The game wasn’t going all that well — one of those days, is all — and yet every player wearing a Silverado High baseball uniform sprinted on and off the field as if his future on the roster depended on setting personal bests in the 100-yard dash.
The last time I saw kids exert this much energy around a diamond was years ago, when my son’s T-Ball team discovered someone had delivered cupcakes to the dugout. One kid actually swung at the ball, took a step toward first base and bolted for the double-chocolate with sprinkles.
Might have been my kid.
I’ll never tell.
Brian Whitaker didn’t do much running last week, and I’m not sure he was in the mood for sweets as his team lost to Basic 11-3, instead making lineup and pitching changes with the sort of calming stroll of a man confident in his approach.
You know, because 500 wins will do that for a guy.
I was in Houston at the Final Four when College of Southern Nevada baseball coach Nick Garritano called to say he thought a pretty sizable local story had gone unnoticed, that Whitaker had indeed won his 500th career game recently and the exposure about it compared to that of a school cafeteria serving meatball subs on Fridays.
“That’s just how Brian is,” Garritano said. “He’s very old-school. He wouldn’t seek or want any publicity about it. He’s a super man, a great human being.
“His teams today are the same as they were 25 years ago. Run on and off the field. Never throw bats or helmets. Never say a word to the umpires. No negative emotions. It’s really a breath of fresh air.”
In the annals of Nevada prep baseball, no one from the south has won more games than Whitaker, whose record stands at 508-295. Ron McNutt is the all-time leader with more than 700 wins while spending 35 years at Carson and Galena high schools up north.
The son of Bob and Joy Whitaker is 51 and the last original member of the Silverado faculty, a physical education teacher who played on the Valley High state championship team of 1981, went from Taft College to UNLV to Southern Utah, was a late-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds, was released in spring training of 1988 and found himself with a fairly significant decision: What now?
He tried coaching as an assistant at Southern Utah, liked it enough to head back home and assist at Eldorado for two years, including on the 1990 state championship team. He then went to Valley and is now in his 25th season winning games as a coach at the prep level, the past 22 at Silverado.
His brother, Barry, has assisted for 21 of them.
“We’ve always had the same rules for the ace pitcher to the third bullpen catcher — play as hard as you can, have good body language because you never know who is watching, don’t bring attention to yourself, be humble in victory and gracious in defeat, and whatever your role is a specific day, love it more than anything,” Brian said. “We want our kids to know there is one way to play the game. The right way.
“We tell kids as long as they are with us, we’ll coach you with everything we have. We drive them hard. It’s not for everyone. But they’re going to buy in or they won’t be here. That’s the beauty of it. I’m not going to sit there and yell and scream at kids. They know how we work to get better every day and what attitude we expect, and that we’re going to have fun doing it. It’s supposed to be fun, but it’s not fun if you don’t win, so we try to win.”
I like that his players present themselves in a similar manner.
His message is pretty clear: Look and act professional.
If you’re wearing sunglasses on your hat, use them because you can’t see that fly ball and not to appear cool for the girl in the stands. There isn’t going to be one kid wearing a pink arm sleeve and another with camel patterned socks. It’s a uniform, for goodness sake, not meant to make some sort of individual statement.
“I think that’s the way you win 500 games — being consistent in your approach all these years, giving kids expectations to live up to and trusting they will,” Barry Whitaker said. “It has always been about more than baseball for Brian. He is most proud of the adults these players eventually become. Husbands, fathers, business owners, educators, firemen, paramedics, even a Navy Seal. That’s what Brian has always been about, trying to build kids into great men.”
Brian and Koni will have been married 30 years in August and have three grown children and three grandchildren. When his 500th win came in a 10-0 shutout at Foothill last month, someone snapped a picture of the couple and their grandson. His assistant coaches offered congratulations, and then everyone headed back to school.
It wasn’t until then that Whitaker told his team about the milestone.
“I told them they were part of something special and how much I appreciated them,” Brian said. “And they just kind of sat there, and that was it.”
How Silverado of them.
How, well, Brian Whitaker of them.
Not a cupcake in sight.
Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney