Many fathers get to coach their sons' baseball teams.
Many fathers get to coach their sons’ baseball teams.
It is a privilege and a responsibility. But not many fathers get to coach their sons’ high school baseball teams. Toby Hathcock has been an assistant coach at Dale as both of his sons have traversed through the program.
He has one year left with a son on the team, and the Dale Assistant Baseball Coach thinks if he had one more son, he might learn the right way to coach his sons.
“I learned a few things with Gunnar,” Hathcock said about coaching his older son. “And I am learning more with Gant. I think if I had one more son, I might just get it right.”
Hathcock has coached with Jerry Sanford at Dale for 11 years and both have raised and coached sons together.
Hathcock and his son, Gant, have both heard the jokes about coaches’ sons who get away with anything and still play wherever they want. That has never been the case at Dale.
“I know we have always been harder on our sons than the other players,” Hathcock said. “It isn’t intentional. We just expect a lot of them.”
Gant said his dad has done a good job of balancing being a father and a coach. He said he can’t remember the last time his dad was a fan in the stands.
“I had other coaches in little league since he was coaching my brother,” Gant said. “He was fair to my brother and he has been fair to me. I think it makes it more enjoyable to have him on the field with us.”
That feeling was heightened this spring when the Pirates got a little redemption from a disappointing fall season. The Pirates missed the state tournament in the fall – a rare occurrence for a team from Dale.
That lowered some expectations for Dale coming into the spring. Dale had a great spring season and came into the postseason ranked No. 5 in 2A. Then they lost the first game in their Regional Tournament and seemed to be headed to another disappointing end to a season.
But that was far from true as the Pirates rallied for four straight wins to claim a Regional title and punch a ticket for state. After beating No. 4 Calera in the first round, the Pirates took No. 1 Oktaha into extra innings in the state semi-finals.
That’s when it happened.
“It always seems like my kids come up with two outs in those big situations,” Toby said. “It happened for Gunnar several times and there was Gant with the game on the line.”
On that Friday afternoon, the nervous situation ended with Gant driving in the game-winning run and father and son celebrating a huge upset together on the field.
“You just want your kids to compete in a situation like that,” Toby said. “Baseball is a game of failure. You always fail more than you succeed. But you just want them to compete well when they get that chance. That day, Gant got it done for the team. That’s a great feeling.”
“It was crazy to see all of the guys running out to you after the run scored to win the game,” Gant said. “That was fun.”
The finals didn’t turn out as well for the Pirates, but that gives next year’s seniors something to aim for.
“We have high expectations for ourselves,” Gant said. “Some of that comes from Coach and dad and some of it is since we have all played together since tee ball.”
Not all days are as exciting as winning a state semifinal contest together. There are other times when coaching has more to do with correcting than celebrating. On those days, the Hathcocks have tried hard to leave baseball discussions at the field and not bring them home.
“That doesn’t always happen,” Toby admitted. “There have been a few times where I have had to apologize to him for things I said on the field – things you would never say to another player. But I do it because I want him to know I love him no matter what happened on the field.”
Gant said they do try to leave baseball at the diamond. He said it wouldn’t help his cause by having the discussion with his mother in the room.
“She usually agrees with dad,” Gant laughed. “Her dad was a coach, too.”
His mother, Dana, is the daughter of Harold Jones, a legendary coach for whom the Dale High School gymnasium was named.
Thanks to his long tenure at the school with head coach Jerry Sanford and having sons that played with Sanford’s son Hunter, all of the players on the team become a family to Hathcock.
“It really is a family here,” Hathcock said. “Of course that is true with our sons on the team, but so I have known several of the players’ parents since I was playing high school ball.”
Because of the family aspect of the game in Dale, the Hathcocks are looking forward to their last two seasons on the field together next year.
“I’m really excited for the fall season,” Gant said. “We have work left to do.”