The past weekend was such a memorable experience for me personally. I had the rare and unique opportunity to share time with my former teammates from the 1986 National Championship team while also competing against the coach who provided me with my first college coaching opportunity.
Mark Hogan, the veteran head coach at Southeast Missouri, hired me in the late summer of 1989 as he was just named the head coach at Livingston University (now West Alabama). I had just completed my Master's degree from Troy (State) University and was hoping for a chance to stay in college baseball. Coach Hogan had promised me two years earlier at a summer camp in Troy if he ever had the chance to hire me as an assistant coach he would. I am forever indebted to him for providing me the opportunity to get started in the coaching business and provide me the chance to learn and grow as a young coach. We spent the better day of every day together for five years and developed a very close and personal relationship that we carry until this day. It was a wonderful experience spending the four days around him again as we reminisced about some great times together. He was also very gracious as our 1986 team had a wonderful celebration prior to our game Friday night. He too remembered most of the players and success of that team as he was coaching in Andalusia at Lurleen B Wallace CC at the time.
As for the reunion, I can only say it was a memorable experience to reconnect with some of my closest friends that I will ever know. The 1986 team was such a talented team that really steamrolled most of the opponents on the schedule. We posted a 46-8 record and a perfect 12-0 playoff run while capturing the first national championship in school history. The players that were able to attend were treated to a first ever video tribute at Riddle-Pace Field which captured their attention prior to the game on Friday night. As some of the teams accomplishments were being listed, I truly enjoyed the look on their faces as I could see their pride bursting through. We had a few pictures made and walked off the field together once again just prior to the 2011 Trojans took the field for the opener of the series.
Tyler Ray was on top of his game as he pitched a classic four-hit shutout in game one as the players from 1986 stood atop the third base dugout and were in the game every pitch. Many current players remarked on Saturday morning how much those guys were pulling for our team as if they were in our dugout. They actually were in many ways as most of them follow the Trojans every game on the internet. The rest of the series featured more quality pitching by Drew Hull and Ryan Sorce as the Trojans swept Southeast Missouri and finished off an incredible weekend.
I was truly exhausted after the weekend, not from the late nights with my former teammates or the close games that happened on the field but from the sheer emotion of the entire weekend. It was an amazing personal experience and one that I will cherish for years to come.