To keep his dad busy in retirement, Thomas Gandolfi suggested that his family adopt a furry friend.
"I had just retired last year from teaching and everybody was wondering what I was going to do all day," said Chuck Gandolfi, who closed the books on his job as a physical education teacher in the Round Lake school system last June.
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"We had never had a dog before so Thomas thought it would be great to get a dog. He thought I needed something to keep me going."
Gandolfi was just about to sign off on the dog …
"But then I ended up getting a bunch of Bears," Gandolfi said with a laugh.
Gandolfi has officially come out of retirement. Part way, anyway.
Late last summer, Gandolfi agreed to take over the baseball program at Lake Zurich, which opens its season next week along with the rest of the high school baseball teams across Illinois.
The Bears' season opener will be the official resurrection of a successful coaching career by Gandolfi that spanned more than two decades and involved hundreds of wins at Carmel.
Gandolfi won 554 games in his 21 seasons at Carmel but has been out of the high school game for the last four years. In a surprising and controversial move, officials at Carmel decided not to re-hire Gandolfi after the 2009 season.
Since then, Gandolfi has been coaching high-level travel baseball teams with the Northern Knights and enjoying his sons' baseball careers.
Thomas and older son Charlie both played baseball at Mundelein High School. Now, they're both playing ball in college. Thomas, a freshman, is at Coe College and Charlie, a junior, is at Webster University.
"It was tremendous being able to watch my sons," Gandolfi said. "And, at first, it was tough for me to make a decision about Lake Zurich because I was thinking about how I was finally free, now that I'm retired, to just jump in the car whenever I wanted so that I could go see the boys play in college.
"But it was my family who helped me make this decision. They were all for it. They all thought that this (coaching high school ball) is what I should have been doing all along anyway."
Gandolfi consistently produced some of the best baseball teams in Lake County while he was at Carmel. He won 10 regionals and five sectionals for the Corsairs. He also advanced downstate four times, with his best finish, a third place, coming in 2004.
"Having coached all those travel teams, it didn't seem like I was totally away from the game," Gandolfi said. "I still got to work with kids.
"But I did miss (the high school season) and the relationships with the other coaches and the rivalries in Lake County.
"It will be fun to get back to that."
Having grown up in Mundelein and played baseball for the Mustangs himself, only to then, years later, watch his own sons play for Mundelein, Gandolfi is especially excited to be part of the North Suburban Conference again.
"When I was at Carmel, we always liked playing North Suburban teams because there are so many good players and coaches up here," Gandolfi said. "Those schools were always such big rivals to me.
"And it's going to be fun to go up against guys like (Mundelein coach Todd Parola). He did such a great job with my sons. He teaches the game so well and is such a great coach. I knew they were in good hands."
One could say the same about the Lake Zurich baseball program.
Gandolfi, who still ran clinics for the Illinois Baseball Coaches Association during his four-year hiatus, is a baseball junkie to his core. He loves the game and will work and work to create the kind of winning program he was used to at Carmel.
"I'm really happy to get going again and get our season going," Gandolfi said. "I just hope everyone at Lake Zurich will be happy with what we do by the end of the season."
• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw