Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer|
Jeremiah Thurman, left, and Coach Paul Stackhouse discuss strategy at the plate during practice.
The call to coach remains loud
Here I go again.
I guess I truly can say that I know how some professional athletes feel when it comes to retirement. Pro baseball, football and basketball players and even a professional boxer or two have announced their retirements from the sport they love so much only to come back and play again.
Well, by no means I am I calling myself a professional athlete, but I now officially have come out of my retirement from coaching youth baseball — for the second time.
Having put in 26 good years of coaching Decatur Dixie Boys Baseball (13- and 14-year-olds), I pulled the plug in 2002. Placing my coaching shoes in the closest was a difficult choice, but I was going to place more focus on work and fishing.
Having officially retired, I thought about my decision every day. I began to realize that this move wasn't going to be as easy as I thought it would be. By the time one week had gone by, I'd started thinking about changing my mind. But I stuck to my guns and entered the retirement world.
In January of 2003, I was contacted by good friend Jimbo Early, who asked me to help him coach a Decatur Dixie Boys National League team. It wasn't easy, but I politely told Jimbo I was sticking with my earlier decision.
Two months later while watching a Decatur High home baseball game, Jimbo again approached me about coaching. Again, I said no. After turning him down again, Jimbo decided to cheat and got some of the players to ask me if I would consider getting back in the game.
After fielding their questions, I told them I would have to think about it. A couple of days later, Jimbo sat down with me at another Decatur baseball game and said he would make things easy for me if I came back. He said he would take care of just about everything except for coaching the players. Jimbo said he would handle all of the manager's jobs like paperwork, making out lineups and collecting money. He would make sure that I wasn't distracted while coaching by anyone or anything. All I had to do was handle the practices and run the game from the third-base coaching box.
Not having the ability to decline the offer again, I agreed to coach. Indeed, the coaching shoes came out of the retirement closet.
After walking on the field, I began to feel right at home. And Jimbo kept his word because all I had to do was coach.
His son Trey was 13, which meant my contract was going to be for two years. I have to admit, the two years I assisted Jimbo and Allen Sartain were the best in my coaching career.
I always looked forward to practices and games because I knew it was going to be fun.
That first year found our team winning the city championship. The second year we wound up second in the city.
Our 2003 13-year-old Decatur National all-stars made an amazing run. After winning the sub-district and district tournaments, we took our 13 young ball players to Boaz to participate in the 13-year-old Dixie Boys state tournament.
I was impressed and proud at how our Decatur National all-star players conducted themselves. I was even more impressed at how hard they worked to improve themselves. If we decided to give them some time off, they would come back with a request to take some extra batting practice or anything else they could do to make the team better.
Some people might find it hard to believe, but they actually didn't want any time off. For a Dixie Boys coach, having all of your players with a work-hard attitude was nothing less than a dream.
As it turned out, we came in second place in the state. Opelika beat us in the championship game, and our season came to a close.
And I have to admit, I had tears in my eyes when it was over — it had been a wonderful season. Opelika went on to win the Dixie Boys World Series played in Tennessee.
I really didn't think anything could have made that all-star season any better than what it already had been. Then in the closing ceremonies of the state tournament, our team received the sportsmanship award.
My players knew I was extremely proud to see that they won that special award. It really meant a lot to me and my style of coaching.
I wrote a column in The Daily about how my summer vacation once again was spent on the baseball field. In all of my years of writing sports, never have I received so much response to a column I wrote. Obviously, there were a lot of people who spent their summer vacations on the baseball field also.
After helping Jimbo and Allen in the next season, my so-called contract was fulfilled. I decided to retire again and stayed that way for two years. That brings me back to this year and my agreement to coach the 2007 Decatur Dixie Boys Braves. The Braves' manager, Mark Spivey, a friend of mine, asked me if I would consider helping him coach a team.
He asked me the question at a Decatur High baseball game, and it really caught me off guard. Immediately, I could feel that Jimbo (who had moved to Mobile over a year ago) probably had some kind of role in this as he has been trying to get me back into the coaching scene since before he moved.
Spivey has been coaching his son Hunter, 14, for many years, and he is an excellent youth baseball coach. He knows baseball and knows how to relate his experience to young players. Shortly after agreeing to assist Spivey, I received a call from Jimbo more than 300 miles away. He wanted to congratulate me for jumping back into coaching the children. I knew he had something to do with all of this.
So far, I've been involved in just a few of the Braves' practice sessions and already I can tell the players are hungry for baseball knowledge. Whether they will win a lot of games remains to be seen, but I know I will be answering a lot of their questions because they want to improve themselves.
And if there is one thing I have learned after coaching for almost three decades, it's that winning is nice but teaching kids about the game of life is what's important.
Being 13- or 14-years-old is difficult enough for kids this day and age, and if I can do anything to help them improve themselves, I will give it my best shot.
I now know that my summer vacation will be spent on the baseball field one more time. And, after this season, I probably will retire again. As for getting back in the game after that, well, that's one question I won't be able to answer until it happens.
Jimbo told me one day that as long as I am able to walk and talk, I will be coaching children. He's probably right.
Jimbo also knows that coaching 13- and 14-year-olds is about more than learning baseball.
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