Annville-Cleona baseball coach Mike Capriotti gives some instruction to one of his players, Adam Connor, during a game last month. Capriotti recently
Annville-Cleona baseball coach Mike Capriotti gives some instruction to one of his players, Adam Connor, during a game last month. Capriotti recently stepped down as head coach at A-C after 31 years at the helm, during which he won 345 games and positively impacted countless young lives. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS EARL BRIGHTBILL)
As is the case with many a coaching career, there were highs and lows, successes and failures. There were championships and last-place finishes, decisions and efforts that were appreciated, and some that were not.

But where Mike Capriotti's three-decade-plus tenure as head baseball coach at Annville-Cleona stands apart from most coaching careers is its longevity and longstanding, uninterrupted commitment to impacting student-athletes in a positive way.

Thirty-four years, the last 31 as head varsity coach at A-C, is a long time to spend in the any business, let alone a burnout-prone field like coaching.

To survive that long, you've got to be focused daily on the task at hand, which is, for coaching lifers like the man they call 'Cappy', the young men in the uniforms.

"Number one is the kids," Capriotti said on Thursday when asked what stands out the most about his life in coaching. "As a coach, you're not always loved by all the players and you're not always hated by all the players. They come and go. But the thing that sticks with me is how many, after they graduate, will come up to me and say, 'Hey, coach, how are you doing?' And they'll say, 'Do you remember when?', and we'll start reminiscing. I think that's neat."

Capriotti, himself an Annville-Cleona grad, now has even more time to look back on the good old days. Last Wednesday he coached his final game in the Little Dutchmen's regular season finale loss to Lancaster Catholic, bringing to an end a distinguished coaching career that featured 345 wins, one state championship (1986), one district title and four Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Four crowns among many, many other coaching achievements that won't show up in a record book or a score sheet.

Prior to the season, Capriotti had decided that this spring would be his final one on the diamond at A-C and informed the 2012 squad of that two days prior to the last game.

Also a health/physical education and driver ed teacher at A-C, Capriotti is retiring from teaching at the end of the year as well, and simply felt now was the perfect time to step away from the program he became synonymous with since taking the reins from Gary Teter back in 1982.

"I said when I'm done teaching, I'm done coaching," he said. "It's time to step down. It's just time, it's time for me to retire. I think the program's in good shape regardless of the record we've had the last few years. We've got a lot of young talent coming up. It's going in the right direction. It's time for me to walk away and let someone else take over."

It may have been time, but that doesn't mean it was easy to accept that fact when the finality of it all set in.

"Yes, it was," Capriotti said, when asked it was difficult to step down. "Baseball's my passion, it's always been my passion. I started playing the game when I was eight years old, for Washington Band in the Annville Youth League. I was fortunate to have been coached by a lot of good people, and I took a lot of those things with me as a coach."

Capriotti then proceeded to rattle off a laundry list of positive coaching influences too numerous to mention, as well as countless colleagues and bosses who helped him grown into the job over the years, expressing obvious appreciation and gratitude in the course of the conversation.One of those colleagues is longtime assistant and right-hand man for the last 24 years, Scott Shyda, who had the benefit of an up-close-and-personal look at Capriotti's day-to-day commitment to his students and players.

"It's been very interesting, very enjoyable," Shyda said of coaching with Capriotti. "He just has a lot of energy, is very dedicated and certainly has a passion for kids and baseball. He's very generous. He's done a lot of neat things for kids that sometimes go unnoticed and underappreciated."

"It's gonna be different. He and I have gotten close. I'll certainly miss what he meant to the program."

As one might imagine, the high school sports world Capriotti first coached in is not the same one he's leaving. There is more external pressure from a variety of sources, more expectations for consistent success and less focus on the big picture objective of taking boys and turning them into men.

That's not a complaint, though. Because of all the things that have changed about high school sports, the kids playing them are still basically the same in Capriotti's eyes.

"It's not about the money, it's not about your name in lights, anything like that," said Capriotti of the rewards of coaching. "It's about the kids. When the kids do well it obviously makes you look good, but it's really the kids. I can go through all the accolades that I've had, but if I didn't have the teams to produce that...But being in it 34 years, you don't see that. And I don't know why."

"The game itself hasn't changed, the arena around it has changed," Capriotti added. "The pressures of producing winning ballclubs and making sure kids are getting ample playing time (have increased). That's what's so difficult."

What won't be difficult for the gregarious Capriotti is keeping busy in retirement. Though not being in the dugout next spring will undoubtedly feel a little strange, it doesn't figure to result in empty days and nights.

"A lot of people are worried about what I'm going to do, afraid I'm going to be bored," Capriotti said with a smile. "I'm not going to be bored. There's so much to do. When you own a home there's so much you have to do. And I have a lot of interests - hunting, fishing, boating, golf. I think my time will be occupied by those things."

And not with regrets.

"Could I have done things differently? Possibly. Could I have done things better? Possibly," he said. "But it's who you are and you go with what you think is best. I always put the kids first. I put the safety of the kids first and I definitely put the education of the kids first.

"It's like I told the kids, 'Baseball's a lot like life. If you put in a half-hearted effort, you're not gonna get much in return."