When Haverhill High head coach Tom O'Brien runs a baseball practice, it looks like he's a seasoned veteran of the sport.
He hits fungoes out to his outfielders, sharp grounders to his infielders and slow dribblers for his catchers. He barks out instructions, reminding each player where the cutoff throw should go. Every fielding drill has a purpose and he shouts encouragement and advice with every swing of the bat.
But the baseball diamond is not such familiar territory for O'Brien. In fact, it is the first time he has been involved in organized baseball in almost 20 years.
O'Brien, who is juggling both head coaching and athletic director duties at Haverhill High School, appointed himself coach of the struggling program last month. He replaced Chip Forrest, who was dismissed as coach after barely a month on the job. He was let go after what was described as a "personnel" issue by O'Brien.
For O'Brien, that means much longer days on the job, but so far he is enjoying being back in the dugout.
"I've loved it. I really have enjoyed it," he said. "It's been a challenge to juggle the responsibilities, but I'm getting into a routine now."
O'Brien generally works in his office as athletic director from the beginning of the school day to about 2:30 in the afternoon. He then leaves to go to the baseball field to coach from 3 to 6 p.m. Then he goes home to finish the athletic director work that he was unable to complete earlier.
While it is a stressful day for O'Brien, the most rewarding part of his new responsibilities is getting to work with the kids much more closely than he could as athletic director.
"To work with the athletes for two hours (a day) has just been great," O'Brien said. "I've gotten to know them as individuals ... I feel close to these 18 guys and I've only spent a few weeks with them."
O'Brien became Haverhill High athletic director in February 2011. The last time he was involved in organized baseball was at St. Leo University in Florida as a player on a partial scholarship. He then took a job in that school's athletic department, which jump started his sports administration career. The game has come back to O'Brien a lot more easily than he expected it to.
"I can't believe the things I remember," he said. "Every day as I'm laying awake, something else comes back to me. It's all come back to me like it was yesterday. Whether it's drills I used to do or plays we used to run, the little intricacies with the game are returning."
After a tumultuous season a year ago, in which the Hillies finished with two wins and 18 losses, longtime head coach Chip Dunn was let go. The Hillies have started to turn things around. They matched their win total from a year ago in just their fourth game of this season, and the mood among players and parents is a lot more positive than it was a season ago.
"Everyone is really enthusiastic this year," said junior shortstop and pitcher Nick Comei. "There's a lot more energy around this year and it's looking good.''
"I think (O'Brien) has done a great job," said Joe Salerno, whose son Shaun Salerno is a senior on the team. "The last three years were a disaster. Now everyone is happy and content. There is a good spirit around the team."
Despite the positive reviews that O'Brien has gotten, he is firm in the belief that this is just a one-year solution. He said he will conduct a search for baseball coach after the season is over.
"As much as I am enjoying this, I don't think it can continue," he said. "For the sake of myself and my family, it's not fair to them. I have no doubt I can handle it for a year, but that is all it will be."
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