HALL OF FAME: Dave Fairman always came up big in big games
• EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth of an eight-part series profiling the individuals who will be inducted into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame. Tomorrow: Marty Bolo.
Dave Fairman has always delivered.
Whether it’s been for his basketball and baseball teams over the decades or the Marion Center and Creekside communities, he has come through.
Whether it was pitching a gem in an
elimination baseball game or stepping up to assist the young athletes in the community, Fairman could be counted on.
“His interest has always been
in the kids, the community, the schools,” said his cousin Ernie Fairman, a lifelong Marion Center resident.
And whether it was carrying his teammates in the athletic arena or just lending a helping hand to his neighbors, Fairman never gave his actions a second thought. He never thought it was anything worth batting an eye over.
But the community took notice over the years, and now Fairman will be on the receiving end of a special delivery, an induction into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame.
“I’m just so honored that somebody thought about it,” Fairman said.
“I never thought I did anything to even be thought of. I still don’t know why anybody even thought of me. Somebody got their wires crossed. But it is kind of neat.
“I’ve been so stinking blessed in life, with being lucky, just being there, having fun, being around such good people.”
Because of his devotion to his community — and because the memories of his playing days have since faded away — Fairman might be better known to many nowadays for his role in helping Indiana County youngsters develop their athletic potential through his Fairman’s Gym.
But former teammates hope he will be remembered as much for that as his own athletic prowess when he is honored at the induction banquet Sunday evening.
“I know people talk about the gym he had a lot, and that was a great thing, but I hope what he did on the field doesn’t get overlooked, either,” said Tony Moretti, Fairman’s longtime teammate from Little League through their days in the Indiana County League, a span of more than two decades. “He made it possible for us to get a lot of wins. Dave produced on the field, too.”
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From the time he first toed the rubber in Little League, and for the better part of the next three decades, Fairman was among the most imposing pitchers in the county.
By the time he reached Senior Legion in the early 1970s, he perfected a submarine delivery to go along with his overhand pitches, and he was among the most feared, and also most recognized, hurlers around. Those who played with him and against him fondly recall his delivery as being similar to that of a well-known Pittsburgh Pirates closer of the famed 1970s teams.
“Remember Kent Tekulve? It was a lot like his,” recalled Moretti. “That underhand pitch was deadly. And he could throw strikes with it. I don’t know if his fingers touched the dirt when he threw it, but they were probably close.”
“It was just hard to pick up the pitch. Plus he had the speed to go with it,” Mike Bertolino, longtime manager of the West Lebanon entry in the ICL, said. “It always reminded me of Kent Tekulve.”
Fairman showed signs of his potential as a pitcher in Little League when he fired a perfect game with 15 strikeouts in 1968. He came into his own when he reached Senior Legion in 1972, at which time he began to pull double duty by playing in the ICL.
For the next three summers, Fairman and Mike Betts made a formidable 1-2 pitching punch for the Marion Center Senior Legion entry. On the strength of their arms, Marion Center reached the Senior Legion state tournament in the 1973 and ‘74 seasons.
In 1973, Marion Center finished fourth in the state and returned a year later to finish third. Although members of the 1974 team still carry disappointing feelings regarding that third-place finish — especially since they wasted a 7-0 lead in their final game of the tournament — it was a season rarely matched by a county team at the Senior Legion state tournament.
And Fairman was a huge part of the success.
He was called on to start Marion Center’s elimination game at the Senior Legion state tournament after his team got thumped 10-1 on the first day of the tournament. He delivered in an 8-3 victory over Bellefonte to keep Marion Center’s season alive.
Earlier that season, he threw a no-hitter in an Indiana County League game in which the only three runners Heatherbrea managed reached via error.
In 1974, Marion Center won its third straight Indiana County Senior Legion title and took it a step further by winning the Region 7 title. It was in that tournament that Fairman had one of his most memorable moments, striking out 18 batters in a nine-inning win over Bellefonte on the opening day.
“He was a heck of a pitcher,” Moretti said. “He was a good ballplayer, period, but he had some excellent games pitching. The day he had 18 strikeouts, his big pitch was the underarm fastball and underarm curve. But that day, everything was working. It was a fun game to play in.”
Moretti specifically remembers one batter ducking out of the way, though it became apparent that wasn’t necessary.
“That (submarine) curveball, you would see him coming and it was coming right at the batter. So he jumped out of the way, and the ball curved all the way back and across the plate.”
Three days after that gem, in the last game of the Region 7 tournament, a winner-take-all affair, Fairman again got the nod that clinched a second straight trip to the state tournament.
Fairman continued pitching in the ICL, helping form the powerhouse Creekside teams of the 1970s and early 1980s.
In 1975, he threw a no-hitter and a one-hitter in a week’s span, both against the highly touted Indiana team in their first-round playoff series.
In 1977, as Creekside won the league title, Fairman went 2-0 in the championship series with a 2.07 ERA. And he did not allow an earned run in the last 18 innings of work in the series. He also batted .370 in the series.
Although Fairman continued to play in the ICL into the 1980s, and later came back for a stint in the 1990s after a short hiatus, he didn’t pitch much after an injury in 1978. It didn’t affect him in the field, only during his pitching motion.
Fairman continued to produce at the plate and was part of another ICL title-winning Creekside team in 1982.
And as much as he’ll be remembered for his athletic skills, competitors and teammates alike recall Fairman as a class act, too.
“It was a lot of fun to be his teammate,” Moretti said. “In the batting order it was always Fairman and Moretti. And we were both first-ball swingers. We had a lot of fun with it. He just always played hard. He never gave in.”
“He never lost his cool. He never swore. He was always a gentleman,” said Bertolino, whose West Lebanon squads went toe-to-toe with Creekside in the ICL championship series four times between 1979 and 1985. “That’s one thing I’ll never forget about Dave Fairman. He was a good ballplayer, great pitcher. He could hit the ball, too. But he was just a great guy — that whole Creekside team at that time was great to play against.”
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Fairman was also a key member of one of the most successful Marion Center High School basketball teams to ever take the floor.
And to think, if it wasn’t for his older cousin Ernie, he might not have ever played organized basketball.
Although Dave says he loved playing basketball, it was limited to pick-up games with friends or relatives, and lots of one-on-one matchups with Ernie, a strong high school player in his own right.
But when he entered the ninth grade, Dave considered going out for the Marion Center wrestling team instead of the basketball squad.
Eventually, he changed his mind and followed in Ernie’s footsteps.
“We did a lot of stuff together,” Ernie said, a lifelong Marion Center resident who graduated a year ahead of Dave, in 1972. “I started playing basketball, and he was going to be a wrestler, but he ended up following suit with what I did. We played a lot of one-on-one in his dad’s barn, and after I got my driver’s license, we’d go play at IUP. We ran around together and ended up in the same sport. I think it was just a natural thing.”
Since he was new to the X’s and O’s of the organized game, Dave didn’t see any playing time his freshman year. He started to crack the junior varsity rotation as a sophomore, and even as a junior, he was often relegated to the junior varsity lineup.
But he made the most of it, once pouring in 40 points during a junior varsity during his junior year.
“He was a terrific rebounder, but he wasn’t a big scorer at the time,” Ernie Fairman, who was a senior on the 1971-72 Marion Center team that went 22-4 and finished as the District 6 runner-up, said. “He went from being a rebounder to more of a scorer by his senior year.”
“I think I was a late bloomer, just physically developed a little later,” Dave Fairman said.
As a senior, he was a lanky 6-foot-3, 165-pound starter on the varsity team. He averaged 14.0 points per game, posted several double-doubles and was voted by coaches to the first team of the Gazette’s Indiana County Area All-Star Basketball Team for the 1972-73 season.
Fairman was an integral part of the Stingers’ undefeated regular season that year. And they didn’t just win games; they mopped the floor with opponents.
The Stingers easily led the area in scoring at 84.8 points per game, and they won by an average margin of 32.6 points per game. They had eight games in which they topped 100 points.
And Marion Center racked up a slew of titles, too.
The Stingers got things started by winning the Indiana County Principals Tournament in late December.
They went on to capture the Indiana County League and Northern Cambria League championships and put a bow on their 24-0 regular season with an Appalachian Conference championship. Fairman had a huge game in the conference championship with 25 points and 20 rebounds.
That wasn’t all.
The Stingers were the only Class B team in the state to have an undefeated regular season, and the win in the Appalachian Conference title game was Marion Center’s 41st consecutive regular-season win, dating to the 1971-72 campaign.
But the good vibes quickly went away.
Marion Center lost a stunner in the first round of the District 6 playoffs to Richland, abruptly ending a season full of promise.
That’s what sticks out in Fairman’s mind.
“That was really depressing, because we should have really done something that year, and we lost in the first round,” Fairman recalled, his voice rising. “First round! We would have beaten that team 50 out of 52 times playing them! I don’t know how that happened. It was a nightmare. We were winning the whole game right until the very end.”
The Stingers’ 24-win season still ranks third on the school’s single-season victory list, and few Marion Center teams have approached the level of dominance achieved by that group.
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As a lifelong athlete, some of Fairman’s most cherished memories were made on the county baseball diamonds and basketball courts.
“I got a lot of good friends out of the deal,” he said reflectively Monday night, sitting at his kitchen table. “That’s probably the nicest thing about it, the number of good people I’ve gotten to know. … I’ve had great teammates. My best friends are still guys I played high school baseball and basketball with.”
So more than two decades ago, when he thought his own children and others in the community wouldn’t have the opportunity to create the same kinds of memories, Fairman knew what he had to do: He took it upon himself to create a space for them to have more practice time to hone their skills.
It surely wasn’t glamorous, but it wasn’t designed to be. It had a purpose, and it served it well.
Fairman’s Gym, as it came to be known around the Marion Center area, grew to be a central part of the community, as integral as Fairman was to the teams he played on over the decades.
In 1990, Fairman caught a break on the prices of the construction material and built what was essentially a small-scale warehouse on the land near his Fairman’s Roof and Floor Trusses business.
“Things fell into place financially that year for us that we were able to get the material at a good cost, what we could afford,” Karen Fairman, Dave’s wife, said. “Had we had to pay full price for everything, it wouldn’t have been doable. But God just has a way of making things happen at the right time.”
It had a dirt floor in the early days, though that was by design so his son Adam and the group of young baseball players in the community could practice their fielding.
And of course, there was the batting cage Fairman built and the automated pitching machine he rigged up with pieces of a machine washer engine.
“He’s an inventor on the side,” his wife cracked.
About a year after the gym went up, after the Fairmans’ older daughter Jacque’s AAU team didn’t have a place to practice, Fairman cemented the gym floor and added two basketball courts to the growing athletic space.
Eventually, the Creekside Athletic Association began putting on 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, which were extremely popular in the county, with as many as 135 teams entering the competition one year, and all the proceeds went directly to the Creekside Athletic Association.
“He was really interested in sports and involved with young kids,” Ernie Fairman said. “He coached some elementary basketball and it was always hard to get gym time at Marion Center. Actually, it was impossible at that time. So he built the gym so that kids would have a place to practice. … And everything kind of snowballed. We played elementary league there for several years. And 3-on-3 tournaments.”
Then, as Fairman’s business continued to grow, he needed the space that had served as the gym. But he added a nearly identical second gym area next to the original building, and Fairman’s Gym continued to serve scores of local children.
The 3-on-3 tournaments continued for 13 years.
At the height of its popularity, the facility served as a site of non-athletic community events like ROTC and drill practices, birthday parties, dances, dinners and even bridal showers.
More than 300 students rang in the New Year together in 2000 in a party organized by the Fairmans.
In the past half-decade, as more high school facilities made their athletic facilities available for practice time to travel teams, AAU teams and other club teams, the need for Fairman’s Gym dwindled.
But what Fairman did hasn’t been quickly forgotten.
“He was really big into doing things for kids,” Ernie Fairman said.
“With the schools around the area, the gym space was hard to get,” said Chuck Glasser, a lifelong Marion Center resident and a member of the Marion Center School Board whose three daughters played AAU and spent many hours practicing at Fairman’s. “It seemed like Dave was always really good to make that available to everyone.
“Dave just always had the kids in mind. When he started that gym, it was something that he wanted to do in order to give back to the community and have some place for kids to go in the community. And once it was built, and people were using it, he was gracious enough to let more and more people do it. It was a great asset to the community.”
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Competitive sports began as a getaway of sorts for Fairman.
“We always had to work,” he said. “We had a dairy farm, then it turned into a beef farm, and then we did a lot of grain farming. A lot of times, sports was my way out. But that’s what you think about 100 percent of the time, you’ve got to get your work done. When other kids on Saturday afternoon had gym time or open gyms or whatever, I had to clean the cow gutter out. Every Saturday, you had to clean the cow gutter out. Well, that’s just the way it was. I’m not saying that in a negative fashion.
“I was close to a lot of my uncles, and it was always exciting because they were always in a sporting event of some sort. It’s just what you grow up with, a lot of competition, in a good way.”
Fairman was hooked, and his passion for athletics grew into a lifelong addiction.
Although he’s long removed from his heyday, Fairman hasn’t lost his competitive edge. Nowadays, his name dots the rosters of the less strenuous Indiana County Over-40 and Indiana Area Baseball Boosters leagues as well as recreational basketball leagues.
The competitive spirit that still burns inside of Fairman was evident Monday night at his home near Creekside, even as he continues to recover from a heart attack and quadruple-bypass surgery he underwent less than two weeks ago.
“I asked the doctor if he could play baseball this summer, because I knew that would be the first thing he was going to ask,” his wife said with a laugh at their home. “He said he might be able to swing a bat in six weeks.”