A line drive shot through the shortstop’s legs kicked up a cloud of dust, leaving the fielder in disbelief. East Greenwich varsity baseball coach Robert Downey’s eyes widened with desire as he urgently swung his arm in a windmill motion signaling his player to round third. As spectators edged their seats anticipating the thud of cleats heavy on home plate, one may look at Coach Downey and expect that the only thing racing through his mind was getting his runner home.
On the surface Bob Downey seems like just a successful coach of a Division 1 baseball team, but behind the Oakley sunglasses he so often wears when coaching, he takes on the important role of teaching and being a father of two sons, one with hydrocephalus.
At a young age, Robert Downey began watching Red Sox, Bruins and Dolphin games with his father. He attended North Kingstown High School where he carried the goal of playing college baseball in the back of his mind, an unbreakable contract he made with himself. The Derek Jeter of the black-and-gold Skippers, Downey led his team as starting shortstop and captain his senior year and was awarded All-Division honors.
Generating a sports resume packed as tight as a woman’s suitcase, Bob Downey was recruited by baseball coaches from URI and Northeastern. With a strong urgency to play, however, he decided to attend Rhode Island College where he would start as a freshman. Downey quickly learned that the game was played at a whole different speed and level in college.
“You go from being a leader of a high school baseball team to becoming a small fish in a big pond,” he said. “It made me develop my speed and skills very quickly.”
Still, competition never faltered his drive as he once again led the team as captain by his senior year. After finishing an outstanding college career, Downey was honored with a 3.0 Senior Athletic Award and was selected to play in an all-star game at Fenway Park. But what next?
Inspired by his older sister, Downey’s next move was in the direction of physical education. A passion for athletics and previous summers of working recreation programs throughout high school and college left an imprint in Downey’s mind.
“I love sports as well as kids. What a great combination!” he exclaimed when asked why he pursued a career in education. After graduating from Rhode Island College, Downey caught a fast break at East Greenwich High School, when on the same day he was hired as a P.E. teacher, the baseball coaching position became available.
“The day I was appointed as a teacher, the job opened up! Where do I sign!” he said.
Now heading into his 11th season as the East Greenwich baseball coach, Bob Downey reflects on the previous seasons. Whether it be the ’06 state title run at McCoy stadium against Portsmouth, or bringing the program to Division I in a mere seven years, he loves coaching the sport and running his own program.
Downey has guided more than 10 players to the collegiate level by not only developing their game but molding them into the respectable athletes that they are.
“Coach gets to know his players. He’s very personable and takes time to know and understand the personality behind the position,” said senior John Kalajian of his coach of four years. Kalajian, a URI-bound baseball player, is yet another accomplished athlete blossoming from the East Greenwich baseball program.
“The best part is seeing individual success stories,” Downey said. However, one gets the impression he does not realize he is a success story himself as he manages a victorious team of over 30 high school teenage boys while also tending to his family at home.
Downey is the father of two sons, Logan and Jake. Jake was born with hydrocephalus, a medical condition where there is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities of the brain. This caused major brain damage and has delayed Jake from walking and talking thus far.
“I remember him being confused and a little scared when Jake was born. But in typical ‘Downey fashion,' he developed the perfect mindset to deal and move forward,” fellow teacher and close friend Marc Brocato said.
The springtime is a little hectic to say the least, but he never loses sight of what is most important.
“My kids come first," he said. "Baseball is my release when not at the hospital. Jake and Logan are still the main focus though. It’s all about being a father.”
Author Lindsey Buckheit is a senior at East Greenwich High School.