Hagerstown Suns co-owner Tony Dahbura holds a prestigious position at Johns Hopkins University, assists with his family's printing and commercial real estate businesses and freelances as a data analytics consultant. He's a man of many hats and thus goes by many names, be it Dr. Dahbura, Tony or his given name of Anton.
But if you see Dahbura at the Suns' home of Municipal Stadium, you'll likely hear him referred to as something else entirely: Shag.
Tony "Shag" Dahbura does his thing at Hagerstown's Municipal Stadium. (Photo: Greg Dahbura)
Since 2003, Dahbura has patrolled the Municipal Stadium outfield during batting practice, shagging (read: fielding) whatever fly balls, line drives, one-hoppers and slow rollers that come his way. Dahbura describes shagging as nothing less than the "key to his happiness," a deep truth that was first conveyed to him in a dream.
If dreams are to be understood as the manifestation of our deepest fears and desires, then it's important to understand the context that led Dahbura to dream of shagging. He was born in Hagerstown but grew up in El Salvador as his entrepreneurial father pursued myriad business opportunities (including opening the first-ever overseas Hardees restaurant). In El Salvador, Dahbura became a part of what he describes as a "small but vibrant" baseball community, and he went on to play for the country's 18-and-under national team. Dahbura returned to the United States to attend Johns Hopkins University (where he also played baseball); upon graduating he worked for Bell Labs and Motorola before returning to Hagerstown in the mid-'90s. His family had resettled there after the political situation in El Salvador had deterioriated, going on to establish a successful printing business while also venturing into commercial real estate.
Back in Hagerstown, and newly connected with the city's business community, Dahbura became friendly with Suns general manager Kurt Landes (currently president of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs).
"Kurt was very active in the community, Rotary Club and other efforts, and I just got to know him," said Dahbura. "Actually, and this is a whole other story, my background is engineering and computer science and I started dabbling in other ways of doing baseball schedules.... When I moved back to Hagerstown I did the South Atlantic League schedule. Kurt and I had kind of partnered on that."
Dahbura's "dabbling" in the world of baseball scheduling is, literally, a whole other story. Via his role as executive director of Johns Hopkins University's Information Security Institute, Dahbura works with students and faculty in the applied math and statistics department to create computer-generated optimized schedules for a variety of Minor League Baseball circuits. His efforts in this regard were chronicled in this writer's 2016 MiLB.com feature.
Dahbura also works with Johns Hopkins students to create Minor League Baseball schedules.
While baseball schedule-making requires an expert-level knowledge of combinatorial optimization, Dahbura's Suns shagging opportunity was the result of capitalizing on a preexisting business relationship.
"One day I was talking to Kurt at Rotary, and I just remembered the dream I'd had the night before," said Dahbura. "I said 'Kurt, I had a dream and it was really weird. I was out in the outfield shagging and it's what really made me happy. It was the key to my happiness.' And he looked at me and said, 'We can arrange that, because we could use a shagger. We're entitled to provide a shagger.'"
During the 2003 campaign, Dahbura became the shagger that the Suns were entitled to provide. Landes actually hired him in this capacity, in order to circumvent the liability issues that could result from shagging in a volunteer capacity.
"So I was actually paid to go out and shag, and I participated in drills wherever I was needed," said Dahbura. "I'm the shagger, yeah. I'm typically known as Shag. The Hispanic players like to call me Shaggy. Most of the players, they rarely get to know my real name. They know me as Shag throughout the year and then whenever I see them wherever they end up, it's 'Shag!' You know, I'm just Shag."
Tony "The Kid" Dahbura, a.k.a. "Shag" a.k.a. "Shaggy" a.k.a. "Supershag."
The Suns were a San Francisco affiliate when Dahbura started shagging for them. He shagged right through the New York Mets era of 2005 and 2006 and into the current affiliation with the Washington Nationals that began in 2007. Throughout this time, the Suns were owned by California-based Mandalay Baseball Properties.
"I got to know one of the executives at Mandalay, and he asked me if I would be interested in putting together an ownership group to buy the team," said Dahbura. "And you know, I told him I'd give it a shot. And then I did. Found a group and we've owned the team since the end of the 2010 season."
Dahbura's group consists of himself, majority owner Bruce Quinn, Quinn's sister Sheri and Hagerstown-based physician Mitesh Kothari.
"It's been a lot of fun, and the shagging has continued," he said of his time as a co-owner. "It's pretty safe to say that no one's been out on that field as much as I have, over the many years its existed."
Dahbura has shagged untold thousands of balls on Municipal Stadium's field.
That said, Municipal Stadium opened in 1930 and Dahbura is well aware that it is in need of either a replacement or a massive renovation.
"This is an amazingly intimate facility. There are a lot of really cool things about it and people who come here and visit, without exception, love the place," he said. "But we recognize that for it to be a successful franchise and to also maximize our value to the community, there are practices and standards for facilities that really dictate a change."
Whether it's at Municipal Stadium or elsewhere, Dahbura plans on remaining Hagerstown's preeminent shagger for years to come. It is, after all, the key to his happiness.
"I've had my share of bumps and brusies but, knock on wood, nothing that has stopped me yet," he said. "I've had a ball hit off the wall and hit me in the face. I'll go in the clubhouse, wipe the blood off and get right back out there.... I'll keep shagging as long as I can. One year I asked one of the coaches, 'When is someone going to tell me I can't do this anymore?' He said, 'You're the only one who can answer that.' So, I'll be 60 next April. I would be very pleased to say that I was still out there chasing them down in my 60s."