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Getting thrown into the fire… My experience as a first-time head coach in the East Tennessee High School Baseball League

CONTRIBUTED BY ANDREW SMITH    

When the TSSAA announced the cancellation of the spring sports season earlier this year, a lot of my teammates, including myself, thought that it would be the last time we would take the field together.

However, thanks to Boyd Sports, Hampton Baseball got to return to the field this summer with the East Tennessee High School Baseball League. 

As soon as we received the news of getting to play, we were all excited. But for me, the news of this summer league was quickly followed up by Bulldog Baseball Head Coach, Nick Perkins, telling me that he would need my help on the coaching side of things this summer.

He told me that the school system would not allow him to be in the dugout with returning players, due to the current health circumstances of the world.

That meant I would be acting as head coach for the squad during games while receiving help from Perkins and the rest of the staff from outside of the dugout.

This experience would not be my first being a coach in general, as I helped Perkins coach a youth league softball team that his daughters played on. However, this would be the first time I would be acting as head coach.

I was excited to see the game of baseball from this new perspective. I would learn how to sequence pitches to different hitters for different pitchers. I would be able to watch guys develop and get back in the swing of things after a three-month layoff.

Early in the summer season, I worked with the coaching staff to get certain guys on the roster on certain days and went along with whatever group they wanted to put out there, which made life easier on me still trying to get a feel for the ropes of being at the top of the dugout steps.

It didn’t help my experience that we began the year facing D-B, Greeneville, and Science Hill. However, it did provide a realization that we would be fighting an uphill battle as the smallest school in the league.

When the TSSAA mandated Dead Period began in late June, I was given a little more liberty on rosters since I would be the only one that could see how players look at the games.

During Dead Period, we got our only win of the season in a rain-shortened game at Northeast Community Credit Union Ballpark, 3-2. I was disappointed to have that game cut short as that was the best we had looked all year but I was also happy to finally get a win.

After that game, we continued to struggle along in the box score for the remainder of the year. Then came our final outing against the John Battle Express. 

We played sloppy early and dug ourselves into an 11-3 hole. The staff and I had decided to let 2020 senior Noah Laughters pitch in the bottom of the 6th inning.

Coach Perkins had promised to let him pitch on his senior night back in 2018, but alas, it never came, so he got to pitch in the last game of the ETHSBL. 

He came out and pitched a 1-2-3 inning, including a strikeout to end the inning. That ended up sparking a rally in the top of the 7th allowing us to score four runs and closing out the season with an 11-7 loss.

Although this summer came with its fair share of headaches: occasional sloppy play, scrambling to get rosters together, and a Dead Period that messed up the rhythm of the season, I am grateful for the opportunity to act as the head coach for the summer.

It gave me a newfound perspective on what goes on in the inner workings of a baseball program on a daily basis, allowed me to go to battle with my teammates and best friends on the diamond one last time, and continue to be around the game of baseball.