(Soapboxes are guest commentaries from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. Len Clarke shares his memories as his coaching career comes to an end.)
After 37 years of coaching youth/amateur baseball, I am hanging up my managerial duties. As I walked off the field at Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District's main field for the last time recently, I must admit my eyes got a little teary.
I reflected on all the people in our community who make this game of baseball possible and clearly thought of those who have made it a wonderful experience for me.
It came to an end about a month ago when my oldest grandson Eric - who for the last several years had been my batboy - responded to a comment I made to him while our team was on the field. I had said to him, 'Buddy, I've missed you as our batboy this year.' He responded, 'Gramps, I've missed you too. You haven't been to any of my games this year since Ringor (my 19U AAU team) got started.'
Wow, 'out of the mouths of babes' come significant messages. Eric had no idea how that comment affected me as we continued to talk about game situations.
When the inning came to an end I walked over to my wife Patti (my scorekeeper - and the love of my life for the past 42 years) and told her that my managing days were over at the end of this season. Her response was, 'Oh, sure, I've been waiting for that for years; I'll believe it when it happens.'
Well, the time has come. I will continue to do clinics and personal instruction, but managing the team will now be handed over to a younger generation. My sons coach Little League teams and I plan to assist them, my grandsons and their teammates, but I will take a back seat in a supportive role.
Today I am preparing our team to go to the AAU World Series. (Ringor placed second in Vacaville, Calif., ending play on July 27.) It is a fitting end to a wonderful coaching career. Over the years I have been blessed with terrific young men and parents on teams of all ages. Collectively we have won a lot of trophies, most of which I have given away. There are some special memories of moments with young men that will remain in the minds of those who read this that will forever be cherished. My love and respect go out to all of those who fought in the trenches with me to accomplish great memories. When it is said and done, it is memories that mean the most.
If I have had some impact in being a brick in the wall of a young man's development as a good person I am thankful for the opportunity.
I want to single out some folks who made my passage through coaching a pleasure. I want to say, 'thank you' to:
n The administrators of our baseball programs who spend hours working behind the scenes to allow our young players the chance to participate.
n The umpires who spend thankless hours in the dust and noise. We can't play without you and I thank you for being a significant part of the game and keeping all of us in line.
n The sponsors who provide the dollars to buy uniforms and baseballs.
Over the past 10 years in the 18-19U Ringor program I want to give special recognition to those who made it possible.
Thanks go to:
n Ringor (manufacturer of awesome baseball and softball shoes).
n Employers Overload (the best temporary work agency on the planet).
n DeMarini (their bats helped us win lots of games).
n Russ Auto (who helped us get started).
n Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District, under the leadership of Doug Menke and his faithful crew, have carved out fields and lined them so many times. Thank you for providing us all with a quality place to play our games.
n Special thanks to Miles Vance and the Valley Times for being so excellent in delivering good news about all the youth programs in our community.
Thank you to my current coaching staff:
n Craig Mitchell for his 50 years (my adopted brother since grade school).
n Andy Peterson for his 27 years. (He married my niece Brenda and is now family.)
n Jim Rider for his 12 years (the BP rubber arm that still throws strikes).
n Mason Smith, our pitching coach. (I drafted him in Little League 20 years ago and taught him to throw a curve and he still owns pitching records at OSU.)
n Tom Rectenwald, our hitting coach. (We met in John Day in 1994 and became fast friends.)
n Jim O'Leary. (He came to watch in 2000 and has contributed ever since.)
n To my scorekeepers Patti and Brenda. I love you both so much for all your caring and support.
Special thanks go to all the coaches who have listened to me preach baseball fundamentals at clinics over the years and to all those who coached with me and against my teams since I started in 1960.
I went to college to be a baseball-playing minister and somehow it all changed after a football injury ended my baseball dream. However, it led me to find my calling by coaching young men on a baseball field.
At a PABA dinner in 1998 I was honored to be called the coach with the most amateur wins in Oregon history. I don't know if those statistics are accurate, but I am honored to be a member of the PABA coaches Hall of Fame and, by the way, we have won a few games since that time.
Thanks to all the players who got us in the win column. It's not all about all-star either. Some of my best stories involve teams that were not so successful.
My sons, John, Scott and Dave, will now get burdened with my support as my grandsons Eric, Jack and Ryan, along with my granddaughter Abby and nephew Steel, will get my full attention. I know it will take special planning to spread it all around. I count on Patti to help me schedule the time.
I will also be retiring from my business career at Poorman-Douglas at the end of January. A special thanks goes to Jeff Baker for allowing me the flexibility to extend my time with baseball as a contribution to our community.
I am certain that in this abbreviated letter I have missed many who have meant so much. The opportunity to put my arm around so many and say 'well done' will never be forgotten. Because you are so important to me, thanks from the bottom of my heart.
Someone once asked me, 'Why don't you write a book,' So I did. Recently, someone asked, 'Why don't you write a letter?' Now I have.
Thanks for all the great memories!