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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Saying goodbye to a legend

A group of people will gather at the Abbey on the campus of the Delbarton School Monday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. to pay farewell to the greatest high school baseball coach the state of New Jersey has ever known.

There will be a memorial service for the late Harry Shatel, the former Morristown baseball coach who won a state record 752 games during his tenure with the Colonials from 1969 through 2006, culminating in the NJSIAA Group III state title in his final year.

Shatel died in his Florida home earlier this month. He was not supposed to leave us all this soon. Although he had retired from coaching baseball, he was still active in Morris County athletics, as the PA announcer and official scorer for hockey games at Mennen Arena and at Aspen Ice for Delbarton games coached by his son Bruce.

And it's the second time in the span of a few weeks that New Jersey lost a baseball titan. First, it was my friend, Ed "The Faa" Ford and now Shatel. It's too much pain and anguish for one sportswriting warhorse to endure in a few weeks.

But in the case of Harry, I won't get a true chance to say goodbye. I'm in Myrtle Beach right now, wishing I could be in attendance Monday to hear all the tributes to Shatel.

I owe a lot to the man. In 1983, I was a 22-year-old sportswriter working for the Daily Record in my first job. I didn't know my left hand from my right, but I tried to learn about Morris County baseball.

I introduced myself to Shatel, who was already a legend by that point. He had won countless state titles and even more Morris County championships by then. He was someone I respected before I knew him.

I thought he might not want to be bothered with some snot-nosed kid learning the business. But it was so the contrary. He appreciated the knowledge I had for the game (especially my knowledge of his best player ever, former Minnesota Twin Rick Sofield.

Harry Shatel embraced me like I was one of his own family and he scolded me when I was wrong, told me when ''you did a good job, Jimbo,'' and was always on my side.

The last time I saw him in January, it was after one of the many snowstorms we had during the winter. I walked over to get the lineups for the Delbarton hockey game. I found myself plucking dog hairs off his fleece sweater.

But I can never forget the warmth, the consideration, the true joy for high school athletics that Harry Shatel had. He was an absolutely joy, a class act every step of the way.

So today, when they gather at Delbarton to say goodbye and fittingly play the Delbarton-Morristown baseball game afterwards, I won't be there. That makes me sad. It also makes me sad that I won't see Harry again.

But just like people who passed in the past year like his friend John Chironna and others who helped me learn my craft, there will never be enough words to thank Harry for what he meant to me.

I was proud and happy to be at the old Harter Road Field dedication last year to honor him with renaming the field after Harry. It was a fitting tribute and now, we'll never forget him.

But I didn't need some field to remember Harry Shatel. He was one of a kind and he will be so sorely missed.
===================================================Congrats to Harrison coach Sean Dolaghan for guiding the Blue Tide to a win over St. Peter's Prep in the newly renamed Ed Ford Memorial Baseball Tournament. No one could have ever imagined that Harrison could beat the Prep in any sport other than soccer. It's a great accomplishment.

As a Met fan, if the owners of the team can't find the money to re-sign Jose Reyes, I'm going to really reconsider being a Met fan. Reyes is the lynchpin who makes the team go. We have to find a way to get his name on a contract for a very long time.
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