They say there is no crying in baseball.
Sometimes, that’s all there is.
Stamford Senior Legion coach Kevin Murray stood in the middle of a circle of his players and coaches after the team had just won a come-from-behind, extra-inning game in the state tournament and the sadness and grief became too overwhelming to contain any longer.
As his team celebrated the win, Murray collapsed in foul territory, becoming a puddle of emotion and curling up in a ball on his knees on the grass at Taft Field in Watertown as the assistant coaches leaned over him.
Composing himself he tried to speak to the players, but the emotion overtook him again.
The players obscured his body, the ones closest laid their hands on his back as he hunched over sobbing.
After a few minutes, he tried to speak to reporters at the game, but did not last long.
“Are you kidding me?” Murray said. “I am at a loss for words. I am never speechless. Talk about ups and downs of a game. The game of baseball, the game of life. We have an angel in the outfield right now and I know he is looking down on us right now. And now we have to go say goodbye to him.”
Stamford walked off Taft Field with the strangest mix of emotions. Elated with the victory but preparing to say goodbye to their leader and friend.
Driving down Route 8 and I-95, going directly to Cognetta Funeral Home on Myrtle Ave., the team arrived at the wake for Chris Sabia roughly an hour and half after celebrating along that first base line.
Among the dark suits, 18 boys in light blue Stamford Legion jerseys with “Sabia 17” on the back filed in to pay their respects.
For the rest of the evening, anyone pulling into the funeral home was greeted with a sea of blue standing in the parking lot, talking about “Sabes.”
Until his passing last Friday from cancer, Sabia had been the president and general manager of the Stamford American Legion Baseball program.
More than that, he was a friend, coach and mentor to nearly everyone ever associated with the program.
If you hang around the fields in Stamford long enough you hear the legendary names of the past brought up with great reverence for their contributions to baseball in the city. Names like Valentine, Lione and DeLeo.
Before his death, Sabia’s name belonged in those conversations. Now, it should be etched in stone.
He gave so much to baseball in Stamford and, in the end, baseball in Stamford gave all that love back when he needed it the most.
While there he was on the 2000 team that lost in the NCAA Regional Final. In 2013, the entire team was inducted into the Stonehill College Athletic Hall of Fame.
Soon after college he was back living and working in Stamford. With an itch to get back on the diamond Sabia decided to get involved in youth baseball.
He joined the then struggling American Legion program as a coach of the junior team, moving up to coach the seniors and eventually taking over the administrative end of things.
For over 15 years he dedicated not just his summers, but plenty of time in the offseason building the program along with Murray and a plethora of talented coaches.
In his time, the top high school players from Stamford all drifted to Post 3 as it became one of the premier programs in the state.
The Senior, Junior and Prep teams are all routinely playing late in state tournaments, all because of Sabia’s dedication to the program.
He wanted Stamford to once again be known as the best baseball city in Connecticut.
It seemed like Sabia lived at Cubeta Field in the summer where he would constantly be in motion if one of his teams were playing, nervous energy compelling him to never sit still.
He would pace around behind the left field fence, then the right field fence, then say hello to a few people and pace around near the snack bar before popping into the press box and continuing his constant state of motion.
He would occasionally operate the scoreboard for games and he always had a portable device he could run the board with so he didn’t have to stay seated in the press box.
His passion for the game and the kids playing was boundless and he would never pass up an opportunity to talk baseball.
The last two years after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, baseball was his salvation.
The game he loved so much growing up was going to love him back.
Every time he was at the field were moments not thinking about cancer.
Every pitch a break from the hideous reality happening inside his body.
The players on the Stamford Legion teams were probably not thinking about it, but every game they played brought so much joy to Sabia.
According to those who knew him, the last few months were rough, but there he was game in and game out.
He was in poor health, but would not be kept away from watching the Senior Legion team sweep a double header from Ridgefield two days before he would enter the hospital for the final time.
In the hospital, he continued to fight despite facing long odds.
He is, after all, a baseball man and as every baseball man knows, the game is not over until the final out.
He was fighting for his life, fighting for more time with his wife Emma, their infant son CJ and the rest of his friends, family and players.
At 39 his life was just getting going and now it was being unfairly snuffed out.
People by his side in those final days in the hospital said Sabia never conceded to death, taking his cuts until the final out which came Friday afternoon, a week after entering the hospital, surrounded by those who loved him the most.
The friends and family and lives Sabia touched were many, as was evident at his wake and again Thursday morning where an over-flow crowd attended his funeral service at Sacred Heart in Stamford.
Perhaps Sabia was letting everyone know with the standing-room only crowd the service should have been down the street at Cubeta?
The Senior Legion team is dedicating its state tournament run to Sabia, and in Wednesday’s 5-4 extra-inning win over No. 1 Oakville up in Watertown it was hard to think he was not there in some way.
Down a run with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth, Michael Graftstein singled then, down to his last strike, Michael Lisinicchia hit a ball that miraculously landed on the foul line scoring Grafstein.
Hunter Semmel then singled, scoring Lisinicchia from second and the team came streaming out of the dugout.
Murray talked about the team’s “angel in the outfield,” the players were all excited and somber at the same time and all spoke of Sabia.
The win allowed the team to get to the wake, a loss would have kept them in Watertown for another game.
The team is playing on in the quarterfinals beginning Saturday in Middletown and if you look with the right kind of eyes you will be able to see Chris Sabia pacing out by the batting cages at Palmer Field as Stamford is playing.
Just like he has done every summer before.