent State in his penultimate season. After Scarborough’s decision to end the program, players were split up into various programs at different levels of college baseball, including local products like Dom Iero, who migrated to the state of Kent.
LIFE AFTER RETIREMENT
Since retiring as a player, Sabo has been a hit coach, infield instructor, and talent evaluator within the Reds organization, supporting the baseball programs at Xavier University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Cincinnati.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities from Xavier University in 1998 and attended Northern Kentucky University law school from 2009-2010.
A native of Detroit, 56, and his wife Susan have three daughters – Annie, Brooke, and Olivia – and he’s an avid golfer who is deeply involved in charitable fundraising.
When baseball officially returns to the diamond, it will be with a new women’s sport at UA, lacrosse. Akron Fields 18 Division I sports programs. Other UA coaches, including soccer coach Terry Bowden and men’s basketball coach John Groce, attended Sabo’s introductory press conference, as did some fans.
One in Reds outfit arranged for Sabo to get an autograph, which showed that some in the state still have strong memories of the new skipper’s time in Buckeye. His job now is to use the sport at Lee Jackson Field to create new memories for years to come.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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