From the Press Box: Column by Herald sports writer John Patishnock

By JOHN PATISHNOCK
Herald Sports Writer

Imagine Jasper boys basketball coach John Goebel strutting along the sidelines of Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium wearing a jersey, shorts and knee-high socks. Or recently retired Heritage Hills football coach Bob Clayton leading the Patriots onto the field while wearing shoulder pads and spikes.

Seems kind of crazy, right? Even a little comical? Sure.

But in baseball, where nothing ever seems to go out of style, nobody on the diamond ever truly retires. Not when coaches whose playing days ended decades ago still sport a uniform as if they’re ready to occupy the hot corner.

I’ve always thought this was fascinating, that in baseball the authority figure looks like he’s just one of the guys. And I’m not the only one.

The late, great comedian George Carlin touches on this difference in his famous “Baseball vs. Football” monologue. If you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favor:
Search for it on YouTube and spend five minutes listening to Carlin dissect the intricacies between the two sports while, surprisingly, not cursing. You’re welcome in advance.

At one point, Carlin asks the audience members if they can imagine former New York Giants football coach Bill Parcells in a uniform, eliciting a roomful of chuckles.

Apparently, the connection was too far-fetched to believe — just like a more local analogy.

“We laugh about it. We used to say, ”˜Can’t picture coach Brewer when he was here with shoulder pads and a helmet underneath his arms standing on the sideline,” Jasper baseball coach Terry Gobert says of former Wildcat football coaching legend Jerry Brewer.

Most of the area baseball coaches realize they’re in on the joke. But they don’t mind.

“One of the awesome things about it, and we talk about this sometimes — I’m 50 years old and I still gear up like a high school kid,” Gobert says.

“It’s still pretty neat to put on something and you take a lot of pride in it. In football, I used to coach and I’d put a pullover on, it means a lot. But there is something about coming up here and putting your uniform on and throwing batting practice, that it probably does make it special.”

“I’ve just always thought that’s a way to be a part of the team and wear a uniform,” Heritage Hills coach Dave Sensenbrenner adds. “I played baseball forever and for me, that’s a way to get back on the field and stay with it.”

Sensenbrenner usually wears No. 32, his favorite, but he’s adopted No. 15 the last two years because Miles Kline wanted to wear 32. Northeast Dubois coach Brian Kirchoff wears No. 9 because that was the number his dad wore when he coached him growing up, but both Gobert (23) and Southridge coach Brad Wibbeler (21 and 22) ended up with their numbers by happenstance. Gobert grabbed the biggest jersey available and Wibbeler, who wore No. 19 in high school and college, didn’t want to continue being superstitious after being “over the top” with that stuff in his playing days.

But that doesn’t mean Wibbeler feels a disconnect. It’d be hard to when considering another of baseball’s unique traits: While coaches from other sports are prohibited or strongly encouraged by officials to stay off the playing field, baseball coaches have on-field spaces reserved for them.

“That gets my blood flowing,” Wibbeler says of being a third-base coach. “You get that double in the gap and you get that quick guy at first base going nonstop with two outs — getting him to go all the way from first to home, that’s a good feeling because you’re waving the entire time and yelling and trying to be encouraging.”

Gobert and Kirchoff say essentially the same thing, and Kirchoff even jumps back and begins waving his arms as he explains how enjoyable it is waving someone home — especially when it’s the last run scored in a game.

“I can remember, and I know Terry (Gobert), I’ve seen him do it several times, when a winning run is coming in — hell, I’ll follow him home,” Kirchoff says. “And that makes it fun.”

No one is exactly quite sure when and why the tradition of managers wearing uniforms started. The common perception is it began when player-managers existed in the major league in the early part of last century, making the wardrobe selection necessary.

Whatever the genesis, nobody is much interested in rewriting history.

Donning a tie, slacks and cufflinks in 90-degree weather that make you feel like you’re swimming in a bowl of soup? No thanks.

“I’d rather be wearing a uniform as opposed to a suit or having to dress up like a basketball coach,” Wibbeler says.

“I’ve never thought about coming out here in shorts, a short-sleeved shirt and no hat and sunglasses,” Sensenbrenner adds. “I would never do something like that.”

Other reasons for liking the current system are more personal.

“It helps me feel young,” Kirchoff says. “I remember my dad teaching me how to put a uniform on when I was a little guy, so that’s kind of cool to go through that again.”

Gobert says you can’t become a good coach until you realize your playing days are gone. He realizes his are over. As do his colleagues.

None of the coaches are looking to insert themselves into their team’s lineup. That’s not the point of wearing a uniform.

Rather, coaches continue to suit up because it just feels right. It makes sense.
You don’t stop loving the game just because you’re done playing, and that means following the rules, written and otherwise.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Kirchoff says. “That’s just too much tradition, and I’m a tradition guy with baseball and I wouldn’t switch it. If they came out next year and said you don’t have to wear a uniform, I’d keep wearing it.”

Contact John Patishnock at jpatishnock@dcherald.com.




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