Wednesday, December 21, 2005
We buried my baseball coach yesterday.
Bill Phillips mattered in my life.
Like lots of kids my age, I grew up playing baseball.
More accurately, I lived, breathed, ate, slept and drank baseball.
Mickey Mantle was my hero and all of the New York Yankees were my team. All of this dates me as a kid growing up in Dallas, pre-Rangers. I still have a hard time being against the Yankees, even when they play our hometown boys. Sorry, Brandon!
I was a terrible baseball player, when in second grade I first signed up for Richardson's Boys Baseball, Incorporated (BBI). To this day I can remember selling the little, round lapel pins to raise funds for the leagues. You saw them all over town: BBI.
I played rightfield for two summers for the infamous, cellar mat Blue Birds. What adult in their right mind would name a boys team "Blue Birds"? It's a question for the ages if you ask me!
I was fairly tall, gangly, uncoordinated and terrible as a player. But then, we all must have been. I remember losing to the Braves 45-0 before the merciful advent of the 10-run rule.
Worst of all our coach was a real jerk.
He must have been one of those dads who tried to live out his unfulfilled sports aspirations through his son. We weren't helping him much there. And boy, did he let us know about it! He yelled at us, ridiculed us and berated us before and after every game. A real motivational genius this guy.
I was miserable standing in rightfield, but I refused to quit. But the worst thing was I began to believe my coach's assessment that I would never be a ball player.
BBI had a rule that you couldn't change teams unless the coaches worked out an agreement.
Somehow in my third season the "trade" was arranged and I went over to the Mustangs, coached by Bill Phillips, my friend Barry's dad.
Coach Phillips encouraged us, taught us, believed in us and rallied us, even when we lost. He made me believe that I could play baseball and he taught me how.
When he died last week, Barry called to ask if I would officiate at the memorial service.
Only then did I learn that he was enrolled in night school at SMU School of Law during those summer days over forty years ago. Somehow he found the time to coach his son and the rest of us.
The first season on the Mustangs under Coach Phillips we played the Blue Birds at Terrace Park. It is a night I will never forget. I hit two home runs. Coach was proud of me. I can get back there in an instant, like it was closer than yesterday to my memory and my senses.
I know Coach Phillips is one of the main reasons why I've coached inner-city teams of 4th and 5th graders in the Texas Rangers Rookie League.
Mentors matter. Parents can't do it all.
Coach Phillips changed my life--that may sound over the top, but it is true.
Mentors help you believe that things can work out. We need mentors in the city, lots of them. Just like Coach.