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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The "Son, Father, Coach" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Kneeling in front of the faucet at the rear corner of the house.  Getting in my catcher's stance so I can spend the next half hour or more catching pitch after pitch from my son, Derek, as he practices his windup and stretch, using a tennis ball.  My guess is that he was probably five or six years old at the time, but had this inherent love of the game of baseball; just as his dad.  From the time he could throw a ball, I had him in the back yard throwing it to me.  
Derek pitching when he was 9 years old
"Lefty" had the desire to practice his pitching as often as he could and as he grew older his desire never diminished.  Games of Wiffle ball in the back yard with his brother, sister and me seemed to be a nightly summer occurrence with him pitching for one team and me pitching for the other.  Can't tell you how many Wiffle balls we lost or destroyed during the summer months for about eight to ten years as my three kids were growing up.  When he turned 9 year's old I signed him up for organized ball and became his coach.  I had been coaching little league baseball for a few years in the city of Lancaster, but when he began to play, I naturally had to coach his team.  I knew he was a special ball player from that first time we threw in the backyard.  
Local newspaper photo taken of Derek
while pitching at Manheim Twp. High School
He excelled in "B" ball for two years and we both moved up to "A" ball when he turned 11 years old.  Then I found that he could play on the "traveling" team and reluctantly gave up my coaching rights to him to allow him to play with more skilled athletes.  His team did well his first year on the team and the two following years as he played on the 13-14 year old team. During a tournament his second year on the 13-14 year old team he and a teammate pitched back-to-back no-hitters in a weekend tournament.  The news made it into the sports pages of USA Today.  That same  year at that level saw him get to play in the Mason-Dixon Tournament which features the best teams from the north-east USA.  He won two games and his team won the championship.  High School followed with year after year of success on the mound until he gained interest from schools such as Clemson, Cornell and Miami.  
Pitching in a Pennsylvania District
High School game in 1989
Then during the State Playoffs his senior year he traveled to Philadelphia where he beat the best team in that area and that evening the coach from Villanova University called to offer him a full ride to pitch for the Wildcats.  That summer he played in the Keystone Games which featured the best players from all over the state of Pennsylvania.  That team won the Keystone Games baseball category.  His first collegiate year was a success with him having the 3rd best ERA (Earned Run Average) in the Big East.  I must tell you that even though he was third, he didn't qualify since he was 3 innings short of qualifying.  
Pitching for Villanova University
He did all this after spending his Christmas break in the hospital with mono and lost not only weight, but suffered a winged-scapula from trying to return to baseball too soon.  Eventually got to pitch against Miami in the prelims to the College World Series, but lost 1-0.  During his college years he played summer ball in the prestigious Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League for the Quakertown Blazers. He garnered professional attention, with a possible draft offer after his junior year, but he chose to return to school for one more year of ball and to get his degree from Villanova.  A serious arm injury toward the end of senior year cut his dream short.  Then marriage and a baby boy came along and eventually he was back into the sport he loved so much.  He served as an assistant for a few years until this year when he became the head coach for his son's, my grandson's, team in the 11-12 year old league.  
Coach Woods for the Mountville Braves
He has taken a team of all 11 year olds but one and taught them the game of baseball like no other coach could do.  What looked like a year of being a cellar-dweller because of their young age, he coached them into a second-place finish.  And, the boys on his team love him.  He works them hard, but they play their hearts out for him.  My grandson, Caden, who happens to be a "righty" has shown great improvement and confidence on the mound due to his dad's coaching.  My wife and I couldn't be more proud of Coach Woods and try to make every game.  Can't imagine what this team, if kept intact next year, could do with another year of Derek's knowledge and coaching.  I see great things in the future once again for my son ... father and baseball coach.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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