Coach Jimmy’s advice lives on

The late coach Jimmy Huff, left, and Teens & Twenties writer Matt Herter, right, are shown in this 2009 photo. / Photo submitted

Commentary by Matt Herter
Times-News correspondent
teens20@timesnews.com

 The first time I saw Coach Jimmy Huff, he was coaching against my older brother’s team in the spring of 2006. As he called out to his batters from first base, my first thought was that he was a coach that only cared about winning.

But it wasn’t until I was assigned to his team in the spring of 2008 that I began to understand that Coach Jimmy was teaching more than baseball: He was teaching lessons that could be used throughout life.

Our practices started in late March, before the other teams, and Coach Jimmy laid out what he expected from the team. He expected everyone was on time to practice, so if you were late, you had run laps around the field. Some of us had trouble with his expectations — so much so that a couple players even talked about changing teams.

Halfway through the season, and after 36 years of coaching, Coach Jimmy announced that he had decided to retire from baseball since 2008 was his grandson’s final year. The team did its best to make 2008 a great year for Coach Jimmy and we started out great. Unfortunately, we lost our steam a bit after Coach’s announcement and didn’t finish as well as we started.

 

The team stayed together for the 2009 season and we were expecting a new coach, but to our surprise Jimmy was still coaching — though no longer as the manager.

Once again, he told the team that this was his last year of coaching and explained that the reason for his return was all of us. He told us that we had so much potential, that he wanted to see our team go further, and so he had arranged for us to play in a couple of regional tournaments.

The team noticed that he had lost weight during the winter, but we didn’t know just how sick our coach was. During our second game he was nearly hit by a foul ball while coaching first base and decided that his coaching would have to take place from the bench. And it was that steady coaching that helped our team place first in Mebane, finishing undefeated 10-0 in league play.

Although rescheduled several times due to weather, the last game of the tournament season was finally played at the end of July, and we had heard that Coach Jimmy was in the hospital. But just before the game started, he arrived in a wheelchair and joined by his family.

We later heard that he had asked his doctor to allow him out of the hospital to see “his boys” play their last game of the year. Unfortunately, it began to rain during the game and Coach Jimmy had to leave, but before leaving he told me he would watch us the next year from the sidelines.

We ended up losing the game by one run and placed second in the tournament. Little did I know, that day was going to be the last time I would see or talk to Coach Jimmy. Just two months later, we read in the paper that his health had failed and he had passed away.

I remember talking to him before every at-bat, while I warmed up and he always gave his advice. My favorite is one that works in baseball, and now I realize in life: “Don’t be afraid of the ball and just swing away.” I’m pretty sure he was true to his word, and is on the sidelines watching me still. 

Matt Herter is a freshman at Hawbridge School and a Teens & Twenties writer.

 

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