Country Fair ‘thank you’ for Fahrman

By J.P. Butler Olean Times Herald | Posted: Sunday, August 9, 2015 11:45 am

J.P. Butler

OLEAN — Even as a player for one of the most recognizable collegiate programs in the country, Mike Fahrman had never experienced this before.

At least not to this extent.

On the morning of Saturday, Aug. 1, Fahrman and some of his Olean Oilers teammates sat in the car at the Country Fair next to their home field, Bradner Stadium, pumping gas and preparing for their trek to Oneonta for Game 1 of the New York Collegiate Baseball League’s championship series.

As they were about to depart, an older man who was wearing a back brace and having difficulty walking sauntered over from the front doors of the convenience store. He’d been waving, but Fahrman and his friends, who were decked out in their Oilers gear, couldn’t be sure whom he was waving at.

“He ends up walking over to us and he says, ‘Thanks so much for this summer,’” Fahrman, the Oilers’ starting catcher and clean-up hitter, recalled. “‘I won’t be able to make it to your game tonight, but (go get ‘em) and bring it back to Olean tomorrow.’”

At that moment, it dawned on Fahrman how much he appreciated playing for this team and in front of these kinds of fans.

“Even in Gainesville or a bigger city like that, if you’re wearing a t-shirt that says ‘Gators Baseball’ or something like that, you might not get the average Gainesville resident to say, ‘Hey, good luck tonight’ or ‘Hey, we’ll be there tonight’ or have little kids coming up to you.”

Pulling out onto Front Street, it hit Fahrman just how much he appreciated … Olean, this small city located 1,195 miles from his hometown of Tampa.

    

IN HIS EARLIEST days here, back in late May of 2013, this eventual grizzled veteran of the Oilers had no idea where he was.

Earlier that spring, he was lounging in the airport waiting for the Gators’ flight to LSU, contemplating his summer plans when he was approached by Florida assistant Brad Weitzel, a Salamanca native. Weitzel had the “perfect idea” for him: he told Fahrman he was going to play for Olean in the NYCBL, near where he grew up. He’d be able to play and develop there. He’d do well.

“And when he said that, I said, ‘I don’t even know where that is,’” Fahrman recalled. “Is that New York City? Is that Syracuse? Like, where is this?

“He showed it to me on the map, and he said, ‘I know the coach (Bobby Bell), my nephew Jericho is going to be one of the (assistant) coaches. This is what you’re going to do.’ So, of course, once a coach tells you you’re going to go somewhere, you’re going to go.”

A few days in, the backup Florida backstop wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision. He was feeling homesick. He doubted his ability to make it through the summer.

“I’d always been around places like Tampa and Gainesville where there’s a lot of people,” he pointed out, “and Olean’s a really small town. I didn’t know if that was going to fit with me. Brad said, ‘wait until the games start, wait until you start playing.’ And the rest was history.”

AS A SOUTHEASTERN Conference talent playing in the NYCBL, Fahrman quickly became a star.

A steady run producer and a sturdy defensive catcher, he was named to the NYCBL all-star game in both 2013 and 2014. He likely would have been an all-star in this, his third season with the team, had he not arrived late due to the Gators’ extended run in the College World Series.

Fahrman was also chosen as the league’s second-team all-NYCBL catcher in 2013 and hit better than .300 in each of his last two campaigns.

The highlight of his three years up north, however, came a week ago today, when he helped the Oilers put an exclamation point on a magical playoff run with the franchise’s first NYCBL title.

In a league such as this, it’s rare for players to come back for a second year let alone a third. Typically, they’ll bounce around from summer circuit to summer circuit. But coming back each year made the most sense to Fahrman, and helping the Oilers back to their winning ways was a large part of that motivation.

“In (my second year), of course, we went 16-30; it was a bad year,” he noted. “But you have the new stadium and everything is on the up with the attendance and the fans and the popularity. We just weren’t winning. So it was kind of like unfinished business up here.”

Following a spring 2015 season in which he appeared in 10 games, collecting 14 hits, and helped the Gators to within one win of the College World Series championship game, the Tampa native had a choice to make: he could take an invitation to play in the Northwoods League, a more prestigious summer developmental league located in the midwest, where he likely would have split time with other catchers of his caliber, or he could return to Olean, play every day and be the man.

“So, it was kind of a no-doubter,” he said. “Also, I really wanted to … a championship maybe wasn’t the goal, but a couple of playoff games (at home) was honestly at the forefront of the reasons to come back.”

Not to mention that playing for the Oilers gave him a chance to flourish, something he hasn’t necessarily been able to do while at Florida.

“I can’t say enough about how much it does for me,” the three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll selection said. “The fact that you get so much responsibility from Bobby — here’s the pitching staff. He’s almost telling me to run the bunt plays, run the first-to-third defense; ‘Hey, who do you think we should bring in?’

“You’re not so much a coach, but you get the opportunity to offer your input: ‘Hey, maybe he should stay out there’ or ‘Hey, (starting pitcher Brandon) Schlimm looks tired, maybe we should take him out. All that stuff that I really haven’t gotten that much at school, to get that stuff over a full two months, it’s priceless for me.”

FAHRMAN, WHO HIT .302 with 11 doubles, 16 runs scored and 17 RBI in 27 regular-season games with the Oilers this summer, and who handled one of the better pitching staffs in the league, is unsure of what the future holds.

Even as a redshirt senior, he’ll once again be battling for time at Florida next spring, and could very likely wind up the No. 2 catcher for a third-straight year. He’s okay with that, though. He’s going to work and work, and if he ends up getting the starting job, he’ll be thrilled, and if not, he’s ready to help his team in any other way.

“That’s why I’m there,” he said.

He’s also hoping he’ll be drafted next spring and be able to pursue a professional career; even in his current role, as a contributing player on one of the best teams in the country, there’s a good chance of that happening.

“That’s why playing for Olean was so huge,” he said. “I mean, I just wanted to keep playing, getting that experience. I didn’t want to take the jersey off.”

No matter what happens, however, he won’t forget his three-year stay 1,195 miles from home, and that moment at the Country Fair, in particular.

“It was just so surreal to me to think that the city just buys into the Oilers, even if it’s just two months,” he said. “They put it at like priority No. 1 and the fans come out. It’s crazy to think that this is just a baseball-oriented community and just to win it in front of 2,500 fans, I still get chills just thinking about it.”

(J.P. Butler, an Olean Times Herald sports writer, can be reached at sports@oleantimesherald.com)





Oilers sweep Oneonta for first NYCBL title

By J.P. BUTLER, Olean Times Herald | Posted: Sunday, August 2, 2015 11:59 pm

Oilers win NYCBL

The Olean Oilers rush on the field in celebration of their first New York Collegiate Baseball League championship Sunday at Bradner Stadium.

OLEAN — Three weeks ago, and even before that, Bobby Bell was unsure if something like this could actually happen.

His team had gotten stagnant, still hovering around .500 with only a week remaining in the regular season. At that point, it was still on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. The summer had worn the Olean Oilers down.

On Sunday night, however, before a record crowd of 2,525, most of whom had already been firmly behind this team, it happened.

The Oilers received a gem of a start by ace Austin Bizzle, who had been sitting on his couch in Florida less than 24 hours earlier (related story this page). They picked up a huge two-out, two-run double off the bat of centerfielder Isaac Dillard that padded a narrow lead.

And ultimately, with Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blasting from the speakers, they claimed their first New York Collegiate Baseball League championship, defeating Oneonta, 4-2, at Bradner Stadium to sweep the title series, two games-to-none.

“Unbelievable, man,” said Bell, who’s coached Olean since its inaugural season in 2012. “All the hard work everybody puts in day-in and day-out for the last four years … to picture us winning, it was tough to believe. And then to picture us winning in the Stadium with over two grand here, it’s (amazing).”

What propelled Olean from a fringe playoff team, to Western Division titleist to NYCBL champions?

“I knew all we had to do was get the life, or that spark, that energy,” Bell said, “because we had the skills, we had the talent. I kept telling the guys, if we just break down the game and do the simple things, something great will happen.

“And that’s all we started doing. We had a lot of energy, we did those little things and it all added up to this.”

On Sunday, Bizzle gave Olean exactly the kind of start for which it was looking after flying him back to Western New York earlier in the morning.

The Alabama State junior struck out five, scattered eight hits and allowed just two runs (one earned) in a complete-game effort. He got better as the game went along, striking out the side in the fifth and needing only five pitches to get out of the sixth.

He did this using a borrowed glove and cleats and after not doing any of his between-starts routine.

“I was a little worried about it,” Bell admitted, “but him and (catcher) Mike (Fahrman) are just one and two, they’re the battery. And I knew with Mike behind the plate, he’d be able to get in his head and make sure he stayed calm and got right into his game, and that’s what he did.”

Said Bizzle of getting the ball and turning in that kind of performance: “It means a lot to me. Everyone here loves me, and I love all the fans. (The Oilers) kind of look to me to be the guy to go out there and get it done, so I just have that mindset when I go out there that they’re counting on me, so I just have to get it done.”

Olean took a 1-0 lead in the second on an Aaron Phillips RBI single, but went into the fifth tied with the Outlaws at one. That’s when it was able to get some separation.

First, Johnsonburg native Cole Peterson helped the Oilers retake the advantage with an RBI on a fielder’s choice. And then Dillard produced the biggest hit of the game, depositing a double in the left-field corner that scored both Fahrman and Peterson and gave Olean a 4-1 cushion.

“Oh, it definitely felt good just to know that I came up in a big-time situation and delivered for my team,” said Dillard, who was named MVP of the championship series. “During that at-bat, I was sitting fastball, just reacting to offspeed. (Oneonta starter David Ehmen) hung a curveball a little bit high and inside, I just stayed short to the ball, got my hands out in front and tried to do as much as I could with it.”

His thoughts as he watched it fall in the corner?

“Everybody, we gotta score,” he said. “just please score.”

Peterson finished 1-for-3 with an RBI and a pair of runs scored while Dillard had the two RBI for the Oilers. The Outlaws plated another run in the seventh on a single by Tyler Martis and an ensuing three-base error, and then threatened with another double. But that runner was picked off while leading from second and Bizzle held Oneonta down from there.

“I tried my best not to do it,” Bell said, “to not let the crowd overcome what I had to do on the field, because (in last year’s opener), it took me four innings to get into it. Tonight, it was like right away, but it’s tough because all I wanted to do was look around, see the people and get excited about it.”

Now, Olean and its fans can be excited.

“It’s unbelievable,” third baseman Bubba Hollins said. “It’s one of the best feelings. It’s really cool because we all got hot at the right time. We just talked about it every single day … we’re going to win this game, we know we’re going to win today. We just kept that mindset throughout and rolled with it.”

Pollock: Bizzle flies in for title-clinching start

By Chuck Pollock, Olean Times Herald | Posted: Monday, August 3, 2015 12:07 am

Austin Bizzle

Olean Oilers starter Austin Bizzle delivers a pitch in Game 2 of the NYCBL Championship Series. Bizzle flew in from Florida Sunday to pitch a complete game in a 4-2 series-clinching win at Bradner Stadium.

OLEAN — You only get to win your first championship once and the Olean Oilers did it on Sunday night before a record crowd at Bradner Stadium, thanks to the inspired purchase of an airline ticket.

The Oilers, in their fourth season in the New York Collegiate Baseball League, claimed their initial title via a 4-2 win over the Oneonta Outlaws to sweep the best-of-three series.

And the architect of the triumph was pitcher Austin Bizzle, who threw a 119-pitch complete-game, seven-hitter, striking out five, walking three and hitting one batter.

But it’s how Bizzle came to be on the Bradner mound that was the real story.

Due to school commitments at Alabama State, he headed home to Panama City in Florida’s panhandle.

“They mentioned (coming back during the playoffs) when I went home but as it got later in the playoffs I kind of put it on the back-burner,” Bizzle recalled.

But Oilers owner Brian O’Connell didn’t forget him.

“We worked really hard to find a bus (for Saturday’s trip to Oneonta) because I didn’t want them to have to drive up there 3½ hours in a carpool,” O’Connell said. “But it didn’t work out, all of the busses in the area were booked.

“So before the team left, I told Bobby (Bell, Oilers manager) to get Bizzle on the phone. We talked about getting him up here to pitch … I had a really good feeling we were going to beat (Oneonta, Saturday night) and I wanted him here for the championship game. So I used the money I would have spent on the bus to buy a plane ticket to fly him up from Florida.”

From Fort Myers, to be exact.

“We went down south (from Panama City to the Fort Myers area) to see my girlfriend’s new baby sister,” Bizzle said of the 8-hour drive. “I thought about bringing my equipment with me, just in case. But by the time I left, it was out of my mind. So everything I’m wearing is borrowed … even my gloves, cleats, everything.”

As O’Connell recalled, “When I first talked to him, he said, ‘Coach, all of my equipment is in a different city eight hours away. And I said, ‘All we need is you and your arm, we’ll get you the equipment.’ He’s been part of this organization for two years and he’s a special player.

“Clearly we didn’t want to go back to Oneonta … there were 2,500 people here and we wanted to win it tonight having brought (the opportunity) back for the fans here.”

So Bizzle got up at 6:45 a.m. Sunday, flew out at 8:30, landed in Buffalo at 1:30 and was at Bradner three hours later.

AND AS the game progressed fans kept filing in.

An hour before the first pitch the lots around the Rec Center across from the stadium were full. Soon the overflow lot where the City of Olean stores its sand and gravel was jammed and, ultimately, the latest arriving fans parked the the Mt. Zion Christian Assembly Church lot, former home of Coral Lanes.

By the first pitch over a hundred ticket buyers were still in line.

“I took a couple of players out to breakfast this morning and we talked about the fans and I told them I thought we were going to have over 2,000,” O’Connell said. “This community has been incredible when it comes to supporting the Oilers. I watch the people coming in and you can see it in their eyes, they really enjoy watching the game of baseball.

“This has been, over the years, a big baseball area. And it’s great to be back in Bradner Stadium and have this kind of fan support. This is an historic day for baseball in downtown Olean and I’m just so proud of everybody who’s been a part of this program.”

He added, “It’s an honor to put a team on the field like this and have such support from the city and the surrounding area.”

SO WHAT turned the Oilers, who were on the playoff bubble less than three weeks ago, to a team that won 14 of its last 17 games, including 6-1 in the playoffs?

“It’s absolutely incredible,” O’Connell admitted. “What happened was we hit the ball like we’re capable of. Our defense and pitching were stellar all year.

“Down the stretch, unlike last year, we felt our arms were good enough to carry us into the playoffs but we needed that third component which was hitting the baseball … getting quality at bats, getting that two out hit with runners in scoring position. Hitting is always contagious. Once one starts going the others start going and that’s what happened, we got on a hot streak.”

And the result was an NYCBL championship.

“This made up for our opener last year that we lost (the winning run) on a call at third … it still sticks with me,” O’Connell admitted. “It was the first game we ever played here and they called our runner out for missing third. There were 2,000 people here and they went nuts (at the call) and we ended up losing in extra innings. So this is a little bit of redemption.”

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

Olean Oilers Owners Rene O'Connell, Brian O'Connell Jr. with pitcher Austin Bizzle and Logan O'Connell

2015 NYCBL Championship winning pitcher- Austin Bizzle

Cole Peterson-2016 NYCBL Defensive Player of the Year and Offensive player of the championship series and NYCBL Defensive Player of the Year.

David "Bubba" Hollins-2016 NYCBL Defensive Player of the championship series

Dave Vaccaro-2016 Offensive MVP of the Championship Series.

 2015 and 2016  NYCBL MANAGER OF THE YEAR

                     BOBBY BELL

Pictured left to right: Owner Brian O'Connell, Coach Bobby Bell, Director of Operations Sean O'Connell

Oilers win 2016 Championship-Brian, Logan, Bubba, Rene

Oilers Win the 2015 NYCBL Championship in front of 2500 fans!! Highlight Video by Hannah Forrest

Aaron Phillips is named NYCBL Pitcher of the Year AND Player of the Year!

NYCBL Olean Oilers Baseball