Eighty-three years is a long time. Looking back, eighty-three years ago Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson were being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Eighty-three years ago there was no internet, Iphones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even colored television. Eighty-three years is the age of General Manager Sonny Graci from Shrub Oak 1080 and even at his age he still has the same energy and focus on the game like he did back when he took the field.
Sonny Graci was born on April 12, 1936, in the Bronx, New York, the heart and soul of baseball at the time. Sonny loves the game of baseball he lives, breaths, and eats baseball. The game to Sonny was much more than a game - it was life, and he lives life to the fullest. When talking to Sonny, he will tell you “In life be healthy, do something that makes you happy, and do the right thing ” That is exactly what the game of baseball has given Sonny, a fulfilling life and a job that has given him a reason to get out of bed every morning and be happy with a smile on his face!
Sonny was signed to the St. Louis Browns in 1955 the year the organization moved from St. Louis to Baltimore and became the Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, Sonny's pro days did not last as long as he wanted them to, only playing a few years as a first baseman and outfielder for the Browns. The great part about life is when one door closes another one opens, which is the exact attitude that Sonny took when he realized his playing days were over.
Change is something everyone deals with in their life; but it is not always about the change, but how a person deals with the change. Sonny grew up with baseball as he got older he had to keep up with the game and the changes taking place not only with the rules and how it is played, but also with the talent and skill level of the players coming up. The kids that Sonny coaches are nothing like the kids he grew up with. The kids are stronger, faster, and are just overall more determined to do well in baseball. With the programs that kids have today for opportunities to keep playing like indoor complexes, workout programs designed for baseball, and the variety of leagues that have a high competition level, all helping the kids to get better. As a long-time legion baseball coach, Sonny loves to watch the kids get better at their craft and make something out of their lives through baseball, just as he did. “The one and only thing I regret is not going to college, school is so important and I make sure the kids I coach have a chance to get a college education,” said Sonny. College is the gateway to pro level ball these days and Sonny makes it his mission to get his players into good colleges so that if baseball does not work out they have a Plan B for their future. Sonny has helped a lot of players move on in their careers with baseball and get into college. A few players went on to become college coaches themselves, such as Kevin Leighton of Fordham University where he has been coaching for eight years as head coach including leading the Rams to the Atlantic 10 championship title. Leighton expressed his gratitude towards Sonny and all that it meant to him while playing for him when he was under his wing.
“Playing for Coach Graci was no doubt one of the best decisions I ever made as a young baseball player. Coach taught us how to play the game the right way, how to be accountable, how to be an adult, and most importantly how to be a good person. The one thing that you realize after you play for Coach Graci is that he wanted the best for his players and it was never about him. He truly cares about you, your success, your family, everything…. guys like him are hard to find now and I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to play for him and know him,” said Leighton. Jeffrey Caulfield also went on to become a college baseball coach for the Manhattanville Valiants and has been at the helm for 15 years and is the second winningest coach for the college’s program.
“Sonny is just an incredible guy all the way around his passion and love for the game has not changed one bit, and if Sonny Graci came to watch you play and offered you a roster spot on his team it was a big deal,” said Caulfield. A guy like Sonny does not just coach players to be great in the time that he has them as kids he coaches them to be future leaders and champions of their own endeavors later in life.
Sonny has the perfect job because not only has he been a long-time coach but he is also a MLB scout for three major league baseball teams the Kansas City Royals, Atlanta Braves and the Arizona Diamondbacks. So coaching for a legion team helps him kill two birds with one stone. Sonny has scouted many players and helped them make into pro baseball at the A or AA level but one player that he is proud to say he helped get into the MLB is Dave Fleming of the Seattle Mariners. Fleming was drafted in 1990 in the third round and played in the majors for five years between the Mariners and Kansas City Royals in 1995. Fleming in his career pitched in 116 games starting in 97 of those games with a career total of 303 strikeouts and over 610 innings pitched. Fleming is one of many success stories of Sonny Graci.
Sonny Graci is the type of person who believes in everyone; he thinks that if they work hard and do the right thing on and off the baseball field, they will be successful not only in baseball but in life as well. Sonny has used the game of baseball as a way to teach the young men he coaches about the difficulties in life, at times they will lose but it is how they get back up and fight on in the next inning, game, or part of life that will make them winners.