Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Thinking Spring Differently

Feet up, and writing.
'Think Spring,' my old friend Jim Carter used to say when the high school baseball season drew close. Well, thinking Spring is a bit different for me this year.

Spring... and, well, Winter for that matter for the last 23 years have always contained a steady diet of training and mentoring players, and building high school programs in the great sport of baseball

So... I'm officially retiring from high school baseball as a head coach. I didn't coach this season, and won't return to the helm. It does still feel a bit odd after all these years to write that. 

It's actually my second high school baseball season off from the sport as last Spring I was on sabbatical. It's my first Spring "officially" retired.

I'm proud of the work we did at Burr and Burton in my six seasons there. And of last years' team too. 

Last year's team at Burr and Burton (where I used to coach and teach), was piloted very well by Tony Cirelli. It was a Senior heavy group, very talented, and hard working. It was a lot of fun to take part in their development over in previous years. The character of that team, their craft skill, and Tony's experience, were three of the many reasons I felt good about leaving on that sabbatical opportunity. The team was very successful and worked it's way to the finals, the programs third trip in the last four years.

BBA Playoff Pre-Game, 2010
I got to work with so many great kids and families over my six years there. Great coaches too like Chris Kunz, Chuck King, Ed Lewicki, Doug Crosier, and Tim Oliver. Players, coaches, parents, and spectators have a lot of great stories to tell from it all.

My thanks to Kathi Bierwirth, Athletic Director at Burr and Burton, for her support, lobbying, and patience. Baseball is a passionate sport for me, and I did have to ruffle some feathers along the way to increase commitments from the school and the town toward creating safe and quality playing facilities... and getting commitments to maintain them. Kathi was often 'the good cop' when I occasionally had to be the persistent and relentless one to move things forward.

Infield renovation at the Rec, 2009
In those six years we won the most games in school history over a six-year period (so I'm told) and a league sportsmanship award. The latter is something I'm most proud of. We played the game well and respectfully year after year according to our competition, fans, and umpires. And those two trips to the finals in 2010 and 2011 were great too ; )

We made some dramatic improvements to the program via an indoor batting cage, l-screens, indoor pitching mounds, and training and playing equipment. We rebuilt the 'sandpit,' as the field used to be called, into a great playing facility. We ran six excellent (and fun) Summer baseball camps. We ran many, many lessons and coaching clinics. 

The youth leagues in town, through a ton of excellent community development, have continued to build. Revamped little league facilities, a concession stand, tournament hosting... and most recently the 'chicken coop' dugouts were replaced at the large field and a rolling batting hatch was purchased too. BP, fortunately, will never be the same ; )

'Trench Gate' Recovery Team, 2011
With school, town, and community support there are still some great improvements to be made. There's some steady community support that's grown and many talents in the system to play competitive baseball for many years.

It was great fun to take a leadership role in it all. Of course, my family, especially my wife Janice, was incredibly supportive and always involved. There's a great challenge in education, especially in teaching and coaching... the danger of spending more time with other people's kids than you do with your own. My family has always relished the opportunity to be involved in helping to build programs I've coached in. It was truly a family endeavor.

CVU Championship, 2003
As for building programs, it's the second time around. The first was a 15 year journey at Champlain Valley Union High School. With the help of many, we were able to build the CVU program to be consistently competitive, and rebuild it's development infrastructure and playing facility. I had the privilege to coach CVU to it's first baseball championship in 2003, and they've won two since. It's been fun to watch. The two coaches to date, Eric Johnson, and Tim Albertson, have been very gracious over the years in recognizing the role my family and I played in program development there and I'm very thankful for it.

I'll miss being a head coach in many, many ways.

I won't miss the endless fundraising it takes to build excellent indoor and outdoor facilities. I won't miss drying out two or three buckets of baseballs in the living room under a fan on mats 15 or 20 times a season. I won't miss the back stress of throwing hundreds of rounds of BP, hitting infield sessions, or grinding on fieldwork in each season. I actually won't miss school bus rides on those on long trips either ; )

There were a lot of web projects along the way too. The VT Metro Baseball League Website was my first, and also the first High School sports league website in the United States. It was built as an educational project for students to get real publishing experience while I worked at South Burlington School District. The site featured league stats by the team (many schools actually sent in faxes back then), schedules, All-Star teams and game highlights. The site, when I moved on from the project in 2005, had informed and entertained well over 100,000 visitors. Not much by today's standards, but quite a few given the web back in the day. The CVU Baseball page became the second team sports site in Vermont (Steve Ferreira, former Essex high school coach, beat me to the punch there while I was working on the Metro League site). 

Soon thereafter I created a website for the VBCA. I rebuilt the VBCA site a few years after and passed it on to Bruce Bosley, the new Executive Director, who's done great work with it. 

All the baseball web projects were geared to help increase communication, give kids real publishing opportunities, and publicize our great sport, teams, and communities. I've been told by many folks along the way that those projects helped inspire them to create websites to do the same.

I'll be officially closing up the 643DP Foundation which I started back in 2002 to raise money to improve these two programs I worked in and others around the State as well.

My role in the Vermont Baseball Coaches Association will switch to an advisory role on the board for special projects and such. Clinics, All-Star games, Junior Showcase, and a solid championship venue are all clicking. The Association was established by many of my mentors in the game. I had the privilege to work with them and with so many of my friends over the years to help move things along. The Association is in good shape to promote baseball in the State for many years.

My thanks to the folks at the Burlington Free Press, Rutland Herald, Bennington Banner, and Manchester Journal who provide coverage for high school baseball and the projects I've worked on over the years. Of course, there are other papers around the State, but these papers covered baseball in the regions I coached in. It's a difficult job covering so many teams in the State and it often goes under appreciated.

Free time in the Spring will take some getting used too. But... after two seasons off and plenty of rehabilitation, my back is, at long last, almost fully healed. It took 12 years to do what doctors said was impossible. Spring vacations with my family will be, truly, a new experience. Some 30 hours a week reclaimed will be spent with my family and friends, seeing my own children play in games, inventing in education, ... and maybe catch a game or two around the State. Not to mention biking, hiking, traveling, and swimming.

And a note to my friend Peter... no, I won't be umpiring! Ok, maybe ONE game if I work the game with you.

Colchester Cannons Championship, 2011
I'll still resume my makeshift bench coach role with the Colchester Cannons this Summer as time allows. It will be my 10th year working with the great players and families helping out where I can. My friend Jeff Mongeon orchestrates a great show. It's a tremendous family and cast of characters, and it's been a privilege to be a part of it.

I've lent some thought to helping out with programs my son might play for in the future as well if the opportunity is there, if my family agrees and it makes sense.

It's been a great run. I wrap up my head coaching career (JV, Varsity and Summer baseball) at 464-204. Looking over the books I remember every name and every face. I've got many stories. It was truly a rich time in my life. Many thanks to the countless players and great folks who've helped me along the way, too numerous to mention, but always in my heart.

"... and that's the way it is," Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014. On behalf of the Provost clan...

We win.