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Friday, June 7, 2013

THE BIG DOG RETIRES

Word spread quickly yesterday that the "Big Dog", Cal Bailey was stepping down as the head baseball coach at West Virginia State College following the 2014 season.  In college baseball, it's big news.  After 36 season and 1,024 victories and 17 conference titles, it's real big news.  For those he has taught and touched, it's monumental news. Cal has been a mainstay not only in the WVIAC but in the Kanawha Valley.  It is nothing to see Cal leaning against an outfield fence watching a high school game, even when he wasn't recruiting a player on the field -- he just loves the game.

Cal's also a consummate teacher.  I was fortunate to play a few summers in college with some of the State players on a summer league team.  When summer jobs opened up a hole, I got to fill in play some first base with these talented players.  Cal never hesitated to correct parts of my game to help me be better even though I was certainly never going to be good enough to don a Yellow Jacket uniform.  He just wanted me to improve.

Later I got to know Cal during my three year stint as a men's assistant basketball coach at West Virginia State.  As an NAIA coach in those days, you always had more than one job.  I also worked in the sports information department and had the job of being the SID for baseball.  This meant I drove a van and sat in the dugout -- right beside the Big Dog.  I'd observe practice and eat post-game meals with Cal.  It was three years of being mentored by one of the best coaches I've been associated with -- it was a living classroom.  I learned so much about coaching and teaching in those three years that many years ago as an assistant at LSU, I asked Coach Dale Brown if we could invite Cal down for our game with Kentucky in Rupp Arena.  When I explained to Coach Brown how much Cal had meant to my growth as a coach he not only invited him down, but had him sit on the bench with our team.  By the way, Cal was in rare form that night -- only those who played for him can appreciate it!

I've blogged about Cal before...mentioning that he was a member of my circle of influence...I even blogged about how the way he had me stat at bats for the Yellow Jackets later influenced how a gauged shot selection.

But a few quotes from Cal in the Charleston newspapers yesterday really sum up they type of coach he is, why he is so successful, and why his legacy will be felt for years to come.

Why is he waiting until after the 2014 season to retire? "I have a senior group that when I recruited, I assured I would coach until they graduated and this coming year those kids will be seniors."

What will Cal miss the most? "I'm going to miss the players and practices. Just to see a pimply faced boy come in at 17 or18 years old and leave a 22 or 23-year-old man, that's what I'm going to miss the most. Just the everyday interrelationships with them and preparing them for the game will be missed."

Want to know how good a coach Cal is? At last count Cal had 82 former players that were now professional, collegiate, high school or middle school coaches.

As a coach, what brings him the most pleasure? "It really makes me feel good to watch all the players that are now high school coaches. I like to see them play and watch them compete with their pride and their way of handling themselves. That's really refreshing to me."

Another player, Rick Whitman summed it up best: "The big thing Cal prides himself on is being a teacher. Not only has he taught a lot of guys baseball, he's taught a lot of guys how to be good people. Just look that the guys that played for him that are now coaches."

How about loyalty? "It's been a good life. Honestly, I thought I'd die on the ballfield. It's just a labor of love. Things just came so naturally as far as the coaching was concerned it actually seemed easy most of the time. I've had chances to move into professional ball and Division I ball, but this is my school."

It was great last night exchanging tweets with so many of Cal's former players that are
coaching.  There is literally an army out there -- an incredibly loyal army.  It reminds me of Don Meyer.  There are so many that learned so much from Cal and they will continue to coach his brand of baseball and teach young men in the fashion that he did -- it will be a legacy that will last long beyond next year's final game.


Some things happen for a reason.  Like being forced as a basketball coach to also be the SID for a baseball team. The number of conversations I've had with Cal in a bus, a dugout or restaurant have made me a better coach, a better teacher.  I'm incredibly thankful our paths have crossed -- wishing the Big Dog a great final season in the sun!