AKRON A familiar face to longtime Ohio baseball fans is now heading up the sport’s return to the University of Akron.
Chris Sabo, who was a part of the Cincinnati Reds’ 1990 World Series win and holds the World Series record for assists by a third baseman in a game with nine, was introduced last week in a press conference held at InfoCision Stadium–Summa Field.
Former UA president Scott Scarborough infamously ended the baseball program in 2015 as part of a series of moves designed to cut costs at the university. The move sparked immediate, sustained backlash that eventually prompted his successor, Matthew Wilson, to begin the process of bringing back to the program.
Wilson has since stepped down to rejoin the university’s law school, but UA Director of Athletics Larry Williams was part of the process of reviving baseball at Akron and pointed to Sabo’s playing and coaching resumes as part of why he was selected as the head coach.
"We are excited to welcome Chris Sabo to the University of Akron," Williams said. "His illustrious playing career demonstrates his mastery of the fine details of the game. He also has extraordinary leadership skills and the proven ability to teach, coach, and motivate young athletes. His work ethic, drive, and commitment to excellence made him the perfect fit to lead the Zips’ baseball program."
Sabo has spent the last four years as the manager at IMG Academy in Florida. His team, which was nationally ranked No. 2 in 2015, was ranked No. 5 last spring, and 10 of his IMG players were drafted in the Major League Baseball amateur draft.
As a player, Sabo played at the University of Michigan from 1981 to 1983, earning first-team All-America honors from The Sporting News and Baseball America. He was a second round draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds in 1983, was named the 1988 National League Rookie of the Year and was a three-time National League All-Star (1988, 1990, 1991). During his playing days, he became known for both his fundamentally sound approach and his look, which included Rec Specs goggles and an omnipresent crew cut hairstyle.
Sabo knows that although the Zips won’t play their first regular-season game until 2020, there isn’t much time to spare in getting the program up and rolling.
"I want to get (my coaching staff) in as quick as possible to start recruiting," Sabo said. "We still have another year. Really, we’re not going to start practicing until September. The quicker we can get this thing going, the better."
The only elements of the program still in place from 2015 are the facilities, albeit in a slightly worse state after nearly four years of minimal use by various tournaments and local amateur teams.
Sabo knows that in terms of personnel, there is no real connection to baseball as it existed before at Akron. He views that blank slate as a chance to create something special.
"We can build a good legacy here," Sabo said. "This is a team that is going to be starting anew. We’re giving 35 opportunities to kids that might not have had one. Those are 35 lives I can affect through baseball."
Prior to the program ending, Akron had made a pair of strong runs in the Mid-American Conference tournament, including an appearance in the MAC championship game against arch rival Kent State in its penultimate season. Following Scarborough's decision to end the program, players scattered to various programs at different levels of college baseball, including local products such as Dom Iero, who migrated to Kent State.
LIFE AFTER RETIREMENT
Since retiring as a player, Sabo served as a hitting coach, infield instructor, and talent evaluator within the Reds organization and assisted Xavier University, University of Michigan, and University of Cincinnati baseball programs.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Xavier University in 1998 and attended law school at Northern Kentucky University from 2009-10.
Now 56, the Detroit native and his wife Susan have three daughters– Annie, Brooke, and Olivia - and he’s is an avid golfer who is heavily involved in community service-fundraising events.
When baseball officially returns to the diamond, it will do so with a new women’s sport at UA, lacrosse. Akron fields 18 Division I sports programs. Other UA coaches, including football coach Terry Bowden and men’s basketball coach John Groce, attended Sabo’s introductory press conference, as did a few fans.
One, in Reds gear, made sure to get an autograph from Sabo, showing that some in the state still have strong memories of the new skipper’s time in the Buckeye state. His task now is creating new memories with the sport at Lee Jackson Field in the years ahead.
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