Heach Coach Kevin Graber (“KG”) has been a fan of baseball for his entire life. According to his family legend, Graber’s mother and father stopped at a baseball game with him on their way home from the hospital after he was born. Since then, Graber has pursued his lifelong passion by playing baseball at both the college and professional levels, as well as becoming a coach.
Graber grew up in Albany, across the street from the New York State Training Academy. At the facility, there was a softball field for the trainee prison guards to play on. From the time he was six years old, Graber would hit 200 balls every day with his father there, until the time he graduated from college.
Graber said, “Baseball was always something that I was wild about and something that my father and I did together. Some people grow out of baseball, but I have been in the uniform every year since I was 6 years old, and I’m 48 years old now and it still never grows old.”
Graber’s dream was always to play professional baseball; however, life threw him a curveball when he was in college. In May of 1992, Graber was diagnosed with lymphoma. He had had a grapefruit-sized tumor in his chest and had felt sick for a while, but his doctor had been unable to properly diagnose it. In June of 1992, Graber underwent surgery to remove the tumor, followed by a long stay in intensive care, six months of chemotherapy and three months of radiation theater. During his hospital stay, Graber lost all his hair and forty pounds. Despite this unforeseen hardship, Graber fought back and was able to return to the field.
Graber said, “It was an emotional endeavor because you’re 21 years old and you think you’re invincible and you want to play professional baseball but then you’re in a hospital bed with what feels like a death sentence. Fast forward I was able to recover and go into remission and build my strength back up and get back out on the baseball field.”
Once he had recovered, Graber took a job coaching in Northern California. As he grew more and more healthy, Graber had the opportunity to play professionally in Australia.
Graber said, “I just remember getting off the plane and arriving in Australia, being picked up in the airport, and being brought to the baseball stadium and being in the lineup that night. I was just out there at shortstop, and I just thought about all that time recovering from cancer and the chemotherapy and the radiation. I’m back out on the baseball field playing baseball in front of people who want to come and watch the game. It just hit me I got really really emotional on the field, and that is a memory I will never forget.”
Graber then returned to the U.S. and achieved his goal of playing professionally there. He played for a year with the Southern Minnesota Stars in the Classic Minnesota Prairie League, before an x-ray showed another mass on his chest.
Graber said, “The concern was that the cancer had come back, but what it was was something that had shrunk when I had chemotherapy called the thymus gland that had regenerated itself, and they went in and did some surgery and removed it, but it left me not feeling great. They cut through my rib cage and all that stuff, and so I tried to play that next season and I just couldn’t.”
Though Graber was forced to stop playing baseball, the Stars offered him a coaching job. He coached in Minnesota for the next two seasons before coaching for a year in Glens Falls New York.
After the birth of his first daughter, Graber retired from professional coaching and moved into college coaching and athletics administration. Graber coached for the University of Alabama and Amherst College before coming to Andover in 2008.
Despite the immense adversity that he has faced, Graber takes it all in stride with a positive attitude.
“It’s all part of life. I mean the things I was able to accomplish in baseball were meaningful for me because I really had to grind and scratch and claw and overcome some adversity to make some happen so that actually makes my journey maybe cooler than if it was just all smooth sailing,” said Graber.
Graber was driven by both his love for the game and his desire to prove that he had the ability to make it to the highest level.
“I love the game, I also just wanted to prove that I could do it because I got to a point where it felt like baseball ship had sailed… I just wanted to prove that I could do it and overcoming cancer was one thing, but I just wanted to prove that I was good enough and that I could work hard enough and that I was competitive enough, and I can do that. That was a real motivator for me. I also just really like to play.”
Graber has inspired the team to emulate his hard work and positive spirit on and off the field.
Tristan Latham ’19 said, “KG has made me both a better baseball player and a better person… His attitude is always energetic and positive, and he tries to instill that in the team. He’s a good coach on and off the field, by checking up on us constantly, making sure we are succeeding in the classroom, and just that he always strives to make us better players and people.”
Graber encourages all of his players to be active participants in all Andover has to offer. However, Graber believes that in order to lead them to do so, he should set a good example. Thus, every winter for the past seven years, Graber has played Mother Ginger in the winter ballet production. His enthusiasm for everything that Andover has to offer has rubbed off on all of the students.
Peter Ling ’20 said, “KG comes into practice every day, and he says ‘nothing great is accomplished without enthusiasm,’ so he brings a sense of enthusiasm to us every day and that’s what if blends with our enthusiasm our team brings to make everyday special. Making the sport really fun for me has made a huge impact on me in that sense.”
According to Ling, the team dynamic is centered around Graber. Graber participates in all aspects of practice and is a mentor in the team members’ lives outside of the sport as well. Members of the team can often be found doing homework at the Grabers’ kitchen table. Co-Captain Joe Simourian ’18 still recalls Graber inviting him over to his home his Junior year.
Simourian said, “He makes you feel like such a part of his family. I get a text from him right before I walk over there saying ‘Hot fudge sundae night at the Graber crib what is your favorite flavor ice cream?’ and I was like ‘Vanilla,’ and he was like ‘Alright you’re getting moose tracks, we’re going to bang it. It’s going to be awesome.’”
Simourian was also guided by Graber through the college recruiting process, as Graber helped him to reach out to coaches.
Simourian said, “He really knows everyone. He has more contacts than God.”
Ben Carbeau ’21 added, “A cool thing about KG is that some coaches are either just serious or are super laid back, but I feel like KG finds the middle ground, and he knows in what situations to really get after you to help you improve and in what situations you need to relax.”
Graber is known to be a big fan of Katy Perry, and his favorite dance move is “flossing.” However, Graber also has an intense dislike for certain artists.
Lucas Stowe ’20 said, “He hates Sean Paul and Imagine Dragons. If you play that at all he will stop practice and scream.”