Gordie and my St. Francis teammates had a tremendous influence on me, also. We suffered through a lot of low times but I learned how to bounce back from defeat through Gordie’s coaching. I hope that I can pass onto the young men I coach the same type of life-long skills that Gordie has taught me.
I became a teacher at Lincoln-Way East High, a Joliet area school, and I followed in Gordie’s footsteps in taking on the position of head baseball coach.
When I saw that the head coaching position was open I thought of how much Gordie affected my life, and I realized that you can reach kids on the ball field at a different level than you can in the classroom. So I decided to coach; coach like Gordie.
Every day when I prepared for practice I’d think, “How would Gordie do this? What drills would he give the team? Am I motivating them the way he motivated me? How can I get the most out of them the way he got the most out of us?”
I remember one player in particular, Jon Moore. Jon started out in his early years like me, a kid with less talent than the other players. So I did for Jon what Gordie did for me; I singled him out whenever he made a good play. Jon became a very talented player.
After graduation Jon attended a local junior college and played on the baseball team. After the season he visited me and said that he had hated the experience. “They didn’t respect the game the way you do, Coach. You instilled in us a love and an awe of the game. I remember you saying that ‘You can’t have a great game without having a great opponent. Respect your opponent as you respect the game and all that it can teach you.’ It was all cut-throat and in-your-face. They didn’t play the game the Lincoln-Way East way. You taught us how to ‘drive and desire to be the best you can be.’ To them it was all about winning the games any way you can, even if you have to fudge the rules and look for tricks. You taught us that if we worked hard every day as individuals and as a team, winning would take care of itself.”
The more Jon talked the more I realized that I had passed on to my players what Gordie taught me. Jon was a great example. The more we talked the more he realized that he needed to go to another school, look for another baseball program. He did well enough in school that he had lots of options. We found a coach at Purdue that seemed to have the same kind of attitude that Gordie had and Jon enrolled there. He had a stellar career at Purdue even though he had to be a medical redshirt his first year and he had other obstacles, but he learned from all of them, and he pursued the solution to every problem with enthusiasm and hard work.
This year he has become a graduate assistant at Lewis university and is pursuing a graduate degree in counseling. He told me that he wants to be a teacher and coach baseball so he can have the same kind of impact on young people like I had on him. He said, “You taught us to be better men, Coach. You were always an example of what a man with high character ought to be.”
When he said those words I realized that I had succeeded in a small way to be like Gordie. Jon was an outstanding individual before meeting me. But he did take some lessons with him that came from Gordie through me.
God will be with me! And I thank God that Gordie is in my life!