Sometimes a column can be hard to write. You might be dealing with a sensitive subject, or writing a piece you want to make just right. That's one reason why I don't do them too often.
This assignment, however, was a piece of cake. Or, more appropriately, a can of corn.
I had the pleasure of attending the Chambersburg Baseball Boosters' event Saturday to celebrate the coaching career of Bob Thomas (by the way – nice job, boosters). My assignment: collect some favorite stories about the man. Could you find anything easier to do? Not likely. I mean, the guy coached for 51 years, so there's a treasure trove of good stuff.
The only thing more interesting might have been to check back in a couple of hours after a few more adult beverages had been consumed. The stories might have been better, but I might not have been able to use them in this piece.
My only regret is that I didn't have time to talk to everybody. Then again, with close to 100 people there, this column might have filled this whole newspaper. So here goes, in their words (my advice is to make sure you read the last one):
GREG HATMAKER >> Former player and umpire.
"I was the home plate umpire at Henninger Field in a game against Greencastle when he had one of his milestone wins, maybe his 400th. I owned my hoagie store at the time (Hat's Heroes). There was this pop-up in front of home plate and the catcher tipped the ball with his glove in fair territory, but the ball then hit in foul territory, so I ruled it a fair ball. Bob came out and starting arguing the call. I said he should ask his catcher, so he looked at the catcher, who nodded his head yes, and then Bob turned back to me and said, 'Why don't you go back and make some more hoagies?' I probably should have thrown him out, but I just couldn't."
BOBBY MONN >> Former player and speaker at the event.
"Bob's nickname 'Bags' started in my days, and it was a group effort. Bob used to wear these really baggy pants, and then he'd go to the high school to change for practice and he's put on these baggy blue pants with a white stripe down the side. We just started calling him 'Bags,' but never to his face. We even use it today when we talk about him – but only among ourselves."
Editor's note: I also heard mention of players singing "Broadway Bags" on the bus and using the term "Bagpen" instead of bullpen.
TOM BROOKENS >> Former player, who reached the Major Leagues.
"I used to watch Bob play for the Fayetteville adult team when I was a kid. Fayetteville revolved around baseball back then. He was my coach for high school and for Legion. Back in those days we didn't have playoffs in high school, so we probably got a little more jacked for Legion ball. And we had some intense rivalries. We had this one playoff game at Coplay and I got thrown out of the game, then some other player got thrown out, and then Bob got tossed, too. We had to go stand outside the fence, and I think my dad got thrown out and joined us."
STEVE YOUNG >> Former player.
"I felt like he was a legend already when I got there in 1981. One big thing was after a win, we'd go back to the bus and be noisy, but when coach came on the bus, there was silence, and he'd always say, 'Way to go, men.' Then we could go back to going nuts. He used to hate to pitching batting practice to me. I was a pull hitter, but I'd hesitate for a second and try to hit it up the middle. I remember one game at Central Dauphin, I hit him in the leg twice. He wasn't very happy about that."
DAVE ETTER >> Former player and long-time assistant coach.
"I was a senior in his first year (1965) and he taught me how to teach others to do things the right way. The one example I have was when I made a physical error after a mental error, and because of his teaching, I never made that mental error again. We were playing down at South Hagerstown and they had a lot of territory between the foul lines and out of play. Our third baseman came charging in on a play and his throw got past me for a throwing error. With that much room past first base, the runner was going to get to third anyway, and that's what I should have known, but when I retrieved it, I tried to throw him out and threw the ball over third base and he scored. That really stuck with me."
SHAUN YOUNG >> Former player.
"He got thrown out of a game at Cedar Cliff, but he sat up in the bus, and you could see he was still making calls and gestures to Dave Etter the rest of the game."
CHRIS BUHRMAN >> Former player.
"His signals were, when he touched his skin it was for a steal, when he touched his hat it was for a hit-and-run, and when he touched his belt it was for a bunt. Well, he almost never touched his belt, and I loved it because I always wanted to hit away. I think some of our games were over before we even started them. He made sure our infield practice routine (before a game) was so good and sharp that I think some teams got psyched out. He was also the best batting practice pitcher around."
BOBBY CARTER >> Former player.
"I've been hunting with Bob for 35 years now, and what always amazes me is his memory. He could tell you what pitch somebody hit, what the count was, what the weather was like that day. And he was always such a good coach, you had to respect him."
RICHARD " TANK" BENDER >> Long-time friend.
"One time Bob was playing adult ball for Fayetteville and they were playing at Fort Loudon. At that field, there was a rise beyond the outfield and the people would park there cars there and watch the game. This game, Bobby Cramer was playing left and Bob was in center and a Fort Loudon guy hit a ball over their heads and it rolled under one of the cars. Bobby went around the left side and Bob went around the right, hoping to get the ball and keep the guy from scoring. But as soon as they got to the car, the couple opened their doors so they couldn't get through. I'll never forget that one."
I hope that was as easy for you to read as it was for me to write. My only problem is, I'm going to have to go over it several times so I don't make any errors. Because, if I do, I could get "The Look."
As Hatmaker said, "Bob's facial expressions said a lot. If you made an error, you'd try to sneak into the dugout so you wouldn't get The Look."
I don't have a dugout, so I guess it's time to sneak home.
Ed Gotwals is the sports editor of the Public Opinion and Lebanon Daily News. He may be reached at 262-4755 or firstname.lastname@example.org.