Marshall Hastings: Coaches leave a big impression on kids
It was the spring of my seventh-grade year. It was my first year in the public school system, and as baseball season came around, it was the first time I wouldn’t be coached by my father.
I had heard about the middle school baseball coach, but never laid eyes on him. All I knew was that he ran camps for kids and I knew players that attended them, he had coached for a while, and his name was Mike Ringey. I couldn’t for the life of me tell him apart from a teacher at Middlebury Union Middle School.
Twenty-six seventh-graders had gathered in the MUMS gym after school. Most of them conversed among themselves, talking about whatever was cool for seventh-graders to talk about. Maybe about who was crushing on whom, or what video game they were going to play that night.
Our athletic director had come and gone, telling us to be patient; our coach would be there soon.
Before long, a balding, mustachioed man entered the gym. From the hush across the crowd, I assumed he had to be important. He introduced himself as Mike Ringey. He told us his background, how long he had been coaching, his full biography.
Then, as if he were announcing a WWE fight, he introduced another coach, his son: “Now, coaching the eighth-grade team this year — Brett Ringey!”
I was taken aback, but I guess I didn’t really know what to expect. What I soon learned was that Mike was dedicated to baseball, more dedicated than any individual I had ever been around. He treated each game like the World Series, and he expected you to do the same.
Early in the year, we traveled to Rutland for our second or third game. With so many players, we had two groups. One unit played the first three or four innings, and then the second group played the remainder.
After the first couple innings, the first group walked off the field with our tails between our legs. On the bench, with the game fully out of reach, many of us fashioned Goldfish cracker boxes to our heads and used baseball bats as swords.
We were 12 or 13 years old. We figured there were bigger fish to fry than a baseball game. We weren’t playing for a championship or even a postseason berth, but to Mike it mattered. When we arrived back at school, Mike stood in front of us on the bus and gave us a tongue-lashing. To him, we had embarrassed not only us, but also our community.
I still remember the day during our eighth-grade season that Mike took us inside rather than practice. It was a sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, a day begging you to play ball, but Mike had something to tell us. He told us that he believed this team was good enough to win a state championship in high school. While we were more concerned with our eighth-grade season, Mike was the only one thinking that far ahead.
Throughout the summer, Mike drove us to and from baseball games all over Addison and Chittenden counties for Babe Ruth ball. If we played well, Mike would bring his convertible to the games, driving us through Burlington with the top down and our pale skin burning.
Once the Babe Ruth season ended, he asked anyone who would listen if they would play on the county all-star team. He couldn’t fathom the idea that days spent sprawled on the couch could be any better than days spent sprinting around a baseball diamond.
That summer, on the 13-year-old Addison County All-Star team, Middlebury was represented by just three players. But as that team fell in the state championship game, all three players were in the starting lineup.
Mike, who is now critically ill and just hoping to attend his son’s wedding at the end of the month, always had high aspirations for baseball in Middlebury. He dreamed of the day that Middlebury would hoist a baseball state banner. In middle school, we hung with every team we played, splitting series against Vergennes and Mount Abraham. Come high school though, we couldn’t quite compete.
In my four years playing for Middlebury, we won just one playoff game. We watched idly as Vergennes and Mount Abe celebrated state titles.
So Mike, if you’re still reading this, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for letting me be part of your life. I want to thank you for being my coach, for driving me to games throughout the summer. Thank you for believing not only in me, but also in Middlebury baseball.
Only six players on that seventh-grade team graduated as senior baseball players, but you affected every one of us. You dreamt big when others considered it to be a pipe dream. And so as this chapter in all our lives nears an end, thank you for including me in the story.
Editor’s note: Marshall Hastings will take a break from Springfield College this summer to be an intern covering the Vermont Champs baseball team for 101.3-FM.
The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)
BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)
See when your favorite high school team is competing in the fall sports playoffs.