March 19, 2007
Troy University struggled in their opening SBC series last weekend against Middle Tennessee State, but bounced back with a vengeance against us, winning all three games played here in Boca. Not even the "luck of the Irish" helped, as their only Irishman Joe Hallahan pitched a gem against us Saturday night despite our St. Patrick's Day uniforms, bases, and music.
Friday night looked as though it would be one of our trademark comebacks as we pulled to within a run after the fifth. But 7-6 was the closest we'd be that night and the rest of the weekend. Our bullpen gave up five runs in the final four innings while Troy's Josh Dew showed why he was the SBC pre-season player of the year, shutting us down with four k's in the last three innings.
St. Patrick's Day started with Justin Phillabaum getting x-rays on the ankle he turned leaving the ballpark Friday night- just what you want your starting pitcher to be doing on game day. The pictures were negative, so Philly taped it up and pitched well enough to win. He left one ball up for a three run homer in the first, but deserved more help from our pen later in the game. Once again, we couldn't halt the Trojan assault and Hallahan was tough as nails.
The less said by me about Sunday the better; things started poorly and got worse as the day progressed. We gave up 11 hits, walked seven, hit three batters, and mixed in a couple of wild pitches and a run scoring balk!
It's awfully early in the season to panic, but those three losses will loom large later in the year. We now head to Louisiana-Lafayette for a crucial conference series after a Wednesday game against former assistant George Roig and his new team from Dartmouth. Let's hope we start to get back on track.
A VISIT FROM THE PAST...
Saturday night I had the chance to visit with the daughter of the man to whom I owe so much.
Susan Anderson Geise and her husband John were in town from Vermont. I don't remember the last time I had seen Susan, but it may have been when I was pitching for her father Clary Anderson.
It continues to amaze me how much of our lives are the result of chance. In 1969, Clary Anderson was convinced to take over as football and baseball coach at Montclair State College in New Jersey. I was familiar with his name and his reputation. Clary was a legendary high school coach at Montclair High School. His exploits were part of the fabric of high school football throughout the state. He had been approached by Penn State and other colleges, but back then, coaches weren't making what Steve Spurrier and the boys make now.
But Clary learned his pension would carry over to the state college system and he made the move to Montclair State.
He unknowingly changed my life.
I pitched successfully for our freshman team in the spring of 1969, and moved up to the varsity with two other outstanding pitchers as sophomores the next year.
Paul Parker was a reed thin 5'10 right hander who probably threw 90 mph with a nasty curve and a slider. He finished with a career record of 17-3. But that year, he was just a flaky sophomore. Ricky Clayton was a stocky lefty with a major league curve. He injured his elbow the next year playing basketball and had to quit baseball. I was the third sophomore- a geeky, skinny right hander trying to get used to his new contact lenses, and live up to the other two guys.
We closed out that season with two games at Cornell. These were huge games to Clary Anderson. He had played football at Colgate University, quarterbacking a team that in the `30's was "undefeated, untied, and uninvited". He was proud that his daughter Susan, fought for the right to have women as cheerleaders in the Ivy League. She was the first of her gender to serve in that capacity while at Cornell. Her fiancé, John Geise was pitching the second game of the weekend for the Big Red.
Paul Parker was slated to start the first game, but he missed the bus. The skinny guy with the contacts and 80 MPH fastball got the start and the win. Rick Clayton was on the mound the next day.
Rick was also on second base with Montclair down a run. Our batter drew a walk bringing up Carmine Desimone, who was leading the nation in RBI's. Thinking there was a runner on first base, Clayton started over to third. The smart guys from Cornell waited until Ricky was nearly there and then tagged him out to end the inning.
Clary went nuts.
At the end of his rant he said, "These damn sophomore pitchers- if you woke them up in the middle of the night they wouldn't know what town they were in!" He carried on for a few more minutes like that before I picked up my glove and walked out behind the left field fence and sat on the grassy hill beyond, pouting and thinking about my life.
It was 1970. The Vietnam War was raging, and the nation's colleges were on strike in protest of our invasion of Cambodia. We however were finishing out the baseball schedule despite the protests of our generation. There I was seven hours from home, getting berated for being what- a sophomore? I was a pretty conscientious kid. Heck, I had only been drunk once in my life by then.
To lump me in as just another dumb sophomore made me think twice about everything. Did I really need baseball if this guy I respected couldn't see me for what I thought I was? How important was all this crap anyway?
By now I was lying on my back, the game progressing as I watched the clouds overhead.
Suddenly there was a shadow looming over me.
It was Clary.
"I want you to know I wasn't referring to you." That's all he said before turning around and walking back to the dugout and the game being played without him.
I sat there for awhile trying to take in what had just happened. This legendary coach had left his team in the middle of the game, walked 340 feet to reassure some snot nosed kid who was feeling sorry for himself that his effort and attitude had not gone unnoticed.
That day was one of the most important in my life.
They say "No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child."
Well, that May day back in 1970 I certainly acted like a child. But Clary Anderson showed me what being a man and a coach means. He didn't have to do what he did. How many of us ever would?
For years, I have kept what he did in my mind and my heart. When I have been wrong with a kid I have tried to stand that tall and tell him so. I learned that the best coaches don't have to live by their egos. They need to live by their hearts.
Before the game Saturday I tried to tell Susan what her father meant to me. I hope she understands the influence her father had on me and the hundreds of other young men he touched.
All I may be today is owed in great extent to Clary Anderson. He taught me to be unafraid to gamble in a game- do something unexpected, or unconventional. "If you don't do something, nothing happens." He taught me to value the proper use of the English language. "You'll be on a job interview someday, and you don't want to sound stupid." Many of my players have heard the same thing.
But most of all, he taught me to be a man.