Coach Calls New Job a 'Dream Come True' After Stepping Up From Youth Leagues : Crespi Becomes a Contender the Fair Way

Times Staff Writer

Over the past nine years, Crespi High has gone through almost as many baseball coaches as the New York Yankees.

Mitch Fair is the Celts' fourth coach in the past four seasons and their seventh in nine seasons.

But Fair says that trend stopped when he was appointed to the position this year.

"I told them when I interviewed for the job that I was interested in building a program here," he said. "I'm working with the JV team also, and we're starting our own American Legion team this summer."

Tuesday afternoon at Notre Dame, the first-year coach made his first big step in building that winning program, guiding the Celts over powerful Del Rey League rival Notre Dame, 7-5, in their league opener. Crespi is 3-3 overall. The Knights fell to 3-4 overall and 0-2 in league.

Fair, 34, applied for the coaching position last summer, while he was helping to coach the Woodland Hills West American Legion team. Two of the players from that team, Scott Campbell and Drew Kempf, were from Crespi.

"When they heard that Dave Ward wasn't going to return as their coach, they asked me, 'Would you please come and apply for the job?' " Fair said.

Fair, who had been an assistant coach at several schools and youth leagues over the past 15 years, jumped at the chance to pencil in his own lineup.

"This is a dream come true for me," he said. "I always had to sit and think what I would do if I were the head coach. Now we're doing things my way."

Campbell, who was 3 for 4 with two runs batted in against Notre Dame, says he likes playing Fair Ball just fine.

"He knows his stuff," Campbell said. "I knew he had the credentials. We really pushed for him when our athletic director asked us about it."

On the field, Fair appears to be in heaven. He paces in front of his dugout, always talking, sometimes to no one in particular, and only occasionally stops to take a breath.

"Yeah, I'm a red hot," he said. "If you told me I had to sit down for a whole game, I'd probably die. You'd have to chain me to the bench."

The license plate on Fair's car reads "PERFSSR," after his idol, Casey Stengel. Stengel's nickname was 'Professor.' Fair's jersey number is 37, the same numeral that Stengel wore as a big-league manager.

"Professor was a nickname that was hung on me when I was 15 years old, coaching my little brother's team," Fair said.

In the seventh inning of Tuesday's game, Crespi resembled Stengel's dominant Yankees teams of the 1950s. Eight straight hitters reached base safely, and the Celts scored six runs without Notre Dame recording an out.

Crespi entered the inning with a 7-5 lead, but the game was called because of darkness and the final score reverted back to what it was at the end of six innings.

The Celts took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the third and starting pitcher Chris Spears appeared to be cruising. But Spears, a left-hander who had not allowed a hit in the first two innings, gave up two hits and walked four in the third, as the Knights took a 5-3 advantage.

In the fourth, Crespi scored four times off a trio of Notre Dame pitchers.

Paul Farkas, who replaced Spears in the fourth, picked up the victory to even his record at 2-2, while John Milligan, the second of four Knights pitchers, lost.

Notre Dame, which was limited to five hits, was led by junior shortstop Brian Wooley, who was 2 for 3.

Campbell, who played on the Crespi basketball team that advanced to the Southern Section quarterfinals, had a fourth hit in the seventh, when he singled to drive in two runs. But all the statistics run up by the Celts in the seventh were officially taken away.

That was OK with Fair, though. He was happy enough with the victory.

And the team is happy with him. Next on the agenda for both: the battle for the league championship.

Crespi hasn't won a league title since it collected consecutive championships in 1977 and 1978. Coincidentally, those were also the last seasons the Yankees won World Series crowns.

A coincidence? Maybe. But Fair will undoubtedly be rooting for Lou Piniella and the Yankees to twin the American League pennant.

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