Dads on duty
Summer baseball special for coaches
They know all the lingo, from a compliment like "good eye, one-two" to the slurred encouragement that can only come on a baseball field like "Com'n, wait for your pitch."
They know all the signs, including the tip of the cap, tap of the mustache and rub of the belly that can only mean a steal ... or a bunt ... or something.
It had been years since Rod Farmer, Mike Bader and Pete DeGraeve coached their sons, but a bizarre set of circumstances called the dads back into action this summer to coach De Soto's 18-and-under baseball team.
"We were kind of excited," Bader said. "We thought we'd never get the chance again. All those kids, we coached them since they were fourth-graders. Fourth through the eight grade, we were the Mudcats."
The Mudcats accumulated numerous league titles and reeled off several impressive runs in state and national tournaments. The team typically comprised of mostly the same kids every summer and the group traveled around the state and the region playing a ridiculous amount of summer baseball.
"We played 40 or 50 times a summer, and 70 or 80 games one summer," Farmer said.
But that all came to an end when the class entered De Soto High School in fall 2003. The Mudcats became Wildcats and the summers of baseball were replaced by the high school's spring season and summer leagues coached by the high school's assistant coaches.
Not that the parents lost interest. It was a different kind of interest though, Bader said. In some ways it was a relief, the worries and politics of playing favorites a thing of the past. In some ways frustrating, knowing the potential of each kid and not always seeing it fully tapped.
It wasn't until midway through De Soto High's last season that the group was presented an offer it couldn't refuse.
De Soto's head varsity coach, Steve Deghand, was leaving the program to become the school's activities director. Assistants Dustin Jamison and George Walden left as well, both taking jobs at Kansas City-Turner High School.
Deghand offered the job to the former coaches and it proved too much for any retired Mudcat to turn down.
"It meant a lot to me," DeGraeve said. "I went out and bought our old Mudcat hats for everyone."
Excited or not, the summer didn't add up exactly the way the group planned when they first agreed to step back into the dugout.
De Soto's 18-and-under baseball team finished with a 3-10 record, and they saved the sloppiest for last, losing Tuesday in the final game of the season.
Their minds perhaps in spirit down the road at the first day of De Soto High's football camp or maybe tired at the end of a long and hot summer, the Cats fell 11-1. The play was marred by a series of errors and several base running gaffs, and by the time victorious Olathe East came to bat in the top of the fifth and final inning, the Cats were set to say goodbye to the summer season.
Farmer, in his last move as a manager, brought graduated De Soto catcher Austin Bills in to pitch, a thank you to the 18-year-old preparing to head to the Navy at the end of the summer.
When it was over, the trio thanked the team for the last go around, then implored the old Mudcats to bring a fresh attitude to the high school team in the spring -- these dads may be done coaching, but they're not done cheering.
"They have what it took to get to state," DeGraeve said. "It's up to the players now to get it back there. The new high school coach, he's got the talent. He's walking into a great pool of talent. I think they're going to have a great season next year."
Some things never change. All three Tuesday night coaches were disappointed in the final night's effort, and as is so often the base among parents and coaches, they probably took it harder than the kids themselves.
They said they were still all able to take positives from their final summer in the dugout, however.
"It was our farewell tour as far as parents of kids on the team," Farmer said. "It was something special for me, even throwing batting practice (Tuesday). That's probably the last time I'll throw batting practice.
"The last pitch I threw in batting practice was to my son and I blew a curve ball by him. It was the only one he missed, so that was special."