THE DAY THE COACH COULDN'T MAKE IT OUT OF THE PARK ã 1999,2001
He was the kind of coach that loved fast pitch softball and it showed. He loved kids and he loved to coach, that showed too.
He was an NCAA batting coach for 15 years until he was forced to retire. Many years ago everyone quit trying to guess how many kids he had coached, teams he had formed, organizations he had helped to form or represented and tournaments he had set up.
He was the kind of coach that would forever stay in your memory and in your heart. He never raised his voice to anyone. He would always find a way to give constructive criticism to a young player in a positive and fun way. "Suzie, here's the deal. If you don't drop that left elbow when you bat, I'll buy you a soda after the game. If you do, you have to give me a foot rub after the game".
He was no rookie. He had been around softball all of his life and that has been quite a long while. He was not a young man by any measure of the tape and his health was not the greatest, however, he was young at heart and young in his mind.
Heaven help you if you ever referred to him in any fashion that sounded like you were calling him old. You didn't ever call him "The old coach", or "The old man" or the old anything for that matter. You didn't say it to him, or anyone that knew him well, without getting set straight lickety-split and coming away with a few teeth marks in your behind.
When he retired from the NCAA he immediately formed a girls fast pitch softball organization. !0u, 12, 14, 16 and 18 and under teams. He bought a large warehouse and set it up with pitching machines. One of the requirements of every girl on every team was to come to take batting practice and instruction with him every week, or they didn't play for him.
That was 12 years ago when he started those teams. He has coached every single girl that ever played for any of his teams. He would set up a minimum of 12 tournaments a year, at local parks and complexes, for fundraisers for his teams. He helped other teams set them up and even directed some of those too.
When a tournament was going that he was involved with, he was everywhere at once. He did everything. He opened the front gates at 5am, made sure the concession area was clean, checked the fullness of the trash cans, he did everything, I mean EVERYTHING. He was the first through the gate and one of the last ones out at night.
It was the last weekend in October. This would be the last tournament he would be involved in for a couple months. Although he was young at heart and mind, he was not so young in body. It had been another long season and he was tired. You could tell it in his face and his eyes. He was kind of looking forward to only coaching the girls batting for a while. He was pretty worn out.
As every one of his girls on all five teams had arrived that morning, their first priority was to find the coach and give him a hug for good luck. When the game was over, he always returned those hugs to as many of his players as he could. He never once admitted to it but that was his favorite parts of the games.
It was late Sunday afternoon. The championship games were being played for all five age groups in the tournament.
Two of his teams were battling for the big trophies. He was going back and forth from each game like a ping-pong ball. His other teams in the tournament did not make it to the final games. A lot of the girls from those two teams were still in the park, rooting for their counterparts.
A few people had noticed that, as the last games progressed, he was going back and forth quite a lot slower than when the games had started. They asked him if he was OK. He said he was fine but was a little tired.
They strongly suggested that he go home early as there was plenty of other help to clean up and lock up. They said they would call from their cell phones with updates every inning if he would go home and rest. He finally gave in and agreed but first he wanted to say goodbye to his two teams because he had never left them at a tournament before.
All of his girls agreed with their parents that he should go rest, they would catch up with the hugs next week so the coach started heading for the front gate but not at his normal speed.
A few minutes went by and one of the Dads looked towards the front gate. He saw a small group of people trotting to and gathering near the front gate. They seemed to look concerned. Then he spotted, in the middle of the group, the coach. About that same time a young boy came up and said, "Excuse me. The coach is out by the gate and he's having some problems".
That dad looked for a few more seconds and realized the coach wasn't moving. That was all it took. The alarm was sounded.
That dad turned back to the stands and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Hey, over at the gate, something's wrong with the coach. He's not moving!" When that Dad's soda hit the ground, he was five steps closer to the front gate.
Parents all over had heard him yell and they were all barreling out of the stands, racing to help.
Word spread through the entire park in a matter of a few seconds that the coach wasn't moving. Girls were already in tears as they jumped over the brick walls in the dugouts and sprinted for the gate. The entire tournament came to a stop. The umpires even dropped their masks and ran for the gate. People were running from the concessions area and the parking lot, all heading for the gate.
Within two minutes nearly all the estimated 200 people in the park had surrounded the coach. A few moments later the coach opened his eyes and raised his head. He looked around and asked, "What's going on?" Around 30 people, all at the same time, asked him if he was all right.
It took about an hour to get play resumed in the games again. It took about twenty minutes for everyone, especially his girls, to regain their composure. The other forty minutes were spent in a complex wide scavenger hunt trying to find gloves, cell phones, chest protectors, jackets, score books, score clickers and everything else that people had tossed on the ground while they were running.
After they had determined the coach was okay, he had noticed that some of the girls had tears on their cheeks so he asked why they were crying. They said they thought he had died. On hearing that the coach glared at them and said, "Oh for Pete's sake. The battery in my wheelchair Died. I fell asleep waiting for one of you to come get me. I sent a kid to let someone know. Now, if someone can push me to my van we can put the spare battery in and then maybe we can get back to playing ball, if that's OK with you".
Twelve years ago the coach was in a bad car wreck and was paralyzed from the chest down. That's what forced his retirement from the NCAA. There is no way a little thing like THAT would ever stop a guy like HIM from
staying involved with the sport and his girls that he loves so much.
Everything he does for fast pitch softball, his teams, girls, tournaments and organizations, he does out of tireless love, determination and dedication.
He also does it all from an electric wheel chair.
So, the next time you have to play 4 games on a tournament day and your heading out of the park ,and you're kinda dirty and you dont smell real good and ya got a sore arm and a new strawberry on the side of your bum-bum, you might want to think twice before whining about any of it.
Nobody wants to hear it and neither of us has come anywhere near close to earning that right yet.
Trust me, the coach; he DEFINITELY doesn't want to hear it.