Al Chandler Sr. leaned heavy on the lectern and could barely talk. For one of the very few times in his life, he was at a loss for words.
Overcome with emotion and the connection that he’d developed over 32 years of coaching baseball in the Smithtown district, Chandler looked around the commons room at Smithtown East High School and realized the impact he has had on his players and the surrounding community.
He could not find the words to match the significance of the event. So he mumbled the most heartfelt thanks.
With board approval and the support of the community, Pat Smith, the director of athletics for the Smithtown School District, announced that the varsity baseball field at Smithtown East is now called the Al Chandler Sr. Baseball Field.
“This is a man who was an educator and a coach in every sense,” Smith said. “Al Chandler was a man that impacted the lives of our student-athletes every day in a positive manner. He did something very important for a very long time. He shaped people’s lives through positive reinforcement and by encouraging them along the way. It is an honor to name our field after him.”
His validation could be found in every corner of the room during the morning ceremony. His impact was deep. And one by one, former players and colleagues came to the podium and shed a little more light on who this man was and what he meant to Smithtown. There were doctors, a former major league standout, other health care professionals, teachers, and family members that spoke.
Few were planned speeches. Many came from the heart when Smith invited anyone to the podium to share a Chandler experience.
“It’s a privilege to be here and honor Coach Chandler,” said former major leaguer Frank Catalanotto. “I have nothing but great memories playing for him. He cultivated a great atmosphere and created a fun environment to play the game. We didn’t even dread practices because they were fun. He fueled my passion for the game of baseball which helped in my professional career.”
Over 32 years, Chandler had a career record of 327-164 and won seven league championships, four Suffolk Class AA crowns and two Long Island titles. His teams went to the state finals twice, earning the state championship in 1990. His coaching awards were too numerous to list.
“He molded young people,” said Dr. Michael Ciminiello, who was a two-time All-County catcher and played for Princeton. “He was instrumental in who I am today as a professional and a father. He’s part of the fabric of this town. Baseball is a game and he kept it fun. We learned from winning and losing. He allowed us to fail and then to figure out how to succeed. His messages were clear and constructive.”
Chandler, who taught physical education to seventh and eighth graders at in Nesaquake Middle School in St. James, instilled confidence and pride in his players. He was all about the life experience.
“He once told me as a young player, ‘you never look bad hustling,’” said Matt Buscemi, a Smithtown health teacher. “That was 30 years ago. And it’s always stuck with me.”
Chandler’s son, Al Jr., had the opportunity to play for his father at Smithtown and follow in his footsteps as the school’s baseball coach for four years. They have a warm father-son connection.
“My Dad was always positive, the best,” Al Jr. said. “And that was my takeaway. He would say ‘adjust’ to whatever was troubling me. He wanted me to make an adjustment to find the solution to the problem. It was the best advice. I’m thrilled for him to be honored by the district.”