BECKLEY — In baseball, the game is never, ever over until the last out, as they say. But Sean Loyd saw the finish line Sunday evening, and the emotions took over.
It wasn’t just that his West Virginia State team was as comfortably ahead as could be asked, taking a 4-0 lead into the final three innings of the decisive Mountain East Conference tourney game.
But the 4-1 victory was bittersweet for Loyd, for he was witnessing the end of an era — the 37-year tenure of iconic head coach Calvin Lee Bailey.
“I sat there the last two innings and really, it was doing a disservice to the team,” Loyd recalled. “I wasn’t focusing on my job in there because there was a lot of reflection. A lot of memories, a lot of little things popped up I remembered, out of nowhere.”
Like Bailey’s role in Loyd’s wedding, perhaps?
“My wife and I actually didn’t tell our parents we were getting married,” Loyd recalled. “We just ran off, and Cal gave my wife away. So he was in my first wedding — we had to get married again for her parents, but he was the one who gave her away at my first wedding.”
Bailey and Loyd created another fond memory this weekend, as they led the Yellow Jackets to one of the gutsiest of their umpteen tournament championships. Seeded No. 3 in the six-team tournament, State started Thursday with a hard-fought 3-1 win over Urbana and then won a 4-3 nail-biter over No. 2 Concord on Friday.
The Jackets then knocked out the Mountain Lions 9-1 on Saturday, but don’t let that fool you — State scored six runs in the final two innings, all unearned.
On Sunday, the Jackets suffered a 7-3 stinker, perhaps leaning too much on the “cushion” they had over Notre Dame College. Faced with a winner-take-all rematch, State used superb pitching and some huge hits to win somewhat easily.
This week proved that Bailey’s teams can beat you in any way. This wasn’t a Yellow Jacket team that would bat you into submission; it needed good pitching, good fielding, smart base running and patience at the plate to win — especially in this era of “honest” college baseball.
Bailey’s formula went beyond the field. Bailey has long identified solid Division II talent in the Kanawha Valley and the state — 27 West Virginia natives are listed on the roster, 18 of them from the Kanawha Valley.
And if you don’t come into the program with good character, you’ll leave with it if you stay the course.
Loyd, who takes over as head coach, remembers his development.
“The stuff that I learned from him in baseball is going to be useful, but I wasn’t exactly well on my way to manhood when I came to State as a student, and even when I started coaching with him,” Loyd said. “The things that I learned, the things that he has done for me over the years, the examples he’s given me to help me improve and all that, I’ll never, ever, ever be able to repay him.”
Repeatedly, Bailey downplays his game-managing acumen and motivational tactics, always reminding us that the players determine their fate on the field.
But, as he said the other day, he has to occasionally “shoot them in the hind end with a glory gun.”
“I had a unique relationship with Cal,” said Jack Hudson, a South Charleston native. “He was really, really tough on me. … There were a lot of times I was really frustrated with him, but everything worked out good and I think he got the most out of me.”
Rest assured, Bailey is repaid for his efforts, as he sees former athletes graduate and succeed in their endeavors after school.
“We’ve had very few guys who have not lived up to their billing,” Bailey said. “It gets to the point where those seniors, you have so much time invested in them, you have so many talks with them, you understand their little nuances, little troubles that they have. It’s tough to see them go, and every year it’s tough.
“I told them, ‘If we have to line up and you’re crying because we lost, I’m not getting lined up.’ It’s invigorating to know that you’ve had some effect on them.”
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.