MIDDLETOWN — His sophomore pitcher had given everything he had, emptied his tank, and Paul Fabbri had spoken from the heart to his departing seniors. Now here was the Ridgefield baseball team approaching a gaggle of state reporters.
Fabbri’s wife had a long-standing rule after Quinnipiac women’s basketball games for her husband.
“You can ask three questions,” Tricia Fabbri, the self-described “superfan” of the Ridgefield baseball team used to tell him.
In the quiet moments after Ridgefield’s 1-0 loss to Cheshire in the Class LL state championship at Palmer Field, Paul Fabbri was prepared to answer several more than three.
This was an historic weekend for Ridgefield athletics. It was first school in CIAC history to push four teams into the spring state championships. The boys lacrosse team would dramatically end Darien’s 76-game winning streak. Yet this was the baseball program’s first appearance and it ended in excruciating fashion with Cheshire’s only run scored on a fielder’s choice in the seventh inning.
Tricia Fabbri, who has built a mid-major women’s basketball program into a national force, said she sometimes asks her husband to get his chin out of his chest when matters turn south. Yet here he was afterward a thankful man, if not a totally satisfied coach.
“To be around kids and coach, what’s better than that?” Paul Fabbri said. “This keeps me young. It’s a great job. I loved watching my daughter Carly play for her mom at Quinnipiac, so it has been a tremendous year. To be at games and seeing kids compete and give their best, yeah, what’s better than that?”
There was a question whether the Quinnipiac women could keep rolling when they left the NEC a few years back. Tricia Fabbri’s answer was to amass MAAC titles and in 2017 advance to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Geno Auriemma even wore a Quinnipiac shirt at the Bridgeport Regional.
At Palmer Field on this Saturday, Tricia Fabbri would wear a Ridgefield shirt and start screaming when her husband was introduced.
“Basketball’s so fast,” she said. “It took me a couple of years to appreciate the beauty of baseball. I love being out here.’
They met at Fairfield nearly 30 years ago. Paul was working in the sports information office. Tricia was a star on the basketball team. She has completed her 23rd season coaching Quinnipiac. He is in his 23rd year as a math and English teacher at Ridgefield, coaching Notre Dame-Fairfield to state titles in 2004 and 2009 before taking over the Ridgefield baseball program for the 2013 season.
Paul played baseball at Notre-Dame Fairfield, which would beat Coventry later Saturday for the Class S title, and was head coach there for 14 years. The field there is named after his dad. Paul doubled as girls hockey coach at Ridgefield for 11 years.
Their daughter Carly completed her career for Quinnipiac in the NCAA Tournament against UConn in Storrs. She will be a perfect coach one day. Their son A.J., who attends Syracuse and works for the Bristol Blues of FCBL, was an all-state baseball player for his dad. Their younger son Paul Henry plays basketball at St. Joseph at Trumbull.
“It’s what we do,” Tricia said of athletics. “It’s the family business.”
Family business wouldn’t be easy on this day.
Ben DeLaubell, who’s heading off to West Point, pitched brilliantly for Cheshire. He needed only 80 pitches to throw a three-hitter, striking out two. With the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, he drove in the only run of the game on a fielder’s choice.
“They win because they have him,” Fabbri said.
Still, there was sophomore Matt DeLuca, throwing 105 pitches, before finally walking two in the seventh and leaving with one out. He had thrown a one-hitter against Newtown in the quarterfinals and 1 1/3 innings of shutout relief to pick up the win in the extra-inning victory over Amity in the semis. But now he was out of gas.
“I’m amazed by what he did as a sophomore,” Fabbri said. “He wasn’t fazed. He matched a kid who is going to West Point almost pitch-for-pitch. He’s awesome.”
Fabbri had decided not to pull the infield in with one out in the seventh and Jake Artzt coming in relief.
“I remembered Joe Torre not playing the infield back against Luis Gonzalez in that situation (in the 2001 World Series). I’d hate to get beat by a bloop like that. (DeLaubell) is not a kid with a ton of wheels. A bloop and it’s 2-0. We could have doubled him up right there. We almost got it.
“Jake got a good hitter to hit a ground ball. It kind of took one extra hop and that’s the difference.”
Expectations were not through the roof for Ridgefield in 2018, not after Collin Lowe had left to play at Richmond and John Thrasher had left to play for Hartford.
“To get all the way here was pretty amazing,” Fabbri said. “I’ve been at the school for 23 years. I see these guys. I teach some of them. I think that makes a difference as a coach when you’re in the building. This program hasn’t had a ton of success in baseball. To win 40 games in two years is pretty gratifying.”
He starts counting his seniors. Matt Stamatis will attend BC, Pete Columbia, Richmond. Alex Price is going to Middlebury.
“I just thanked them out there in the outfield,” Fabbri said. “It was great to come out to practice every day at 3 o’clock. They represented the school and their family so well. They’re a great bunch of kids.”
A Quinnipiac recruit was scheduled to visit campus Saturday. Tricia had to tell her if they couldn’t schedule something at 8 a.m. they’d have to reschedule. They rescheduled.
“Win or lose I wasn’t going to be at my best going back to campus,” Tricia said. “Paul looked at me and said, ‘Why, what’s the big deal?’”
Tricia sees a lot of similarities in her coaching with her husband. He’s intense, she says, but he’s a lot of fun to play for. For his part, Paul says Tricia isn’t inclined to invoke the three-question rule anymore.
“All I wanted to do was talk about basketball and she wanted it to be a somewhat regular relationship,” he said. “I wanted to talk about substitution patterns.”
“I don’t ask as many questions after the game,” she said. “I kind of take it at face value and listen.
“Paul’s a baseball coach. It’s who he is. It’s his identity. He’s a kid at heart. He loves to coach.”
Tricia looked around the stands. Carly was there with her Quinnipiac teammate, Jen Fay. A.J., Paul Henry, all her in-laws.
“The posse,” Tricia said. “They don’t miss anything. What would a weekend be without being on the court or field?”
Yeah, it the family business and it never ends.
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