Steve Phaneuf has hung up his whistle after more than 30 years coaching Little League.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Coach Steve Phaneuf decided to hang up his whistle this spring after serving the North Adams Little League for 34 years.
His impact on the city's baseball program will be felt for years to come.
"From a coaching standpoint, I can tell you this: To the player, every player coach Phaneuf has coached who has come up to our program had two things," Drury High School baseball coach Pat Boulger said. "He was fundamentally sound."
If you had a coach Phaneuf player, you had no doubts this guy had the fundamentals of the game down solid. From a coaching standpoint, you appreciate that at the high school level.
"The other part about coach Phaneuf. He utilizes the mental part of the game and the discipline and the structure. When his players come to the high school, there is very little mental preparation — if any — that we have to do. He's a stickler for the smaller parts of the game that people don't see. He drives it into them daily."
And he has been driving these points home for more than three decades after a starting a coaching career he did not really see coming.
"How I got in was a friend of mine, George Canales, was taking over a Little League team, and he asked me if I could help him," Phaneuf recalled recently. "The first week [of the season], he called me and said that he couldn't do it. The president of the league asked me if I could help."
Among the players on that first team: Pat Boulger.
"He really brought a team that hadn't had a lot of success before and turned the whole team around," Boulger said. "He really taught me the fundamentals of the game and prepared me well for the high school program I was going to go up to at Drury High School."
Phaneuf made a habit of the years getting the most possible from teams that others thought may not be destined for much success.
"The best thing I could say about Steve is I would look at teams he'd coach early in the season and say they're in for a long season," current NALL President Marc Field said. "Literally, by the first of June, his team was always competing for a league championship."
Fittingly, Phaneuf's last team this spring won the city championship with a record of 24-1.
"Sometimes in Little League, you have two good pitchers and you can go pretty far," Field said. "Steve has done it with less talent. He knows where to put kids and how to get the most out of the kids. He never really had a bad year."
Boulger echoed that sentiment.
"He's got an unbelievable eye for what I would describe at the Little League level as raw talent," Boulger said. "He takes those fundamental skills and hones them into a specific skill set the player can take to the next level.
"That's hugely important for the development of that player for our program. Raw ability is one thing, but taking that ability and harnessing it and helping that player understand what the strengths of his game are is a difficult thing.
"He did that with me. He did that with players who went to the next level in college and the pros."
Among the players who have benefited from Phaneuf's tutelage is Sean McGrath, who went on to be a minor league player, a coach and general manager with the North Adams SteepleCats and now the commissioner of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
"Coach Phaneuf is a leader in this county of developing players of all different levels," Boulger said. "He also has developed coaches."
The NALL can only hope some of those coaches continue to carry the torch.
"He's been a great asset to our league," Field said. "He's one of those old-time coaches. A lot of coaches today coddle kids, but he gets a lot of respect from the kids. And he knows the game of baseball, too.
"It's going to be a huge loss to the kids and the league to lose him next year."
Phaneuf, 56, will continue to serve on the NALL board, a body on which he has served as president for several years.
But as for coaching, the veteran skipper says he is ready to pass the baton.
"Am I going to miss it? Yes," Phaneuf said. "But I'm still going to be on the board.
"It's just time. It's time to let other people take over over. I've been missing my summers lately. It's time for a change."