By John Goralski
It’s been a little more than 25 years since Dave Majeski called John Fontana back to third base after their discussion during a regular season game, but the former high school coach still smiles when he tells the story.
Majeski topped a baseball but beat the throw to first base. On the next pitch, the sophomore stole second. On the following pitch, he stole third. Fontana signaled timeout to talk to his brash underclassman. “I told him to stay put at third base, but he called me back as I walked back to the dugout,” said the coach. “‘What is it?’ I asked.”
Majeski smiled a devilish grin. “Even if it’s a long fly ball for a base hit?”
“That was him. He was a joker, but he was just a great athlete,” said Fontana. “People might dispel this, but he was the only guy—the only guy—that I never put a steal sign out for. I let him decide for himself. I had a lot of good runners, but this kid was something else.”
Majeski remembers their relationship a little differently. Sure, his coach allowed him to run. Why wouldn’t he? Majeski set a single season record as a sophomore in 1985 with 30 stolen bases. He graduated with the program’s career mark with 63 steals, but Majeski doesn’t remember any freedom when he decided to steal. He knew he would always have to explain himself.
“Sure, I had the green light to go haphazardly, but when I’d come into the dugout Coach Fontana and Coach [Joe] Daddio would be there asking me why I went on that pitch,” he said. “They’d tell me if I should have gone on another one. It was such a teaching situation even though I had a green light.”
From the very start, Majeski was known as a student of the game, and Fontana said he would have made a good coach long before he graduated Southington High School. But Majeski wasn’t ready to hang up his glove. He was the rare mix of intensity, talent, and knowledge coupled with a good sense of humor.
The 155 pound fielder might not have turned many heads with his size, but facing him at the plate was like trying to stop a runaway train. He out-thought you. He out-worked you, and he always out-played you.
“Dave Majeski was just an amazing athlete. He could run. He could field, and he had just a hell of an arm from the outfield,” said Fontana. “He was a guy that was so baseball knowledgeable that you never had to tell him anything. If he came up and there were no outs with a man on first and second, you would never have to put a bunt on. He would bunt on his own because he would do whatever he was supposed to do to win a game. He always made good decisions.”
He made it look easy. In an era of upperclassmen, Majeski worked his way into the varsity lineup as a sophomore. He worked his way into the University of Florida lineup as a freshman. He credits his ‘Little Man Syndrome.’ Opponents credit his talent, but it really came down to hard work and dedication.
Growing up, Majeski would play for hours in pick-up games as one of five kids in his family. In high school, he’d travel to the New Britain YMCA over the winter just for a chance to take batting practice at their indoor facility. In college, he would steal down to the field every chance he got to hone his skills. His success was no accident.
In college, his relentless approach was necessary to survive against the crowd of division one giants during the steroid era.
“On my lunch hour, I’d grab the towel boy and have him put balls on the tee for me for hours on end. On midnight study breaks, I’d got down to the field with my college roommate and hit over and over,” he said. “It didn’t come easy, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I was at a place where the weather was great. You could play year-round, and Florida had the type of money to provide everything you needed. I was always a skinny kid with something to prove.”
The proof is in the statistics. At the end of his high school career, Majeski owned four single-season records for the Blue Knight and five career bests. He set the single season steals record as a sophomore. He set the record for runs (42), doubles (18), and total bases (218) as a senior. Nobody collected more total bases (442), runs (80), doubles (28), or stolen bases. As a junior, he reached base 15 consecutive times—another record, and his batting average in 1988 (.560) was the best by any Southington player except for Mike Mauro’s high water mark of .567 in 1953.
Majeski credits the team’s preparation each season, including an annual trip to Florida that was financed through off-season fundraising. “We’d have three-a-day practices, and Coach Fontana would bring coaches that would instruct us and drill us so much that, by the time we got home, everyone else was still shoveling off their infields and we had sunburn,” he said. “It really was wonderful how much preparation we put into it. I can tell you that it really showed me how to work hard, and it paid off in college. I knew how to keep my focus and put in the hard work.”
With his three years of varsity dominance, it was no surprise that college coaches beat down the door. Fontana said that he was approached by more than 70 college programs with offers for Southington’s prized fielder. The Gators won the bidding war, and Majeski was able to secure a rare five-year contract from a division one program at the top of their game, coming off the program’s first College World Series appearance.
“The University of Florida was on television, and everybody was looking at these monsters,” he said. “Everybody asked me what I was thinking going there. I guess I was just a cocky kid that wasn’t going to let anything stand in my way.”
Once again, Majeski quieted critics with a quick rise to the top. In his freshman season, two senior outfielders collided during a play and both left the field with broken legs. Majeski was thrust into the upperclassman lineup and held his own as Florida battled atop the NCAA rankings.
“It was trial by fire. The seniors were used to so much success, and here comes this smiling kid from Connecticut,” he said. “I had to learn quickly and produce quickly.”
Once again, Majeski embraced the challenge. He worked his way up to leadoff hitter as a junior, and helped lead Florida back to the NCAA tournament. He currently ranks in the university’s top 10 in games played (242), hits (262), at bats (812) , and runs scored (186). Each season, his average improved from .258 in 1989 to .314 as a sophomore, .333 as a junior, and .342 as a senior. He finished his college career with 90 RBI, 34 doubles, eight triples, 116 walks, and six home runs.
He still holds three postseason records for the Gators with most hits (21) and runs (13) in the SEC Tournament. His seven scores in the 1991 SEC Tournament is still the most by any Florida player in a single tournament. It was no surprise that Majeski was drafted by the Cleveland Indians and the Milwaukee Brewers in different Major League drafts, and it was no surprise that he signed to a minor league contract with the Brewers in 1992.
The surprise came when Majeski—at the top of his game—decided to leave his playing days behind him. He said it was a tough decision, but he has never really questioned it. It’s hard to balance a family life with a professional baseball career.
“There were a couple of years after I left that I’d be watching the pros and see some of the guys I played with or against,” he said. “I’d think that I was better than that guy. I worked harder than that one, or I could hit better than that one. But I didn’t really second guess myself.”
Majeski didn’t really retire. This was the start of his second career that has carried him to the present day. His coach had said that Majeski would have made a good coach by the time he left the high school. He was ready to fulfill that promise. Majeski returned to the dugout as a high school baseball coach in Florida where he led Eastside High School to their best record in 12 years before moving to Santa Fe High School and leading that program to district titles from 1998-2001. In 1998, Majeski was selected as the coach of the year by the Gainesville Sun.
“I liked to help other kids develop and chase their dreams,” he said. “I was lucky enough to find a new way to enjoy the sport.”
Once again, Majeski’s star was on the rise. Once again, his strong commitment to family caused him to reassess his goals.
“My twin girls were about two and a half or three. With teaching and coaching, I was never around the house too much,” he said. “One of them slipped and bumped her head. She started crying, looked up at me, and immediately went running to mom. Right then and there, I retired from coaching. My girls were more important. I handed in my resignation the very next day.”
His retirement was short-lived. Six months passed before a newspaper notice for a charity softball tournament caught his attention. The University of Florida team was challenging local sportscasters and players to a celebrity game. Majeski registered for the contest and settled himself into a spot late in the order to study the pitcher. He noticed that she made each batter swing foolishly at a few pitches before lobbing a hittable ball. By the time he stepped to the plate, Majeski had formulated a plan.
He launched the first pitch over the outfield fence and into a distant lake. The coach invited him to a practice in the days that followed and soon offered him a position on her staff.
“I guess I should have known that softball was different—and I’ve come to know that there are some real differences—but I just jumped right in and taught the kids everything I know,” he said. “It didn’t take long for us to start seeing some results, and that’s how I got into it. It was the right place at the right time I guess.”
He spent a few years on the Gator staff before a one-year stint in Memphis. In 2003, he was hired as the head softball coach at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. He hit the ground running, leading the team to a 30-16 record in his first season and ushering the team into a jump to NCAA Division I competition.
Armed with his threefold coaching philosophy designed to help his players become better people, learn the game, and raise expectations, Majeski led the team to 21 wins in 2010 and eclipsed that mark with a 28-20-1 record and an overall record of 112-120-1 when he resigned from Presbyterian College at the end of the 2011 season.
Since then, Majeski has switched his focus to his growing business, the Sweet Spot Hitting Facility in Greenville, S.C.
“It’s a lot of work, but there are a lot of kids that want to be good hitters,” he said. “I’m having fun. Where else to you get to act like a two-year-old and kids keep coming back? Life is good. The hours and money are good, but most importantly I get to see my girls play ball.”
With such a storied career, it was no surprise that committee members selected Majeski to be inducted into the Southington Sports Hall of Fame. He will be inducted during a ceremony at the Aqua Turf on Thursday, Nov. 8.
“There are major leaguers, state champions, and people with so many accolades that this is just a really big honor,” he said. “Without sounding cliché, I have some really fond memories of my high school years in Southington. I still come back at least twice a year to visit my friends. It’s an absolute honor to be included in the hall of fame.”
For tickets, contact Jim Verderame, (860) 628-7335.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.