Dear Pirate Fans, Supporters, and Members of The U Nation:
Most people that know me, or at least know me well, know that I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I tend to be an extremely happy and positive guy and have no problems letting that show. I do not have a good poker face and I am notorious for letting people in and trusting to a fault. I am somewhat of a hopeless romantic, in terms of appreciating and holding on to things from the past that have significant meaning and are just quite simply, special to me. I tend to be a Renaissance Man in those regards. I have a tendency to do a lot of reminiscing and referring back to special teams, players or moments during my career at CVCC. I am not sure that there is really anything wrong with that, as that is just who I am and I don’t really have any intentions on changing that. I don’t presume to think I am anything more than a baseball coach at a small town community college, however, I am intelligent enough to realize in order to put this season to bed and to be perfectly fair to our 2014 team, I want to give these Pirates their proper respects and give my most heartfelt appreciation and thanks to everyone involved before we embark on another season.
How do you ever put into words what The U Nation experienced over the past 9 months? I’m not sure that it is possible to accurately describe the 2014 season to anyone that was either not on the team or intimately involved with the program in some capacity. I do not believe the word “special” does this team or season proper justice. Honestly, I’m not sure there is a word in the English language that describes the superlatives that these Dirty Pirates displayed and allowed me to experience with them. However, since the only language I speak is English I will either have to make up new words or pick from the ones that currently exist. I’ll stick to existing ones. A few of the adjectives that come to mind are uncommon, historic, significant, and remarkable.
What occurred from August 2013 through June 2014 more or less sums up exactly what we did as kids in the back yard with a whiffle ball and bat. For 9 months, my boys were the 1927 New York Yankees. They were the most dominant team in the state of Alabama, and at least according to the NJCAA and Perfect Game Pollsters, they were the best junior college team on the planet (at least for 8 weeks). When I say that, I don’t say that boastfully, because every year it is someone’s year, and by the grace of God, 2014 was finally ours. But make no mistake, I am so proud of this team and those young men and I feel beyond fortunate to have been along for the ride that my boys took me on. And I certainly understand that this wicked mistress known as baseball will break your heart and humble you in a single bat of her big, devilish eyes. However, for one season, for one year, that mistress belonged to Chattahoochee Valley and she treated us right.
I’ve said this on many occasions: if you have good players, you are going to win your fair share of games. It’s pretty simple, talent takes over, and quite frankly, many times talent is good enough to win, despite the possible lack of other intangibles. I’ve also said that if you have good people, you have the opportunity to be good, simply based on certain intangibles, assuming there is at least some talent to complement those intangibles, of course. However, when that perfect storm comes together, and you have good players that are good people, you have the makings of a season of significance.
So what does that mean? A season of significance. Although I’m sure most every quality junior college team in America that does their job recruiting, preparing, and is constantly in the top 25 or contention for a conference title, has a list of goals to begin the season. They possibly look like this: win 35+ games, win the regular season title, win the conference tournament, go to Grand Junction, win a National Championship, etc. I’m certain there are other things that go into other teams’ goal setting processes, but you get the point. Everything is tangible. And there are probably somewhere between 30-50 JUCO teams each year with the talent and capability of making it to Grand Junction, so you have more or less 40ish teams with exactly the same goal(s).
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as there are a billion different ways to motivate, prepare, goal set, and fire up your team, as well as another billion ways to define success. However, if you define the success of your season on whether or not you won your last game of said season, well…it goes without saying that, with the exception of one team, there sure are going to be a lot of disappointed players and coaches out there.
Did we talk about the conference title? Of course we did. Did we talk about GJC? Yep. Was it both a spoken and unspoken desire and goal? Absolutely it was. However, when we met in August and when we met before every practice and every game, I spoke of 2 goals and 2 goals only. Goal # 1: Let’s have a season of significance. Goal # 2: Don’t worry about the scoreboard, play hard, play the game the right way, and let your talent take care of the rest.
That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
How generic, huh? Well, I guess it is if you are not within the inner circle of The U, but the fact is that is extremely detailed, realistic, and attainable, yet simple and understandable. Coming into fall practice, I knew we were going to be talented. We had too many pieces returning from a very good 2013 team and some very good new additions via transfer and incoming freshman. After a couple of weeks or so, and again, I say this humbly and with all due respect to every team in our league, because it is an absolute battle every time we play the teams within our division; I knew that there may be teams that possessed as much talent as we did, but they would not have more. Again, talent doesn’t guarantee anything, but it sure as heck is a good place to start. But after a good 8 to 12 weeks with that bunch, I realized what kind of character, work ethic, discipline, confidence, and pure desire this team showed. At that point, the ol’ good players plus good people theory started praying on my mind. Dash and I both knew we had the potential to accomplish something significant.
Athletics have been my life literally from my earliest memories. I just turned 39 years old and I honestly cannot recall a moment in my life when sports was not the centerpiece of my family. I grew up playing America’s sports: football, baseball, and basketball. It was who we were and what we did. My parents and sisters and I embraced it, loved it, and lived it. I cannot tell you how fortunate I am that God gave me enough talent and intellect to allow this wonderful game of baseball to pay for my college education and lead me to a career in it, as well. In that time, I met some of my best friends and experienced some of the best moments and memories of my life while playing at Chatt Valley and the University of Montevallo. Would it have been nice to play major Division 1 college baseball or had a pro career? Sure, but the Lord knew what he was doing and my path was my path and the experiences on the field, on the bench, and with my teammates in the apartments and dorms are what helped etch my coaching career.
Sixteen years I have coached junior college baseball. Sixteen years at my home. Sixteen years at my heart and soul. Sixteen years I’ve had the privilege of affecting lives. Sixteen years I’ve experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows; both personally and professionally. The one constant was always Howard Lake Field and Chatt Valley baseball. I love this place and am so proud of our little school in south Phenix City. There is nothing special about any physical object on that campus. It’s a simple place, but the culture and atmosphere of our program is beyond description. For those that I was fortunate enough to suit up with during these sixteen years, you know what I’m talking about.
This year was such a season of accomplishments for the program and the thing is, every ounce of credit goes to my boys, my assistant coach, Dash O’Neill, and to my awesome president, Dr. Glen Cannon and my boss, and our Dean, Dr. Joy Hamm, and our incredible faculty and staff.
These boys won 48 games. Let me repeat that. THESE BOYS WON 48 BASEBALL GAMES IN ONE JUNIOR COLLEGE BASEBALL SEASON. School Record. These boys won our third divisional championship in five years. These boys were ranked # 1 in the country for 8 weeks. The entire second half of the season, these Dirty Pirates ran the table in the NJCAA poll as the best team in the junior college universe. These boys won the ACCC Championship. The first conference title for CVCC since 1996. I was the starting catcher on that team, which made it even more special for me. These boys took The U to Grand Junction, Colorado for the JUCO World Series for the first time in school history. These boys had 13 Division 1 signees and 16 of the 20 sophomores will be moving on to continue their baseball careers at four year institutions. These boys posted a team GPA of 3.30. These boys had 7 players earn post season honors and two earn national academic honors. Every sophomore will have graduated by the end of this year.
THAT is a season of significance. THAT in a nutshell, is not focusing on the scoreboard, but on how we play and how we do things. Mission Accomplished.
This was, without question, the most low maintenance team that I have had the privilege to coach. No classroom issues, no off the field problems, no prima donnas on the field – 100% selfless, team oriented, buy in to our plan kind of guys. Anyone that has ever coached or been in charge of a large contingent of people certainly understand the value of that unity, chemistry, and oneness. There is nothing that can replace that, and I firmly believe that you cannot have that season of significance without it. They HAD IT.
I would be fool not to realize that this season was a culmination of a lot of years and a lot of people. The record book may say that Adam Thomas has won a lot of games, but the truth is, 16 years’ worth of great players and assistant coaches have won those games. The truth is, I am only responsible for every single loss on my record and have had nothing to do with any of the wins. The credit for that goes to all of those young men.
My teams have come so close so many times to winning the ACCC Championship. In 2003, we were 1 out away, in 2007 we won our first 3 games, one of which was an epic 1-0 win against Hanceville that had 4 future big leaguers (Craig Kimbrell, Derek Holland, Zealous Wheeler, and Jake Elmore), before falling in the semi-finals. Two consecutive final four appearances in 2008 and 2009. And then there was 2010. That was the team. I knew it, they knew it, everyone knew it. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell Central Alabama and Northwest Shoals once the tournament started. That team was unreal and I would have loved to see them square up against 2014. Rentz vs. Varnadore, Lee vs. Shields, Mitchell vs. Gagner. WOW!!! Holland vs. Holland (that would be interesting). 2011 was the best offensive team I’ve ever seen, not to mention we had Mike O’Neal. Again, I couldn’t get it done for my boys in the tourney.
I have joked with our local sports editor, Kevin Price, that I am the worst post-season coach in the history of baseball. I always said it tongue in cheek, but the truth is, I failed my teams when it mattered. So, I guess that made it true and I began to think that it was my lot in life to never win a championship.
And then 2014 happened. I got sick in July of 2013 after a church mission trip to Arkansas to build a baseball field for kids at an orphanage. I honestly didn’t think I would ever coach again. It was the most difficult 8 or so weeks of my life. I pray no one ever has to go through what I went through. I missed a good portion of the beginning of fall practice, lost a ton of weight, and realized that baseball was not the most important thing in this life. My entire life was based around winning. What a silly concept!! Now, of course, don’t get me wrong, and in the famous words of Ebby Calvin “Knuke” LaLooshe, “Man, I love winning. You know, it’s like, better than losing.” No one plays or coaches not to win. Or at least they shouldn’t.
But not being on a baseball field and being around my team for an extended period of time was tough and it gives you plenty of time of reflection. I’ve always considered myself a players’ coach and I’ve been saying this for years: the relationships are the best part of what I do for a living. Yes, I love winning games, but when David Levy, my former shortstop, and one of my favorite players of all time, calls me up after he gets his first game winning, walk off hit at Georgia State and when Taylor Hinshaw sends you a text message that says coach, now I get why you wanted me to play under control and not throw my stuff after something bad happens, well, that’s what this business is about to me. When Mike O’Neal texts you before and after every outing of his career at Auburn, well, you get the idea.
My perspective didn’t change, because I think I have always approached my job with the mentality of coaching people in the skills of life to prepare them for the emotional and mental parts of this relentlessly negative game and their baseball talent would take care of the baseball part. However, I had a new appreciation myself for the things that I had been preaching to my boys. I finally released myself from the two ton Gorilla on my back known as “the championships I’ve never won”. There was more to what I was doing than that. Always has been and always will be.
My first, foremost and frequent message to my boys was this: DO NOT MAKE BASEBALL THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN YOUR LIFE. Do not define your self-worth by a stat sheet. Do not allow things beyond your control, such as playing time or results affect how you feel about yourself, your teammates or your coaches. This game can be an absolute ego, confidence, and self-image exterminator. Now, we do want to attack the game relentlessly, prepare properly, and do everything the right way from academics to the weight room to the practice field to being a good teammate, because you have made the choice to undertake this endeavor. And, if you decide to do something, do it with all of your heart, all of your body, all of your mind, and all of your soul. Do it right or go do something else. Any task worth doing is worth doing to your fullest capability.
However, I suffice it to say, I have had close to 20 people play professional baseball in my career, and one, only one, made it to the big leagues. That means, we fortunate ones get four years of big boy baseball. That’s it. Four years. You live to be 80, that’s only 1/20th of your life. Five percent. That puts it in a little bit different perspective, doesn’t it? It’s easy for me to say and try to relay that fact because I’ve been there and I’m on the other side of that mountain, but if they grasp just a nugget of that concept and understand that the big picture is about their relationship to God and to other people and about being a giver as opposed to a taker, then we’ve at least got them thinking in the correct part of their brains when deciding where baseball should land on their priority list.
My boys have experienced that. And not just this group, because 2014 was a byproduct of all of the Dirty Pirates before them that laid the groundwork for THEIR SIGNIFICANCE. It would be foolish of me to start naming names, because every player that wore a CV uniform in my tenure, from my first team in 2000 that saw a 23 year old coach cut his teeth on college baseball to go 14-40 to this group of sophomores that became the winningest class in school history. However, as I have joked with a friend of mine, I am JUST a junior college baseball coach, so I guess I am a bit foolish, so as I reminisce about how we got here, I think of guys like Matt Bell, Shawn Sewell, Brant Copeland, Chuck James, Johnny Dobbs, Bob Hatcher, Ryan Nelson, Nate McConnell, Greg Stotser, Paul Vazquez, Tristan Farrell, David Buchanan, Alex Duhaime, Alex Montes, Bo Foster, Matt Black, Tom Richardson, Ryan Holland, Derek Varnadore, Tyler Googe, Zack Jordan, Alex Cabral, Rob Shipman, Bryce Dial, Mike O’Neal, Tim Massengale, Trey Williamon, Trace McDaniel, Dustin Dunagan, Taylor Hinshaw, Josh Sanders, David Levy, Nick Jones, Ben Taylor, and Cody Walker, just to name a few. Of course, that’s just a small portion of the guys that made Chattahoochee Valley, Chattahoochee Valley.
I say this a lot, but one of things I repeat often is that deserve has nothing to with anything. We don’t deserve anything. You get what you earn in this life and you get what you earn on the baseball field. However, I am going to go against by mantra and I’ll say this: every one of those guys and their teammates deserve a conference championship ring. Every one of those guys and their teammates earned the right to feel what it’s like to dog pile on the mound. I want so badly for those guys to have experienced everything that was Grand Junction. If not for them, 2014 never happens. They started it and it culminated with the 2014 crew. They believed in me, they believed in what I was selling, they believed in the family of Chatt Valley Baseball.
And of course, my long-time assistant coach, Dash O’Neill. He is the straw that stirs the drink. He is the yin to my yang. He is the Zimmer to my Torre. He is my best friend. He is the best assistant coach in the known universe. With all of the stresses of being a head coach and athletic director, and having no less than 8 million things to do on a daily basis, Dash is the calming presence among the chaos of a 2 man coaching crew. Simply stated, I could not do this without him. Dash is THE MAN! He is the most underappreciated person in college baseball. I cannot express how important he is to the dynamic of what we do at CVCC, how important he is to me and how much I love him.
Guys, thank you for allowing me to enjoy the most fun season I’ve ever experienced on a baseball field. And believe me, I’ve had some good ones as both a player and coach. But nothing compares to what y’all did this season. You EARNED it. You DESERVED it. You gave me something that I simply cannot get on my own. I’ll never be able to repay your hard work, your loyalty, and your unique personality that I was able to experience day in and day out. The 2014 team will never be again. It happened. They happened. And unless we close the scrapbook, we will live in the past and not be able to move on. However, for one year, those Chattahoochee Valley boys were the best team to ever step foot on The Lake. Y’all transformed Chatt Valley into The U.
Y’all gave me something I had thought I would never attain. You let me hoist a trophy and hold up the number 1 with my pointer finger, and it was legit. You learned firsthand why we call those gold uniforms “The Ghosts”. You took us to the Rockies. You got Kenny and Huntbo on an airplane for the first time. You handled yourselves with dignity and class in victory and defeat. You made me proud to be your coach.
Thank you to the parents for trusting me with your sons and allowing me to influence them daily in your absence. Thank you for your support, when your son was playing and when he wasn’t. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have no idea how much it means to have your support.
Thank you to Dr. Glen Cannon for simply being the best college president on the planet. We were the smallest school in the World Series, but he always makes us feel BIG TIME. From facility upgrades to how we traveled to simply being there. Doc, you are awesome!
To our local media, in particular Kevin Price, Dave Platta, and Chad Dixon, thank you for the unreal coverage you give our boys every year. You guys treat them like rock stars, and you always give us such positive press. I cannot thank you enough.
To our commissioner, Dean Myrick, who is first class in everything he does with the ACCC.
To my fellow ACCC Coaches, I have so much respect for you guys. Special appreciation goes out Wynn Fletcher, Steve Lewis, Jabo Jordan, Jon Hopper, Daniel Head, Steve Helms, Mackey Sasser, Bobby Sprowl, and Randy Putman. We all try to beat each others brains out, but at the end of the day, we keep it in perspective and shake hands and mean it. Thank you for the well wishes before we went to GJC. I can’t tell you how much it means coming from you guys.
To everyone that had anything to do with the Alpine Bank JUCO World Series, a huge thank you. Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Elder, Phil, Kyle, Krystal, Mose, Jim – everyone, you guys made us feel like the most important people in Colorado for a week. You gave us an experience we will never forget. Everything, and I mean, everything was perfect. And I made some new friends out there. Man, I hope we get to come back soon and see all of y’all.
To the entire Thomas clan. The absolute best baseball family in America. I love my Dad so much. I am who I am because of him. Steinbrenner. The Man. The best coach I know. He taught me to coach people and not the game. I love you, Dad.
To our faculty and staff at CVCC, who is, without question, the most supportive crew in the state of Alabama. I cannot give enough credit to the CVCC Diamond Dolls who were there to support our boys without fail.
And finally, thank you to Drew Dunagan, JD Perry, James Cunningham, Tim Kennedy, Dylan Lee, Kenny Ford, Jeff Ronpirin, Colt Ramsey, Grayson Ivey, Matt Evenson, Chris Brown, John Holland, Sam Knight, Jon Kizzar, Payne Kosobucki, Dalton Rentz, Tyler Welch, Hunter Mitchell, Tyler Lynn, Jake Maziar, Drew Lingo, Kevin Moore, Trevor Kieboom, Cody Sheffield, Jared Martin, Trevor Guthrie, Cam Sperry, Frank Wager, Will Tillery, Mitch Shelby, Dan Lynn, Reid Michalek, Wilkes Chandler, Logan Haner, Storm Garrett, Keltin DeVoe, Jacob Ozley, Tripp Adams, Evan Troutt, and Chance Spratlin.
You did it. All by yourselves. You did it.
In God’s perfect, divine sovereignty, I have no idea why he has allowed such amazing things to occur at CVCC in my tenure. He is in control and He has a plan. I don’t even presume to understand or get it. However, I am so thankful and although I am just a baseball coach, I am certainly smart enough to recognize where it all comes from. I am so humbled by this season and so appreciative of it all.
Again, thank you to everyone that made 2014 the season of The U. It was 100% you guys. I love y’all and I will miss y’all.
I just cut the grass and put up the lineup.
Yours in Baseball,