BASEBALL STORIES

The purpose of this page is to offer a collection of stories which provide examples of true sportsmanship in the world of baseball.

If you wish to forward any stories for the benefit of the baseball community, you may do so at our email address.

As a starting point, the following articles highlight a philosophy on coaching which has been written about recently in the Arizona Republic.  These are examples about the real meaning of coaching in any sport, and about some of our own coaches here in Arizona that demonstrate this meaning.


Coaches Who Care
Some coaches come up big on the scoreboard of life
By Richard Obert

The Arizona Republic

There are coaches who care about winning.  And there are coaches who care about lives.

The victories don’t necessarily show on the scoreboard.

They reflect in the eyes of a kid who found a way out of a dark tunnel.

They come years later, in the form of college degrees and productive careers.

They come in seeing depression lifted and confidence blossom.

They come in lifelong bonds.

There is more to coaching than teaching athletic skills, X’s and O’s, finding winning combinations.

It goes beyond instilling mental toughness and discipline.

That’s all good in a coach.

But there are those who can’t help but open their homes to those in need, who go out of their way to take kids to and from school.  They put shoes on their feet, food in their mouths.

They get athletes involved in community service, charities, opening their eyes to things off the playing field that they hope will make them better humanitarians.

They try to show there is something positive to hang onto.

Maybe their greatest trait is having a compassionate ear.

In a sense, they are surrogate parents.  With huge hearts and open arms.

If this were the NCAA, probably every high school athletic program would be on probation.

They spend countless hours, grooming fields, raising money, nourishing hearts.

The true coach does it without an agenda.  It doesn’t matter how talented the athlete is for the coaches who care.

They do it for the right reasons.

High school coaches aren’t in this to make money.  And the payoffs-not playoffs-are huge.

The student-athletes find a sense of happiness, accomplishment.

They come back to help others.

They maintain contact with their coaches’ years later.  And another generation of caring people are born.

These are the winning coaches.


Coaches Who Care
Horizon coach’s special touch
By Don Ketchum

The Arizona Republic

Bob Strachan is a busy man. At the end of the day, when he kicks off his shoes and climbs into bed, he says, "My head hits the pillow pretty hard."

Understandable.

He teaches and coordinates adaptive physical education for special-needs students at Horizon High and most of its feeder schools, serves as an assistant baseball coach at Horizon, and helps coach his daughters’ softball team.

Strachan’s efforts, particularly the daily work with his students, "make me consider myself blessed.  I really like what I do."

And that is why The Arizona Republic has placed Strachan on the list of Coaches Who Care from across the Valley.

Some of Strachan’s students are blind, others have cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, and some are in wheelchairs.  He and a group of therapists work together to give the students the most complete educational experience possible, including an active body and mind.

Strachan helps blind and wheelchair-bound students use the weight room.  He shuttles back and forth from the schools on a daily basis, finishing at Horizon during the spring and assisting head coach Eric Kibler. Strachan focuses on the Huskies’ catchers and is the hitting coach.

He also likes to involve his students by having them sing the National Anthem or perform other duties with the team, such as helping gather equipment.

Strachan played baseball at nearby Shadow Mountain High, then at Phoenix College and was a walk-on at the University of Arizona for then-coach Jerry Kindall. Strachan considered a career in sports medicine and worked in the UA weight room with students with disabilities.

"I pretty much took to that right away." Strachan said. "I really enjoyed working with the people and knew that’s what I wanted. I got a job here (Phoenix) and became Eric’s assistant, and I’ve been here ever since."

Kibler said Strachan comes as close to being irreplaceable as one can get.

"He might not admit it, but I think he’s kind of a rah-rah guy," Kibler said. "The players respond to him. The students he works with during the day and the ones who come out here to help with baseball really benefit from his involvement."


Coaches Who Care
Spirituality, discipline drive Morgan in life
By Richard Obert

The Arizona Republic

St. Johns football coach Mike Morgan called his players into the locker room 40 minutes before their Class 3A quarterfinal game last season.

He gave them the stunning news that the charter bus of their opponent, Bourgade Catholic, had overturned on the way to the game, and players and coaches were being treated in Springerville.

The game was called off.  But Morgan didn't go home.  He, his staff and some of the players drove to see what they could do to help. They offered to open their homes to stunned and injured players. The Eagar-Springerville community had already opened its hearts.

The Red Cross set up beds at the Round Valley middle school. Bashas’ donated food.

"Seeing their kids banged up, it brought a perspective to the game," Morgan said.

St. Johns was awarded victory by forfeit, and the next week invited Bourgade players to stand on the sideline for its semifinal game against Yuma Catholic.

"Kids asked, ’Can we play the game Monday?’ "Bourgade coach Pat Lavin said. "I looked around.  There were broken noses, broken collarbones. There were two kids who could have suited up to play. I said, ’Forget about the game.’"

This was the first time something like this happened.  Morgan went on instincts. He didn’t see anything heroic in his and his team’s gestures.

But he is known to help kids.

"First and foremost are grades," Morgan said.  "I dealt with troubled kids.  I've had kids spend the night in my home who lived 50 miles away to get to an event the next day.  I provide a homecoming dinner every year at my house.  We try to provide pre-game meals.  My wife helped set that up with others. We have a barbecue every year for the team.  Those things bring kids together."

Morgan said he acquired that love of bonding from a stern Catholic home where he was one of seven children.  His father was a schoolteacher.

"It was based on trying to live your life right," Morgan said.  "I try to relate that to kids as much as I can.  A lot of coaches do, I’m sure.  You have to have spirituality and discipline, two things we try to teach kids.  That’s what gets you through life."


Coaches Who Care
Coach helped team cope with ballplayer's death
By Jose E. Garcia

The Arizona Republic

Millennium High baseball coach Sam Messina was sleeping when he got the call from one of his players.

Senior pitcher Chance Kenney was in the hospital, Messina was told.  Before the call came, Millennium was concentrating on wrapping up the West Valley Region 2004 regular season title.

The team’s focus, however, quickly changed when the Millennium community found out that Kenney, 18, died as a result of a dirt motorcycle accident.  With the strong backing of Kenney’s family and the guidance of Millennium High’s administration and Messina, the baseball team regrouped and continued to play with heavy hearts.

"Coach Messina handled the situation admirably," wrote Glenn Miller and Barbara Myers, the parents of a Millennium baseball player, in an e-mail to The Republic.  "He was a counselor, supporter and friend to his players.

"The kids were resilient through all of this because the coach cared.  Coach Messina said it best after the death of Chance ’That life is so much bigger, and this is just a game.’"

Baseball was the last thing on the players’ minds when they met at the hospital early that Saturday morning.

"When I looked at my players for the first time (after Kenney died), I didn't say much," said Messina, who has coached baseball for 16 years, five at Millennium.  "I was at a loss for words.  How do I explain something I don’t understand?  It was a situation that I was ill prepared for.  I think it was a situation where you tried to assure the kids that things were going to be OK.  The biggest thing for me was that we were together to support one another.  When you spend four years around Chance, this is something that we’ll never forget."

During his sophomore season, Kenney was Messina’s No. 1 pitcher, but an injury to Kenney’s pitching arm kept him from a regular spot in the starting rotation during his last two high school seasons.

The injury, however, didn’t keep Kenney from pitching, as he saw time as a spot starter and long reliever.  It also didn't keep him from cheering on his teammates, which Kenney did a lot, Messina said.

When Millennium got the sad news that Saturday morning, the team was scheduled to play a doubleheader that day.  With the blessings of Kenney’s parents Leslie and Teri, the team decided to play.

It was the best thing that could’ve happened to the team because it forced the players to stay together all day, Messina said.  Messina brought all of his players to his house before the doubleheader.

The players spent the rest of that morning in Messina’s living room, talking about different things.  The team rallied in memory of Kenney and wound up sweeping the doubleheader and eventually winning the region title.

Millennium also advanced to the Class 4A quarterfinals, but the victories and losses were inconsequential compared with losing Kenney.

"What happened last season changed me," Messina said.  "It put a whole different perspective on why and how I do this.  When we lost to Chaparral at the end of the season it was sad, but we put things in perspective.  This wasn’t about the wins and losses for me.  It was about trying to make a difference in these kids’ lives.  It really signified that this is what I’m supposed to be doing."


Coaches Who Care
Tolleson’s Baker reaches out, touches athletes
By Richard Obert

The Arizona Republic

Jermaine Turner lived in a foster home in high school, but he never lacked for a father.

Jim Baker was not only Turner’s shot and discus coach on the Tolleson track and field team, but he was a counselor and a motivator - the dad he didn't have.

Now Turner has direction.  He is entering his freshman year at Glendale Community College with a plan and a goal.

"I’m not supposed to provide wins," said Baker, who guides male and female athletes in the weight room and in track.  "I’m there to empower kids with confidence.  It’s not about winning.  It’s about reaching out."

So many student-athletes have been impacted by his touch.  He has helped change lives, given the underprivileged hope.

Why?

Baker was underprivileged growing up in Globe.  He had mentors in high school who helped him succeed.

That is why Baker is driven to help youths.  He has been a mentor for 25 years as an educator and coach.  His Tolleson boys track teams contend for championships every year.

But that isn’t the ultimate for him - it’s seeing a child grow.

He helped Andrea Martinez become a state champion last spring.

"She came here as a freshman and didn’t know what to do," Baker said.

He proudly presented her an All-State certificate that he had made for her this summer.

Turner, who was a ward of the state, fought odds.  Baker took him to school, got him to practice, took him back to the group home.  He’d go shopping with him.

"We did everyday things to let him know it’s OK," Baker said.

"You have to separate the pressure to win and look at the other win-win situations.  If they trust you and respect you, you’re going to get a lot out of kids."


Coaches Who Care
Listening, assisting are Pinter's passions
By Richard Obert

The Arizona Republic

Donnel Garner’s mother Julie, has cancer.

The Camelback point guard has seen the sparkle in her eyes dim, the vivacious spirit slowly wither in a body weakened by chemotherapy.

But he is not alone in dealing with his pain.  He has a place to go, somebody to talk to - his basketball coach, Brad Pinter.

"Coach has done a lot," said Donnel, a junior.  "He’s taken me to the gym. He supports my family.

"It’s tough.  But coach will talk to me about it.  He’s always there for me."

It is not just because Garner can do wonderful things with a basketball that Pinter’s heart is open.  He has helped players who rarely get off the bench.  He has helped troubled athletes from other schools with no intent of recruiting.

"I love helping kids," Pinter said.

Pinter was Kevin Woodberry’s freshman coach at Trevor Browne in the mid-1990s.  Woodberry, the 1999 Big School Player of the Year, now has a degree from Brigham Young University.  He called Pinter recently to let him know he’s going to give pro basketball a shot in Mexico.

Pinter, a math teacher, was instrumental in getting Woodberry involved in student government at Trevor Browne.  Woodberry ended up being student-body president.

Pinter feels a greater sense of accomplishment in seeing players obtain college degrees and good jobs.

Many of his players come from broken homes, where college diplomas are fantasies.

Now Pinter is trying to help Garner deal with a heart that is breaking.

"I think just listening is the big thing," Pinter said.  "I try to listen to all kids in my classroom.

"I let them know I care about what’s going on.  I try to maintain a close relationship with my players and my math students."