CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s almost comical to watch a farm boy from Newton, W.Va., saddle up to a dugout shouting instructions and giving encouragement to former high school stars whose goal is to become better ballplayers and better people.
“Shift your leg back!”
After a swat to the outfield where teammates are available to shag balls, you can hear an “Atta boy,” from the dugout.
That’s what Cal Bailey has done for his legendary career as baseball coach at West Virginia State College, and now, West Virginia State University.
There isn’t much of a difference in the name of the school when it comes to the Roane County native, who used to till fields and now cultivates players.
He played baseball himself, going from Spencer High School — now Roane County High — to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization and all the way back to Charleston, where he competed for the Class AAA Charlies.
Not surprisingly, when he decided to retire after 37 years at the same school and turning down countless offers from other colleges, his focus was on the players.
He asked me to write about his seniors and wait to put anything in the paper about himself. I saw it as modesty, but important to tell his story.
A tiny West Virginia college in what is essentially a suburb of Charleston, had a coach who achieved more than 1,000 victories and helped put the school on the map.
The gruff-looking, but teddy bear-like Bailey did it mostly with local kids who saw it as a privilege to play baseball at State.
While many area prep football and basketball players look at the Yellow Jackets as a step down, the baseball contingency in the Mountain State saw it as an opportunity.
His modest gathering of seven seniors is from West Virginia, and six of them are from the Kanawha Valley.
Jack Hudson, who starred at South Charleston, is an infielder for the Yellow Jackets and leads the team in batting average (.349).
Noah Blackhurst, a former Hurricane star, is batting .300, and former Nitro star Andrew Pickering, who hit three home runs in the 2010 state tournament at Appalachian Power Park, is a regular with Hudson and Blackhurst.
Former Hurricane standout Stephen Workman started at W.Va. Wesleyan, but transferred to State, and Wade Walters is completing his career at State after starring at St. Albans.
Devin Bowles is an ex-East Fairmont standout who came south to be mentored by Bailey.
The point is, Bailey understood what it was like to come from a town in West Virginia and tried to instill that in his players — even those who felt staying here wouldn’t lead to much fame.
Bailey wanted more than to just see his seniors in a simple column in the Daily Mail.
He wasn’t a pushy coach, but he would much prefer their names in lights, with large headlines and photos.
After all, as he so proudly points out, his greatest accomplishment is seeing all of them graduate.
Bailey understands where baseball falls in the chain of sports, tucked somewhere between football and basketball and soccer and track.
What needs to be understood is how important he was for the Kanawha Valley, the state and West Virginia State University.
It’s that small Division II college in Institute that was known for its education program and, in the past decade or so, men’s basketball.
We can’t forget about the baseball, which has an 82-percent graduation rate and four-digit victories in 37 years with the same guy on the bench.
Sorry Cal, I know this isn’t about you, but it kinda is.
Far more than you know.