English leads Brewton coach pitch team
By Adam Robinson
Michael English played the game of baseball, knows the game and loves it.
That combination for English helped him team up with John Hart to start a summer coach pitch baseball team.
“Myself and John are good friends and I am close to his son,” English said. “His son walks around and gets mad when he can’t wear his cleats to school. He loves the game of baseball and why should he just sit around at home or at the pool and have to put the ball on the tee in the backyard and swing it because there is no opportunity to keep playing ball in the summer. We just thought that once they finished playing coach pitch at the YMCA, they just played five or six games and there were just so many kids out there. We just saw that they were done playing baseball and the summer had not even started yet. So why do all these kids just sit around and not do anything in the summer time when there are some kids down in Pace or Fort Walton playing 50 games in the summer.? Everyday that kid is sitting at the house not playing, he is falling behind. This had never been done before with the kids this age. So, we got up with 12 kids and asked their parents if they wanted to keep playing baseball and they all said yes and that their kid would love it. No one told us no.”
English said after the decision was made to start the team, he thought a mistake had been made during the first practice.
“The first day was horrible,” English said. “They did not know how to warm up, they did not know how to jog on the field, nothing. We practiced for two weeks and East Brewton called and said they would get 12 guys on a team and that it would be a great thing to do.”
The Brewton team played seven games and went 6-1.
“We played East Brewton five times and went 4-1 against them winning 13-12, 10-9, lost 12-5, then won 19-4 and 6-3,” English said. “Then we played Opp and beat then 11-1 and 15-6. East Brewton got their team up the same way we got our team up. The first night we played, it was a capacity crowd and they were packed and everyone was pleased to see that everything worked out.”
English said Opp’s team was already done with their season and when finding out about the Brewton and East Brewton teams, they put their team back together to come play.
“They put their 7-year-old team together and played us on a Friday night,” English said. “It was fun. It all jelled that night and we played good.”
The team is made up of 7- and 8-year-olds, but there are a few 6-year-olds on the team.
“Miller Hart and Kyle Blevins are both only six and Miller does not turn seven until September,” English said. “Miller played shortstop and Blevins played second for us.”
From then, English said they just got together and played using their own money.
“We did not use any of the city’s money,” English said. “We did not use any money for the Y. It was just the people who wanted to give us something. It really did not cost anything. I do want to thank Steven Dickey for loaning us some equipment from the Y. He loaned us some catching equipment and baseballs to get us going. Coach Riggs gave us some Gatorade from the high school. Then we had a parent that bought the jerseys and hats and that helped out and worked for us and Lance McKenzie at Pepsi gave us the cups to drink the Gatorade.”
English said it cost the parents on the team about $15 a piece and the team practiced a month and a half, played seven games, and the kids got better without a high budget.
“We were pretty polished and fine-tuned as the season went on,” English said. “The night we played Opp, we were sharp. Miller Hart played the best baseball a 6-year-old can play. The Opp guys were asking me if he was only six. He was making diving catches and threw one out from his knees. They all did good.”
English said if the team was not made by himself, John Hart and JDCC baseball coach Darrell Blevins, many of the kids would have never learned about the game of baseball.
“Nolan Atkinson would have never learned how to catch,” English said. “He always wanted to catch and in coach pitch, there really is no action for the catchers. We have practice the first day and he asks me if he could catch. I told him he could if he wanted to and now he has his own catching equipment and his own mitt. The last night, he caught three foul balls in the air. If we would have never practiced or played, he never would have learned to catch. So we made a difference with one player at least.”
Another example is with player Whitley Lizenby.
“We go down there the first day and he has his hat pulled down over his head and will not speak or talk,” English said. “By the end of the last game against Opp, they are all running around off the field, hugging each other and giving high fives to one another. He is excited about it. What me, John, and Coach Blevins talked about was it was just as good to make them better people as they are better players because some of those kids need to start saying yes sir and no sir and tuck their shirt tails in and get to practice on time and run on and off the field. In regular coach pitch, they would not get that and they need to understand they need to learn how to play the game right. There are other places playing 50 or 60 games in the summer and they are getting better. If we meet up with them, they will run us over and play the game hard. So, if you teach them right at a young age, as they grow and mature, they already have the fundamentals which you can’t teach at 15. If he does not have it the right way at seven or eight, he has already developed a habit.”
English said having JDCC baseball coach Blevins helping with the team was a good thing as well.
“He is always around the game and can add something to it that the normal guy standing around can’t do,” English said. “But at the same time, he has a kid on the team who is six and he loves baseball. You have to coach 18-year-olds one way and then he can turn around and coach the little ones on the team. So it made it easier to have him out there. You have to thank that guy because he could have easily said he coaches baseball. I think he enjoyed it as much as anyone did. John Hart also had his kid out there. I guess it was good for me because I don’t have a kid out there and I don’t have to worry about anyone saying I was being biased or showing favoritism. We are just doing this out of the goodness of our hearts.”
English said that maybe starting the kids out when they are young can help them when they make all stars in Little League.
“If you don’t do it now, you have all these parents asking why can’t we win these Little League All Star games,” English said. “That is because that kid at six had 300 at bats one summer and pitched 100 innings and took 5,000 ground balls. That is why they just beat us 15-0. We have to keep up some way and some how and give them the opportunity to play. If not, we are cheating the kids. They will do it if you provide a place to do it. So I told John I would do it if he wanted to but he had to help. I was not going by myself and he said he would do it. That is where it started, on his back porch. You have to thank the parents. We could come with the idea and get all the bats and balls, but if they do not bring them to us and say yes, as hard as we practiced, they can’t be good by themselves.”
English said he knew Miller Hart, Blake Jernigan, and Kyle Blevins, but he did not know any of the other kids.
“Now I see them, they speak to me, smile at me, high five me,” English said. “So it helped their social skills also because they now know someone. So, I thank the parents as well. They say thanks to me, but I owe them thanks because if they had not supported us, there would not have been a team. I think everyone was surprised at how successful we were at it, because when we first started, we didn’t know how it was going to go.”
Although it took baby steps, English said once the season was over he missed the kids.
“I got bored,” English said. “We spent three or four days with them, two or three hours a night. When it is over, you miss them. You feel like they are all your kids.”
So what are the plans for next year with the league?
“We will probably stay with the same group as long as they are still here with us,” English said. “It is one of those things, you do it one time, you have to do it bigger and better the next time. It is like we created a monster, but a good monster. It is not like something you frown on, but you look forward to it and have to do it again. How can it be better and bigger but at the same time? You don’t do something and ruin what you had because it was special and fun. You want to make it better but at the same time not take away from what it is and get too big where in five years later you look back and think you got ahead of yourselves and not do it anymore. You have to remember where you started. You need to grow, but not get too big too fast.”
English said with the league starting, there will be more kids who want to play.
“You don’t want to leave any kids out, but you can only play nine at one time,” English said. “A parent may ask why their kid did not play, but for your kid to play, you have to take one off that can play. There is only room for so many. We carry 12 players and they all play. They all hit 1-12, but you play 10 at one time with four outfielders. Someone is going to get left out, no matter what you do. I am only one coach with one team. We did the best we could. We may have to make it different next time, but I will not trade the 12 from this year for anyone. They all got better and that is all you can ask for. It was fun and we will try and do it again. As of right now, I will call the parents for next year, but it was fun.”