Tears were flowing, on the field and in the dugout, as the Blue Springs South baseball team honored coach Ben Baier – the personification of a tough, no-nonsense baseball guy – with a win for the ages Tuesday.
Baier is still dealing with the death of his mother, Pat, 61, who had successful open heart surgery May 1. But she passed away unexpectedly May 6, the result of a blood clot.
“After that happened,” Baier said after his team pulled off a dramatic 7-6 victory over Lee’s Summit North in the Class 5 District 14 championship game at Grain Valley, “I couldn’t even think about baseball.
“Now, when I’m on the field with my team and my coaches, it’s the only time I don’t think about my mom.”
He was an assistant to legendary South coach Richard Wood for 10 years and has been the Jaguars’ head man the past nine.
“Until this year – the 10 years I was with Richard and the past nine as head coach – I never missed a game,” Baier said softly after the Jaguars won their seventh district title of the past decade. “After I lost my mom, I missed five games. Missing five games, after not missing a game in 19 years, well, it was a tough period in my life.”
When he did return last Saturday, junior center fielder Jared Ravencamp approached his coach before the Jaguars claimed a 12-2 win over Truman.
“I was talking with my mom and dad and some of the guys on the team and we wanted to do something for Coach,” said Ravencamp, who drove in the eventual winning run against the Broncos Tuesday. “So my mom and dad and I made some red ribbons that we wore them in the game against Truman. I talked to Coach before the game, to let him know how happy we were to have him back and if it was OK to wear the ribbons and he was kind of surprised.”
Come on, how many 17- and 18-year-olds would think about honoring their coach in that fashion before the biggest game of the season?
“You’re going to get me crying again, talking about Saturday,” said Baier, who is baseball through and through, with a crusty outer layer that protects a heart of gold. “When Jared came up to me and asked me if they could wear the ribbons, I was surprised and really honored.
“I’d missed five games – including our last (regular season game) against Blue Springs. What made it all so tough is that my mom loved to watch our games, and the surgery went well – then, the blood clot …”
The sentence trailed off, as his eyes glossed over.
“I’m just so proud of my guys – they overcame a lot to win this game,” Baier continued. “Coming back after losing the home run (please see story on page B1), fighting to take the lead and then Matt (Cook) pitching out of that seventh inning (bases-loaded) jam.
“I asked him if there was anywhere else he would rather be. I told him this was his moment – and he got it done.”
After a joyous dogpile on the mound, the Jaguars, Baier and his coaches had an emotional postgame visit in left field.
“We love Coach Baier,” said catcher Allante Hall, whose three-run triple in the sixth inning put the Jaguars ahead 6-4 before Ravencamp drove him home with a sacrifice fly with what proved to be the winning run. “When we honored him by wearing the ribbons we knew it meant a lot to him – and he means a lot to us. We kept our poise – which he always talks about – and won this game for him today.”
Cook, who pitched out of that jam in the seventh, battled emotions as he talked about his coach.
“Coach Baier means so much to us,” Cook said, “we knew he’d been through so much with the loss of his mom. We battled and played hard, because he’s an easy coach to play hard for. We love him.”
Anyone have a handkerchief I could borrow?
Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com or 816-350-6333. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC