After years and years of giving signs to his baseball players, Mike Carver recognized a sign when it came his way.
Carver said for the past few years he had been mulling over whether to hang up his cleats as Southold High School’s baseball coach. When a doctor told him he needed both of his kneecaps replaced, that ultimately made the decision for him.
Carver, 45, has ended his decades-long association with the Southold baseball program and will not return this spring as the varsity team’s head coach. Greg Tulley, 30, who had coached the Southold junior varsity team the past two years, will take over the top job from Carver.
“I was just wondering how many more years I had in me and, you know, mentally and physically it’s time,” Carver told The Suffolk Times. “It was definitely time for me to pass the torch.”
Southold has been a perennial power under Carver’s reign. In his 17 varsity seasons, the team has gone 221-127 (.635), winning a regional championship and a place in the state semifinals in 2015, two Long Island crowns, four Suffolk County titles and six league championships. He was named a league coach of the year five times. Last season Southold went 23-2, losing in the Southeast Region Class C final to North Salem.
“It was bittersweet,” Southold athletic director Steve Flanagan said of the news of Carver stepping down. “It’s good for him, making a decision that he’s going to be happy with, but losing somebody like that, with all the institutional knowledge that they have, losing that is a big loss for the program.”
Carver said he has arthritis in both knees, a result of genetic hip dysplasia. He said he underwent major reconstructive surgery in both knees when he was 16. “That’s when I went from being a catcher to a second baseman,” he said. “At that point they said it very well may be premature arthritis, and it’s been getting worse and worse and worse.”
Now Carver said he needs patellofemoral replacement for both kneecaps. He is scheduled for a Feb. 23 operation on his left kneecap.
Health concerns aside, Carver said the decision to walk away from baseball wasn’t an easy one.
“It was a family decision,” he said. “My wife, basically, was supportive. She knows what a big part of our life, our family life, it’s been for the last 22 years. Baseball has been in my life since I was 3.”
“It was the right time,” he continued. “I can be home with the family more, see my family in the spring. I don’t know what springtime with my family is like, I really don’t.”
Carver takes away fond memories from his Southold baseball experience.
“I’d never give any of that back,” he said. “It was an experience. It was great. We had a lot of success. I am going to miss the relationships formed, of course. I’m going to miss playoffs.”
And Carver said he will never forget one game, in particular: the 2015 state Class C semifinal against Hoosic Valley. Southold lost that thriller, 2-0, but for Carver it was a game for the ages.
“Even though we lost, the best game I have ever been involved in,” he said. “I will never forget that game as long as I live.”
With Southold’s coaching reshuffle, Craig Jobes is the new JV coach and Joe Corrado the new junior high school coach. And Tulley plays a larger role in a program he is familiar with, surrounded by players he knows.
“Mike has left an indelible mark on the program and all the athletes that he’s had,” Flanagan said. “We’re really looking forward to and confident that Coach Tulley is going to pick up the torch and really lead us.”
“Greg’s been a longtime JV coach here for years who has a good idea of what’s going on with the program,” Flanagan added. “So, we’re really excited for Greg to get this opportunity at a varsity level. He’s been working under Mike Carver for a long time, so all that knowledge Mike has been sharing with him throughout the years, we’re hoping that Greg will be able to kind of hit the ground running and kind of pick up where Mike left off.”
Tulley, who coached Southold’s junior high team for one year before moving on to the JV team, had played for Smithtown High School and C.W. Post.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Tulley said. “Playoffs are always the goal.”
Southold will have a lot of new faces this coming season. The team graduated 11 players and only three are returning, said Tulley.
The team’s first official preseason practice will be on March 5. Of course, one person not expected to be there is Carver.
“I’m going to miss the sound of the bat,” he said. “I’m going to miss the pop of the glove inside the gym. It was always a sign that warmer weather was coming.”
Carver isn’t done coaching, though. He said he will return in the fall to coach the Southold/Greenport girls tennis team for a third year.
Does he see himself ever returning to baseball?
“Who knows?” he said. “I’m never going to close the door.”
Carver, who had coached Southold JV or junior high teams for four years before becoming the varsity coach, said: “It’s going to be a different spring this year. It was a big part of my life.”
Photo caption: Mike Carver had a 221-127 (.635) record in his 17 years as Southold’s coach. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)