The baseball passion of one Dayton Flyers comes with a very familiar story, and from a very familiar source.
Greenville, South Carolina – I was surprised to look at the Dayton Flyers’ baseball roster Friday and see Ottawa Hills High School (Toledo) beside the name of first baseman/designated hitter Adam Moreau.
Ottawa Hills, you see, is the program coached by long-time Ohio High School coaching legend Chris Hardman – a teammate of mine during our prep baseball days together at Piqua High School, 1968 and 1969.
Hardman is also the son of the late Jim Hardman, our coach on those Indian teams, and a man who made an indelible impact on my baseball life. In fact, it’s safe to say that Hardman made an impact on every high schooler that every suited up for him. He had a knack of doing that, one way or another. If he couldn’t make you a better player, he simply made you love the game.
Hardman used to bring a uniform shirt in for our first meeting of the year – and share with his seniors how they should cherish every moment they got to wear it during their final season at Piqua. “Because,” he said, “you’ll never know how much you’re going to miss it when you take it off for the last time.”
He was right.
If I was surprised at seeing Adam Moreau’s name Friday, you can imagine the surprise of the 23-year-old when I introduced myself and told him of our mutual legacy with baseball and baseball coaches. The Hardmans, by the way, are both members of the Ohio High School Coaches Hall of Fame, a father and son distinction shared by few that I know of…if any!
He brightened immediately, and told me about some very familiar coaching habits shared by father and son – plays, routines, mannerisms, and of course, people we both knew through the Hardmans.
“You know John Hinsch?” asked Moreau.
“Of course,” I shared. Hinsch was another high school teammate at Piqua who went to to play at Indiana University and later enjoyed a successful career in business. But for years he’s also gone back to Ottawa Hills to help indoctrinate others with the Hardman way of baseball to players like Adam Moreau.
“Did you know Chris’s dad, my ‘Coach’ Hardman,” I asked.
“You bet,” gushed Moreau, who transferred to Dayton from Eckerd College (in Florida) two years ago.
“He came to a lot of our games at Ottawa Hills and usually made our spring trip to Sarasota with us,” he added, speaking of the elder Hardman. “A lot of us became very close with Coach Hardman because he was always sharing something with all of us about how to play baseball. I pitched some at Ottawa Hills and he frequently showed me how over-striding made you hang the curveball.”
I smiled again, because Hardman had shown me that very thing…countless times during our forty year relationship, including the last time I saw him alive when he was a resident of Piqua Manor nursing home. Barely able to stand and move around, he nonetheless took one last opportunity…to coach me.
“We all loved Coach Hardman,” said Moreau. “In fact, when I get to the field today I’ll show you my baseball cap.”
And sure enough when we got to Friday’s opening game at Furman University’s Latham Field the Flyer senior looked me up, hat in hand. He had written the name “Paps” on the underneath side of his hat bill, in memory of our late, and mutual, baseball friend and mentor.
“I was in Sarasota on our spring trip when we got the news that coach had passed away in April of 2012,” shared Moreau. “I pitched that day and probably threw the best game of my life. I got through the game ok, but afterwards I broke down and cried. He meant that much to me. I’ve written the name “Paps” on my hat bill ever since.”
I never knew Jim Hardman as “Paps”, but I instinctively understood the impact he would have had on another member of what seems the ever-increasing fraternity of people who learned to play baseball – and love baseball – through the name Hardman, both father and son.
Moreau went hitless in Friday’s opener. And there was no risk of hanging the curveball because he didn’t pitch.
But he left the field undeterred, and I watched closely as he boarded the bus for the hotel and preparation for Saturday’s game. He didn’t hang his head over the loss, over failure to drive in runs when he had the opportunity in third inning when he grounded out in the third inning with the bases loaded. And I know he knew.
So why is that fact alone significant?
It was always a baseball tenet of Jim Hardman’s to make contact with the baseball – avoid striking out at all costs.
“Make the other team make more plays in the field than you do,” said Hardman. “If you do that they might give you the game.” What he meant was – they might make an error that allowed the winning run to score.
It didn’t happen Friday, but it could today, or tomorrow. Thanks to the Hardman’s, Chris and Jim, Adam Moreau and I know…only too well!