Monday, July 25, 2011

As Jim Anchower Would Say....

...Hola amigos, it's been a while since I rapped at ya, but last week was mostly spent on getting back on the air, prepping both myself and my new studio for Friday's return to Sporting News Radio. If you don't know who Jim Anchower is, just Google it. I think you will find that his work is nothing short of Pulitzer-worthy.

Modern technology is a wonderful thing, enabling a broadcaster to host a radio show from virtually anywhere. That having been said, if you don't have any engineering background whatsoever, that process can be challenging. Suffice it to say, thanks to the folks that are much smarter than me in such matters in Cleveland and Houston, we got on the air.

I'll be back on Sporting News Radio tonight handling the sports updates, then back hosting in place of Todd Wright this coming Friday night as well. As always, you can listen to SNR 24/7 online at, as well as on Sirius Channel 94, if there isn't a local affiliate near you (such as in Milwaukee).

I'll have a lot to say about the NFL lockout ending tonight here on the website as well, however, I did miss my regular "Flashback Friday" entry last week. Today from the archives, my article from last August's Inside Wisconsin Sports on former Hartland Arrowhead baseball coach Tim O'Driscoll, who was forced to suddenly retire before last season started.

One Tough Loss
By, Doug Russell

Defending state summer baseball champion Hartland Arrowhead experienced their first loss before the season ever started. This loss will not be reflected in any standings, but rather in the hearts and psyche of one of the most successful programs in Wisconsin history.

When you look at the numbers, they pale in comparison to the relationships. The players that he coached and still keeps tabs on. The students, some 10,000 in all, that learned economics from him. The 38 years spent on a baseball field that now bears his name.

Tim O’Driscoll was so much more than a coach. When a hastily called meeting began the morning of Wednesday, May 12 it was like no other in the almost 50 years O’Driscoll has been associated with Hartland Arrowhead High School. Two nights earlier, O’Driscoll’s doctor called his house just before dinner. It was a call that would send shockwaves throughout Wisconsin high school athletics.

While he still respectfully declines to discuss his specific health problems, O’Driscoll simply says, “It’s something I have to deal with now.” In a tear-filled emotional meeting with his beloved players, students, and staff, O’Driscoll announced he had to immediately step down as the Warhawks baseball coach after a state-record 742 wins in 36 years at his alma mater.

“I made it through about three minutes,” O’Driscoll recalls. “We met in my old classroom.  A lot of kids were in there. Some other kids came in there. Some teachers were in there as well. I got really emotional. It was really tough, saying goodbye to the kids.”

Senior pitcher Matt Jarchow was in the room when O’Driscoll said he could no longer continue. “I was shocked,” Jarchow says. “When I was in grade school I thought he would be long gone by the time I got to varsity, and then after playing for him last year and seeing how much he loves the game, I thought he would never leave. I felt for him because I know he wanted to coach more.”

O’ Driscoll says if he scaled back his involvement, it’s feasible his health could still handle being in the Arrowhead dugout. However, his doctor warned him that in no uncertain terms, his days of hitting ground balls and throwing batting practice before games were over. For a coach that always prided himself in being able to keep up with kids less than half his age, there was no decision to be made. To this day, Tim O’Driscoll has to hold back his emotions when talking about retiring, but readily admits it was a decision that was the right one.

Former player Jim Lindner, who played for O’Driscoll in 2004, was stunned when he heard the news. “I had to read the headline twice to make sure I read it correctly and it’s still weird to think about now,” Lindner says. “Then of course the shock turns into concern and you hope everything returns to normal, even if he can’t coach. I’m happy Coach O’Driscoll had a long and successful career, but I can’t help but feel sorry that he couldn’t retire on his own terms.”

Despite his health struggles, O’Driscoll, taking a page from Lou Gehrig, says he’s been the luckiest guy in the world.

“I was able to teach and coach varsity baseball at Hartland Arrowhead, which I consider to be the finest high school in Wisconsin,” O’Driscoll says. “Neither one of those things I ever considered a job. It was a way of life. How many people wake up and don’t like what they’re doing? I’ve been the luckiest guy to have been able to teach and coach for 36 years at my high school.”

The resume speaks to his effectiveness. On it are two state championships (1979, 2009), a pair of runner-up finishes (1975, 2006), and six overall trips to Stevens Point. His Arrowhead teams won 14 conference championships. He has been enshrined in both the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame and the Land O’ Lakes Hall of Fame.

Listening to his former players however, the wins, championships, and enshrinements don’t come close to telling the full story of the man generations of Hartland Arrowhead students refer to as simply “Mr. O’D.”

“More than anything, I remember him as a really good person that cared about his players and genuinely had their best interests in mind,” former player Brian Steinbach says. Steinbach was just one of two players (Scott Crook was the other) that played varsity all four years for O’Driscoll. Steinbach eventually went on to captain the baseball team at the University of Michigan in the mid 1990’s.

“My first reaction upon hearing about his health scare was concern for him as a person and his family. His decision to retire echo's the advice and guidance he would give to someone else -- a true measure of his consistency,” Steinbach says.

O’Driscoll’s sudden retirement not only shook Hartland Arrowhead, but also his colleagues throughout the game. Legendary Cedarburg baseball coach Jack Freiss got to know O’Driscoll back in the early 1980’s when the Warhawks and Bulldogs began playing each other in non-conference games.

“Tim is what everyone wants to be and that is a winner,” Freiss says. “His record speaks for itself but to do it with the enthusiasm he had made him special. Tim was able to continue coaching all these years because he knew how to use his knowledge of the game mixed with keen sense of understanding the needs of the kids and also not over-coaching them.  He taught the game and let the kids play it.” 

Scott Doffek was arguably O’Driscoll’s best player. He spent five years in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, eventually reaching Triple-A Albuquerque. For the last four seasons, Doffek has been the head baseball coach at UW-Milwaukee. He says that O’Driscoll not only taught him about baseball, but about life.

“He always treated people fairly and a genuine concern for how you were doing as a person as well as a player,” Doffek says. “I believe sports are a great way to learn about life.  If you know what is going on in your players’ lives and actually care about them, they will play harder and with more passion for you as a coach.  They know you care about them.”

Jake Rosch agrees. A 2004 Hartland Arrowhead graduate, Rosch not only had O’Driscoll as a teacher and coach, but also had the chance after his 2004 graduation to work as one of his assistant coaches. “He went out of his way to better your life, which made it hard for you to ever let him down,” Rosch says.

All in all, there have been 17 father-son combinations that played for Tim O’Driscoll at Hartland Arrowhead. A total of 8 players have been drafted in to the professional ranks. What turned out to be his final game couldn’t have been penned by the best Hollywood screenwriter. Arrowhead, trailing 4-1 heading into the bottom of the 7th (and final) inning to Milwaukee Marquette, tallied 4 runs to win the state championship, 5-4.

Looking forward, rather than back, O’Driscoll says he has his concerns about what the lies ahead, but not for him.

“I’m worried about the future of high school athletics because it’s gotten too individually competitive,” O’Driscoll says. “I’m all for winning, but I think we’re losing a lot of the fun that high school sports are supposed to provide. We’ve got coaches that are out there running around stomping their feet, kicking dirt around, using bad language. That’s just not necessary.”

As for what is next for Tim O’Driscoll, he will continue with his “other” job as the official scorer for the Brewers at Miller Park, a position he has held since 1987. However, if you think you will be seeing him at any other baseball diamond, forget it. He admits that it will be too emotional for him to come see Hartland Arrowhead play this year. He also has no timetable for a return trip to O’Driscoll Field to watch his beloved Warhawks play, but suspects that it won’t be until every player that ever played for him has graduated.

“The one thing that means more to me than anything; the state championships; the wins – anything – are the relationships,” O’Driscoll says. “Everywhere I go, whether it’s the grocery store, church, Miller Park, anywhere…the fact that former players and parents of former players care enough to say hi and ask how I’m doing. That means everything to me.”

On June 6, Tim and Caryl O’Driscoll celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. They have two grown daughters, Meghan and Kelli. This summer, O’Driscoll will help his grandson learn the game of T-Ball. In every way, being around a young ballplayer with a bat just seems appropriate for a teacher and coach that was able to stay as enthusiastic and relevant as he was the day he began coaching JV ball in 1973.

“I really don’t think kids have changed all that much in the last 38 years,” O’Driscoll says. “I really just think people are people. If you treat them fairly, and explain to them why they may not be playing over some other kid, they’ll understand. I really don’t think kids have changed at all since I started coaching.”

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