The Best Coaches
It was in the summer of 2003 when I met Larry Gallo, he was helping coach a local legion baseball team that I was playing on in Chapel Hill, NC.
It was my second year playing for the Chapel Hill legion team but it was really more like my first season because in 2002 I was not able to participate due to a fractured back. So, in 2003, when I got healthy, I was able to go back to the legion team to play for the summer, and that is when I met Coach Gallo.
Coach Gallo was unlike any coach I had ever had before.
He was calm, quiet, and serious.
He had a big mustache and glasses and when he talked he would peer over the rim of his glasses in order to make eye contact with his players.
The eye contact he made was powerful, and the way he spoke to us had an impact. His deep, low, calming voice would sooth any nerves that may be boiling up in his teenage baseball players. The way he would put his hands on both of our shoulders and make direct eye contact with us let us know how much he truly cared.
Those things about Coach Gallo made an impact not just on me but on every player who played for him in those summers.
To fully understand the impact Coach Gallo had on me, I need to tell you a little more back story of my experience with coaches growing up.
I rarely had good experience with coaches and had grown to have a pretty thick wall built up between myself and coaches over the years.
My first bad experience with a coach came when I was just 8 years old. I was playing in the little league all star tournament and I was the youngest player on the team full of 10 year olds. It was my first year playing with these older players so I was a bit intimidated at the time.
I don’t know exactly what happened but I do remember being in the dugout with my teammates when my coach yelled at me for something and then proceeded to grab me by my shirt collar and jack me up against the dugout fence to yell at me more.
His face was red and his spit flew in my face as he screamed.
I was terrified and unsure of what I had done to provoke him in such a way.
Fast forward to middle school where I had more bad experiences with coaches. This time my coaches were even more mentally abusive.
Those coaches would ridicule me and pick on me; they even joined in with my teammates to crack jokes about me.
They did nothing to stop any bullying that was happening during practices and games within the team and even provoked much of it.
I can remember my 8th grade year when my best friend who was a 7th grader made the team. The coaches were worse that year and targeted my friend and me. We were the butt of most of the jokes and laughs.
Even years later my friend and I were talking about our lives and our middle school experiences and he could still remember specific things that were done and said that I had since blocked out, although I had not forgotten how poorly they made me feel while I was there.
It only got slightly better for me while playing high school baseball. My high school coach had a tendency to be fairly negative in his approach to coaching. His energy was somewhat toxic at times while other times he was somewhat supportive. He was very hot and cold, up and down. One day he loved you, the next day he hated you. That made it difficult to know what to expect on a daily basis, and for high schoolers, that can be mentally and emotionally tough.
Needless to say, when I met Coach Gallo during my legion baseball league, I had finally been connected to a coach who not only cared but made it known that he cared about each individual on the team. He made everyone feel like that mattered and let players know they had a role on the team. He made us all feel like we fit. Something I had never felt before on any of my teams growing up.
In my junior high school season, I was coming off a fractured back which caused me to miss 9 months of baseball. That layoff fueled my desire to play and it showed on the field.
I batted .444 with 10 home runs in just 81 at bats. That was a successful year for me, but nothing compared to what I did in the summer.
That summer under the leadership of Coach Gallo and another great coach, Coach Roberts, I batted somewhere around .600 with 10-15 home runs against better competition.
Where it was most noticeable was in my senior year. As a senior, my production dropped for my school team. That year, before the season, we lost one our best players to eligibility issues, so my coach told me I was going to have to carry the team that year.
For the player I was, that put a lot of pressure on me. It’s just the type of person I was, I accepted that responsibility and really pressed myself to do more than I was capable of doing.
My batting average fell to around .380 and my home run total went down to 3. I was pitched around more that year as I had nearly 30 walks in just around 20 games, but the difference between school ball and legion ball was so obvious.
In my last season of legion baseball I batted again over .500 and hit another 12-15 home runs in the summer. That was through only about 20 games.
To me, the difference in my play was obvious and the ‘why’ was obvious as well.
I know I was able to perform better when I played legion baseball because of the coaching staff. The care my coaches showed for me and the other players on the team, the way my coaches communicated with the players and the realistic expectations of the coaches allowed us to play loose and free. We were able to just play the game and let our talents take over. We were each expected to play a role, but not expected to take on more than we were capable of doing.
There was no pressure, and that is how it should always be.
To them, baseball wasn’t about wins and losses. To them, baseball was about building relationships, building men, and having fun in the process.
I was fortunate to be blessed with an unmatched desire to succeed and a large amount of natural baseball talent which allowed me to play baseball at the collegiate and professional levels. Most of my teammates from middle school and high school were not so fortunate.
Only a handful of my childhood teammates played collegiately and only one played professionally.
Obviously getting a chance to play baseball at the levels I played takes talent, work ethic, and a few other things working in your favor, but more needs to be said about the impact a coach can have on a player, especially a young, impressionable kid, who is looking for leadership.
I can only imagine the player I would have been if all of my coaches were the same type of men as Coach Gallo and Coach Roberts were to me in those two summers.
No coach is perfect, but those two coaches were as close to perfect as a coach can get in my opinion and I will forever look on those summer days with thankfulness and joy and I pray I can have that same impact on the lives of young players.