Paul Steiner, who been coaching baseball at RHAM since 1974, decided to retire from coaching following the 2021 season.
Longtime head coach Paul Steiner will not be in the RHAM dugout for the first time in nearly a half century.
Following a 12-win season last spring, Steiner decided to end an illustrious career on the diamond, passing the reins over to former assistant and new head coach Bill Eller.
Steiner said he wanted more time to spend at home with his wife, Sue, who he said has been extremely supportive of his educational and coaching career, which has spanned 48 years.
So what is it like having a baseball-free spring?
“It’s awful. It’s just something that I’m not used to,” a smiling Steiner said. “Outside of COVID I haven’t had a spring off since ‘74.”
Steiner first came to Hebron in 1974 as part of his student teaching and then got a job as a Physical Education teacher at the elementary school prior to starting as an assistant baseball coach under Bob Godin at RHAM.
After a brief stint as the head coach in 1983, Steiner officially took over the full-time varsity gig in 1992 and held the position for 29 consecutive seasons, coaching over 600 games and winning 398 of them.
“When I took over I wanted to give everything that I possibly could to it,” recalled Steiner. “You go out to our field now and there are dugouts, a scoreboard, and batting cages.”
He added, “We’ve had some outside help but basically we had to fundraise and it has been the kids and parents that have been willing to build and dig holes.”
In his nearly half century with the program, he has seen a lot of change. Steiner said that kids used to show up to practice in jeans and that some players were upset because practice was on the opening day of fishing season. He added that it took a “year round” effort to change the perception of the program.
Steiner had many special moments, but it was two in particular that stood out.
First was the 2004 championship team, which holds a special place in Steiner’s heart for obvious reasons.
Steiner said he could write a book about the team, adding, “There was something unique about that team. Everything just clicked together, they never gave up, they never quit. We were down so many times.”
Current major league outfielder A.J. Pollock was a sophomore on the ‘04 title team. Pollock is in his first year with the Chicago White Sox after playing the previous decade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Steiner said that Pollock’s talent was evident early on, but he was unaware of what the future major leaguer’s career trajectory would be, saying, “At that time you have no clue.”
Pollock rose to national prominence but it was Brian Archambault who Steiner recalls as putting the title team on his back.
“He probably had the best single year of anyone,” Steiner said of the 5’6” Archambault, “He was 12-0 as a pitcher, including a no hitter in the semifinal, and he hit .420 with five home runs. He may have also been the best outfielder in the state of Connecticut.”
Then there was the program’s first conference championship team in 1993.
The team was playing undefeated Rocky Hill, who had beaten Steiner’s squad twice in the regular season and was leading 6-5 heading into the bottom of the final inning.
Despite it being nearly 30 years ago, Steiner remembers the way it ended like it was yesterday.
“We had a bunt single to lead off the inning. They knew we were going to bunt, but he beat it out. Then he stole second and the next guy was hit with a pitch. We bunted him over to third,” recalled Steiner. “Our fourth hitter comes up with runners on second and third. He missed two pitches and then puts the bat on the ball. The second baseman scoops it trying to throw the guy out at the plate and the ball goes under his glove. We scored both runs. Game over, we win 7-6.”
It would be the first of seven conference championships during Steiner’s tenure.
Steiner, who also coached wrestling, soccer, cross-country, and assisted with various other activities at the school, said, “The secret to coaching is having terrific kids and great assistant coaches.”
Current RHAM girls’ volleyball coach Tim Guernsey served as a baseball assistant under Steiner for several years.
"The impact that he has had on players and coaches over the years is something that will live on forever," Guernsey said of Steiner. "He has truly built the RHAM baseball program from the ground up and is responsible for so many great things."
Steiner said another key to his longevity was learning and adapting as a coach, using the example of the team’s strength training development.
Following a 10-run loss to Waterford in the 1998 semifinals, Steiner and his coaches knew the team would have to get bigger, stronger, faster to compete with the elite teams, so they implemented an off-season weight lifting program.
The team won a half dozen conference championships and a state title once the strength training program was in place.
Steiner’s journey to Hebron started in the heart of Connecticut where he played baseball and wrestled at the old Penney High School in East Hartford.
Upon graduating high school, he studied and wrestled at the University of Connecticut before graduating with a degree in education in 1974.
After teaching in Hebron for 26 years, he moved to the community in 2000 and has resided in town ever since. He has taught physical education at both the elementary school and middle school, along with being a paraprofessional.
He said the best part of coaching is the lifelong relationships that he has made. His first team captain in 1983 was John Tarbox, who now works as a Physical Education teacher in Block Island. Steiner and Tarbox now run an annual baseball camp together on Block Island during the summer.
“No one can understand what you go through as a coach, but you get repaid when you go to a wedding of a former player or when you go to a college game and watch these kids play or when you see them graduate from college. You may win or lose games, but those moments are why you coach,” said Steiner.
Now working as a paraprofessional, Steiner still comes to the school early to run and lift, and will throw batting practice if needed.
He said he is excited to see where Eller, who was previously the head coach at Rocky Hill High School, takes the program, saying, “Bill has had varsity experience. He’s a good man. There’s no question that he’ll do a terrific job.”
Steiner added he will attend the baseball games this spring, but joked that he will stand off to the side because it will be hard for him to relax.
“I feel like I’m leaving it better than when I got it. I love those kids from last year and I wish them the best,” he added.
As he passes the baton, he said that he always strived to coach his players to love the game, the skills to play it, and give them a good experience, adding, “I always tried to treat people with respect and courtesy and teach my players the best I could.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin