MONTPELIER — Charlie Barbieri is the eighth manager in Vermont Mountaineers history and he arrived in the Capital City with John Russo’s personal stamp of approval.
Russo coached the team for 10 years and is set to enter his 11th year at the helm of the Hofstra University squad. Barbieri will begin his fifth season coaching at SUNY-Maritime and he learned about the Mountaineers job opening last August when Russo gave him a phone call.
After Vermont GM Brian Gallagher chatted with Barbieri a few times, the hiring decision wasn’t tough.
“I called Russo and he said, ‘This is the guy you really want,’” Gallagher said. “He said he would fit in well with the community and he spoke highly of his character and integrity. And he said he could help with recruiting and all that. And then we had several phone calls and we hit it off immediately. I’ve gotten to know him the last couple weeks here and the kids like to play for him.”
Barbieri replaces 2018 Mountaineers coach Blake Nation, who took a full-time job at Division I Hofstra as an assistant. Chris Jones, Russo, Troy Mook, Joe Brown, Bob Morgan and Johnston Hobbs were also managers for Vermont, which is competing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League for the 17th season.
The Mountaineers' newest manager graduated from Adelphi University in 2001 and has served as a scout for the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays. As a coach, Barbieri won the Long Island Collegiate Baseball League Championship in 2016 with the Long Island Storm. Last summer, he was manager of the Westhampton Aviators of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball Summer League.
Barbieri has coached over 70 D-I players, including 22 athletes who were drafted or signed by MLB organizations. Two of his former players — Paul Blackburn and Dominic Smith — were first-round draft picks. He helped SUNY-Maritime claim five Skyline Conference titles, leading the Privateers to their first NCAA Division III Championship appearance two years ago.
This summer, Barbieri will attempt to guide the Mountaineers back to the post-season after the team endured a rocky road in 2018. Vermont won seven of its final 10 games to finish at 21-23, but the late surge wasn’t enough to earn a spot in the playoffs.
With the Mountaineers poised to host games Tuesday and Wednesday, here are a dozen questions for the new sheriff in town:
TA: You grew up in New York, so Mets or Yankees?
Barbieri: “I’m a Mets guy. Unfortunately, I made some poor team choices in my youth and they’re coming back to bite me. Mets, Jets, Islanders, Knicks — I literally chose all four wrong teams.”
TA: Were you the type of kid where you knew baseball was your thing early on?
Barbieri: “Yeah. I was a high school football and baseball guy. I loved football, but I wasn’t really big enough to play past high school. So baseball was the easier path for me physically.”
TA: Did anybody get you into baseball?
Barbieri: “It was one of those typical things with my dad taking me to baseball games and just watching it on TV and falling in love with it. You think about your childhood memories, and it’s a baseball field.”
TA: Did you play the same position or did you move around?
Barbieri: “When I was young, because I was a smaller guy, I was an infielder and played second base and shortstop. And then somehow I found some speed, so I played the outfield a little bit. And I loved the outfield. That was where I excelled. I wasn’t a great hitter, but I felt like I was always pretty good out there. I was able to run a little bit before I got old.”
TA: And in terms of coaching, do you have a certain brand or style that people know you for?
Barbieri: “Summer ball is definitely different from school ball because you have guys from all over the country coming in. And you have a couple days to try to mold them and make a team out of them. It’s more just making sure that you communicate and you’re on the same page. You try to develop relationships as soon as you can and make this as comfortable for them as possible. My style is we’re going to come out here and have some fun and compete. And when it’s time to turn it up, we turn it up. This is a very self-motivated group of players. They’re at the field all day, every day. And I knew I was getting those types of grinders who love the game. They’re from a lot of Mid-Majors or smaller schools — maybe not as well known as the SEC or ACC schools. But these are guys who are getting 150 at-bats a year and they just work their butts off. If they’re not in the gym, they’re usually on the field somewhere.”
TA: How would you describe the gamble of trying to go for the big names and not always getting them, or getting the College World Series guys late?
Barbieri: “We’re in a little bit of that situation now. We still have a couple guys who aren’t here who will be coming in the next couple weeks. To me, you’re trying to find the best player — it doesn’t matter what school he’s from. You’re trying to find the guy who can help Vermont excel and win a championship. Playing for a big school is nice to put on a piece of paper. But if it doesn’t translate on the field, then it’s pretty worthless.”
TA: And any NECBL manager has to be really aware of watching pitch counts, right?
Barbieri: “That’s really important. College head coaches have put their faith and trust in us to take care of their players. So there’s constant communication with them as far as how they’re feeling, and what they think they can and can’t do.”
TA: Have there been any early surprises with hitting or pitching?
Barbieri: “Christian Scafidi was the Ivy League Pitcher of the Year this year, and last summer he was the Coastal Plain Pitcher of the Year. He came out on Friday and gave us five shutout innings. And Enzo Stefanoni, who’s a reliever from Harvard, had two more shutout innings. And then Nic Luc, who’s from Division II Adelphi in New York, was hitting 95-96 (mph) on the gun and he gave us a shutout inning. And then a really talented kid, our closer Beau Keathley from Oakland University, gave up a run. But he hadn’t pitched in a couple weeks. The top part of the pitching looks really good and we’ll get to see the rest of the guys soon. It’s early, but there’s been a lot of promise.”
TA: There have been some years when they set records for stolen bases here. Are there any similarities to that?
Barbieri: “A lot of this team is built on speed. And we have some guys who aren’t here who are coming in the next couple days who can run. And these guys all know I want them to run. It just creates a lot of havoc, and most summer league teams don’t work on defending the run game. We had four or five stolen bases our first game. And if we can continue that trend, good things will come to us.”
TA: For the players’ schedule, is there any sort of typical day? I know you guys start summer camp soon, and I’m guessing the guys are trying to do a workout early.
Barbieri: “Most of the guys are in the gym at some point in the morning. And we’ve been going with afternoon practices just to let them sleep in a little bit and get their workout in. Pitchers will come down and throw. Some kids come back later at night and hit. Some guys go back to the gym and work out again. They’re a pretty easy group to roll with.”
TA: You haven’t been around this league too much, but how would you compare Vermont or the Mountaineers to some other college baseball leagues?
Barbieri: “I coached in the Hamptons last year and it was a great experience, but this is just a different level. Just from the whole presentation of the field and the game-day operations and the fans, it’s a whole different level. And we saw some arms the other day where everybody was hitting the 90s. So you know this is real and it’s legit. There’s a reason it got ranked the second-best league in the country behind the Cape.”
TA: And you had some connection to coach Russo before coming here?
Barbieri: “Coach Russo is a good friend of mine and he called me in early August and asked, ‘Do you want to go coach in Vermont next summer?’ It was a phenomenal opportunity and I jumped at it. I’m very grateful to him and he’s still following the team. Last Friday he texted me before the game and after the game. He loves the Mountaineers and he just raves about the community and the team and everybody. And so it was an easy sell for me — why wouldn’t I want to be a part of that? I’m extremely grateful to coach Russo for that.”