When Bridgeport’s Kevin Carbacio was sponsoring a men’s softball team back in 1990, the goal was simply to be involved in a sport he loved and around some guys that he knew was going to lead to good times. What he didn’t realize nearly a quarter century ago was that
his roster is arguably one of the best to ever turn out Division I coaching products nationally.
“I actually sponsored and played on that team,” said Carbacio. “The team was Special K Sports and it was an experience I remember to this day.”
With a look at the roster, it’s easy to see why. The team was loaded with familiar names and not just on a local level. How familiar? Consider that at shortstop was West Virginia University women’s basketball coach Mike Carey. At first base was current Arizona and former WVU and Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez and in right field as a guy that coached last year’s national championship squad in one James “Jimbo” Fisher.
For those that know any of the names involved, particularly that of Carey and Rodriguez, what made this experience unique wasn’t just the fact the team was loaded with athletes. In fact, Carbacio said the team went on to win the state championship at their level that season. What made this team fun was the constant battle to be the Alpha Male of insults. According to several parties involved, it was pretty much non-stop.
“There were funny things that took place. You were dealing with a lot of gifted athletes and you also had your share of typical youthful arrogance and when you put it all together it was hilarious. If you just sat on the bench and didn’t say a word you could sit back and laugh hysterically,” said Carbacio. “The whole thing was about one-upmanship. If you had a story, someone topped it. If you had an insult, someone fired back. It was nonstop all game and every game.”
And it wasn’t just the Division I guys that got into the mix. There were others that were on the team that so many were familiar with that had no problem stirring the pot. There was Bridgeport’s Davie Andrews and John Matheny, and you had Donnie Kopp and Louie Talerico, while John Scotchie was involved as well. Mike’s brother Scott Carey also showed up on the roster.
But, there was no doubt where most of the verbal battles started. Carbacio said it was usually with Carey and it almost always targeted Rodriguez who was more than happy to fire back.
“Mike just knew how to get under people’s skins. If he didn’t do it himself, he would always have people say stuff to Rich and then sit back and watch Rich argue before realizing Mike put that person up to it,” said Carbacio, who called Rich the single most competitive human he’s ever been around. “No one was better at getting under people’s skin than Mike Carey. I’m pretty sure he was very proud of that too.
“While that was fun, there were also times you waited for the worst,” he continued. “The worst thing was going out as a team to eat at a restaurant. You just knew someone there was going to be really uncomfortable with all of these guys coming in and everyone going at each other.”
For those that think Carbacio is exaggerating, he’s not. When I talked with Rodriguez recently, he just laughed recalling those days. That was at the time period when he was just getting started at Glenville State and before he became one of the hottest young coaching commodities in the country. At that point, guaranteed contracts weren’t even in the thought process. Finding a way to insult his friends was at the forefront of his mind.
Hell, during the conversation about those old days, it took Rodriguez about 30 seconds before he insulted his friend.
“We’ve both calmed down from those days,” said Rodriguez, sounding like he was about ready to change the subject only to go on the attack. “What hasn’t changed from those days is that Mike still has that George Jetson haircut on what is probably the largest head I’ve ever seen. I’m sure (his wife) Cheryl is still picking out his clothes because he had no idea how to match things. He has no fashion sense.”
So with Rich firing the first shot, I had no trouble during a recent interview with Carey telling him what his friend said. Carey let out a laugh and said he wasn’t going to get personal because Rich “was a baby then and he’s a baby now.” However, he then immediately got personal by insulting Rich’s abilities back in the day on the softball field.
“This guy thought he was an All-American at softball. I’ve honestly never seen such a weak arm. He’d walk around before the games trying to act all intense, looking up at the sky like he was focusing to get ready. I’d always tell him there’s no one up there that’s going to
talk to you and he’d just keep walking,” said Carey. “The thing was he had a horrible arm; just horrible. He was all right as a first baseman, but he couldn’t throw the ball.
“The maddest he got at me was that he was playing at third or somewhere other than first base and I brought some stamps to the game and handed them to him in front of everyone,” Carey continued. “He wanted to know what they were for and I told him when a ball was hit to him, put the stamp on it and throw it in the mail because it would get to first base much faster. Rich was a great athlete, but he had a terrible arm.”
Carbacio didn’t back the Jetson haircut or size of Carey’s head, but he did say Rodriguez had challenges with his arm.
“Mike knew Rich has a bad arm so he told me to tell Rich to play first and he knew Rich would not just do it without an explanation. He then proceeded to tell me exactly what Rich would say. So Rich goes to third and I tell him he’s playing at first and he wants to know why. I tell him I’m going to be honest and let him know that he’s got a weak arm and he gets all red-faced and tells me he can throw as hard as I can throw and probably harder,” said Carbacio. “I look over in the dugout and there sites Mike just laughing because that’s exactly what he told me Rich would say. Rich could run like the wind, but he couldn’t break a sheet of glass with a brick.”
So what was Jimbo Fisher’s role in all of this? Surprisingly, he was somewhat quiet in comparison said Carbacio.
“He more than held his own in arguments, but he wasn’t constantly going at it. I will tell you that when he threw the ball in to get a runner at third or home and I was pitching, it would go past you head and it sounded like it was sizzling,” said Carbacio. “People forget he signed to play at Clemson when Clemson’s baseball team was in the College World Series for seven of eight years. He was that good.”
What you didn’t do, said Carbacio, was be on an opposing team and insult anyone playing on the Special K roster. You just didn’t do it.
“Insults were only allowed amongst teammates. It was beyond frowned upon for others to insult one of our guys,” said Carbacio with a hearty laugh.
The camaraderie exists today. Mike Carey and Rich Rodriguez’s ties go back to the 1980s when Rich said they were friends before they were colleagues at Salem College.
“Here’s a guy that was in my wedding and when you get down to it, we’re wired the same way. You could see it back then as well with Jimbo playing softball. We were all so young and competitive and took the game, but not each other, seriously,” said Rodriguez. “Mike hasn’t changed other than he’s now coaching one of the best women’s teams in the country. I’m not even remotely surprised.”
Rodriguez said when the WVU women’s job came open, he wasn’t sure how interested Carey would be in the job, but he approached then Athletic Director Ed Pastilong – who happened to have coached at Salem College – about Mike being a candidate.
“The guy can coach at any level and any gender,” said Rodriguez. “He’s just a great basketball coach. He knows how to recruit and build a program and he’s fun to be around. I’m biased, but let’s face it, the guy’s extremely talented. He knows how to be tough and when you see the results you understand why.”
Carey said the success he’s had, along with Rodriguez and Fisher, was evident back then. And it’s something they all have today.
“We all hung out and those guys were ambitious. There was no doubt in my mind that they were all going to be successful given the opportunity because they had the right mind set and the competitiveness was off the charts. The three of us would fight over a card game so you knew that if the opportunity presented itself, all of us would do whatever we could do to win at our sport,” Carey said.
“The other thing beyond being competitive with one another is that we all developed loyalty to each other. Even then, Rich and I could bust each other with insults, but we wouldn’t allow anyone from the outside to do that. We looked out for each other and we still do,” said Carey. “After we beat Baylor this year, when I get back to my phone there’s texts from Rich and Jimbo congratulating me. To this day, with those two away doing their thing, I can pick up the phone and talk to them. We have a bond that goes back to those softball days and even before. What makes it nice is that we’ve all advanced and it’s nice to see two guys that are incredible coaches doing it at the highest level. It all started a long time back, but it also doesn’t seem that long ago.”
Rodriguez echoed those comments.
“It really does seem like yesterday, but you look at the calendar and at the same time you feel like it was a lifetime ago. I can’t tell you how much fun that time period and I can’t tell you all the stories for print. There’s stuff we’re still sworn to secrecy on,” said Rodriguez. “You went out to play to win and you went out to try to make fun of your teammates. Those were good times.”
The good times in what Carbacio said was the 1990 season ended with the C-Ball State Championship. It also ended with Carbacio having a broken ankle and leg and being unable to compete at the end.
“The season was over and we’ve won it all. Mike comes over and thanks me. Of course, he thanked me for getting injured because he said there was no way we could have won if I had been playing,” said Carbacio. “That was Mike. Those that know him know he hasn’t changed a bit and that’s why he’s always going to be successful.”
Editor's Note: Top photo of Mike Carey by Ben Queen of www.benqueenphotography.com, while middle photo of Jimbo Fisher courtesy of Florida State University. Bottom photo or Rich Rodrguez, right, with, from left, Jeff Casteel and Tony Gibson courtesy of WVU Sports Communications.