Albany’s Kevin Graber takes teaching skills to Chicago Cubs

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Albany native Kevin Graber is going from one classroom to another, in a manner of speaking.

He’s moving from prep school to Major League Baseball.

Graber, the longtime head baseball coach at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., was recently hired as complex coordinator for the Chicago Cubs. He’ll start working for the Cubs in November at their spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz.

“If you were sort of to describe the spring training facility like a school, it’d be kind of like the dean of faculty,” Graber said. “It’s helping orchestrate and practice plan all the instruction that happens on all those diamonds. Just make sure everything’s happening on time and the way it’s supposed to and roaming around and just being a conduit between that facility and the front office folks over in Wrigley (Field).”

He’ll also manage the Arizona Cubs, Chicago’s rookie-level affiliate that plays at Sloan Park in Mesa.

Graber, a CBA and College of Saint Rose graduate, spent the past 14 years at Phillips Academy, where he won 11 Central New England Prep championships. Since 2012, they’ve sent 64 players to college baseball, including four current players who are committed.

Along with his coaching responsibilities, Graber also serves as an academic advisor, works in the admissions office and teaches two classes. He is finishing there this month.

But he didn’t abandon his dream of returning to professional baseball at some level. He played and managed in independent leagues, leading the now-defunct Adirondack Lumberjacks in Glens Falls in 1998, before switching to the amateur ranks.

“I had a feeling or desire when my kids got older, I’d like to circle back to professional baseball and an opportunity might avail itself,” said Graber, 53, who is married with three children. “Lo and behold, it has.”

To spread his message, Graber put instructional videos on social media. He gave talks at various coaching conferences. The biggest one took place last January at the American Baseball Coaches Association national convention in Chicago. He stood on a stage in a room the size of a football field and gave a presentation on baserunning.

“I prepared for that like Rocky Balboa getting ready to fight Ivan Drago,” Graber said. 

In August, Graber was contacted by the Chicago Cubs, whose vice president of player development Jared Banner played for Graber at Amherst College. Graber sent the Cubs his PowerPoint presentation, visited them at Wrigley Field and had Zoom and phone interviews before being offered the job.

“Some of the conversations were really about baserunning and my philosophy and the stuff that I teach,” Graber said. “A lot of it was about what I do at the school, what are your different roles, how do you manage conflict, and what’s your philosophy working with players.”

At Saint Rose, Graber learned as a second baseman and captain under head coach Bob Bellizzi, who won 778 games before dying of leukemia in 2006. Graber was struck by how much Bellizzi knew about his players off the field, whether in the classroom or in their personal lives.

“The one thing I took from Coach Belizzi is, I truly believe that players don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care,” Graber said.

Graber had his own health scare at Saint Rose. He was diagnosed with lymphoma during his senior year of 1992 and had six months of chemotheraphy and three months of radiation therapy.

Graber said he’s been in remission “for quite some time now” and takes care of himself with trail running and playing tennis.

He’ll move out to Arizona full-time and be joined later by his wife, Tina, and youngest daughter, Kelly, who is a college student. He’ll get to work helping develop prospects for the Cubs, who won the World Series in 2016 to break a 108-year drought.

“Every day, every moment, just helping somebody get better, helping the players get better, helping the coaches on the field and off the field,” he said. “You get in that river and you start swimming and you see where it leads.”

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