In one of the first tournaments of the summer for the Old School Baseball Ducks, coach Bubby Williams saw some good and some bad from his high-school aged team.
The 18U team was playing at the 3&2 Baseball Club in Shawnee, Kansas, earlier this month and lost a game by giving up 11 runs, but only four were earned.
Williams, a former all-state baseball catcher at Blue Springs and former pro baseball player, knows it is still early and most of his kids were still knocking off the rust from being idle since early March due to the coronavirus pandemic that wiped out high school baseball throughout the country.
That same virus is why his wife, Tarin (formerly Corwin), spent five weeks working in an ICU unit in a New York City hospital earlier this spring. That meant, Bubby had a lot of father-son time with his three children, Bo, 8, Mac, 5, and Tino, 1, in their Gladstone home.
Shortly after her return, he got a chance to get back on the diamond for a program he started in the summer of 2017. Back then, it was just one team but now it has grown from an 18U team to two 8U teams and a 6U team.
Williams is active in all and coaches three of them. He coaches the 18U, the 8U that Bo plays for and the 6U team that features his son Mac.
Williams’ philosophy is one he hopes is refreshing to some in the competitive baseball circuits.
"We want kids that want to be here," said Williams, who played 6 ½ seasons of pro baseball. "Any kid’s mom and dad can give you money and hopefully they do good, but our goal is to build a program and build kids into what a college athlete will be like. Some coaches are high on development and trying to see more. I want one group that wants to go out and dominate all day. I want that mindset."
From player to coach
Williams was looking for something to do after retiring from playing professional baseball, the last three in Independent ball after three years in the Astros’ system.
His last stop was with the Kansas City T-Bones in 2014, his second stint with the team in Kansas City, Kansas. He started working with the Complete Game program the fall before he retired and after stepping away from the game, he moved into a full-time coaching role.
"This is what I want to do to keep me in the game and keep me connected," Williams said.
An 11th-round draft pick by Houston in 2009, he bypassed a commitment to play at Missouri State to sign with the Astros. He started out with Greeneville in the Appalachian Rookie League.
He entered the system that was soon to be on the rise and based on his teammates, he played with some of the best in baseball. A few picks before he was drafted, the Astros took left-handed pitcher Dallas Keuchel from Arkansas.
Along the way, Williams also played with future big leaguers J.D. Martinez, George Springs, Vince Velasquez, Matt Duffy, Nick Tropeano, Dayan Diaz, Delino DeShields Jr., R.J. Alaniz, Jose Altuve, Jake Goebbert, Jimmy Paredes, Jose Cisnero, Arcenio Leon, Juan Minaya, David Martinez and his roommate, Mike Foltynewicz, an all-star pitcher for Atlanta.
Many of those Astros helped the team win the 2017 World Series.
"Most of those guys are just guys, they don’t act any different than any other baseball player," Williams said. "There are so many players and everyone is really freaking good."
Williams, known for his prowess at the plate, couldn’t match the numbers he put up during his final year at Crowder College in pro ball. Williams played 112 games in affiliated ball and hit .207 with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs, with stops in Greeneville, Lexington and Tri-City in rookie and A-ball.
He was cut in 2012 spring training camp and then spent the next three years trying to get back in affiliated ball. He played for Normal in the Frontier League, Kansas City and El Paso in the American Association, San Angelo in the United Baseball League and Trois-Rivieres in the Canadian-American Association
All of those stops showed him how big of an adjustment it was from college ball to pro baseball.
"It’s more dog eat dog, you don’t give yourself up to the team and buy in," Williams said. "In college everyone is so connected and you buy into the program and a team. In pro ball it isn’t about the team and buying in, it is get your work done, get your numbers and keep moving up."
Taking a chance
Going into his senior year at Blue Springs, Williams was without an offer despite being good in baseball and football – he was an all-state receiver in 2006 and accounted for nine touchdowns his senior year and had nearly 1,000 yard of all-purpose yards adding in return yards on kickoff and punt returns.
He admits to being naive on how the recruiting process works but admits having confidence that something would work out.
It turned out to be an email to Travis Lallemand, the baseball head coach at Crowder College. It’s not that Williams knew much about the school in Neosho, Mo., but he was emailing many junior college and four-year college coaches in the region.
Lallemand was the only one of the about 20 coaches to respond to Williams. Williams made a trip down to Neosho – located about 20 miles south of Joplin – and he was welcomed to almost two feet of snow the December of his senior year.
"We got him down here and we are scratching our head on how he wasn’t signed somewhere," Lallemand said. "It was a blind stroke of luck. We weren’t getting as many emails as we do today but we had a mission to win the state of Arkansas and we are close to Kansas City and anytime a KC kid shows somewhat interest, we paid attention. The way he worded the email and how he handled it was diplomatic saying he’d like an opportunity for this."
The Roughriders had picked up Kendall Cotton from Bee Branch, Ark., with the intention of him being the starting catcher in 2008. Lallemand stressed it was unlikely that Williams would see a ton of time behind the plate based on what they saw from Cotton in high school. He gave Williams a chance to walk on – but no scholarship – and compete for playing time somewhere.
Williams told Lallemand he would beat Cotton out for the starting spot.
"Usually, I’d think that was pretty cocky but I liked it," Lallemand said of Williams. "He was the regional player of the year real quick and he was one of those guys that got (recruiting) started in Kansas City."
Williams was an all-state player his senior year for Blue Springs and helped the Wildcats win the 2007 Class 4 title, heading into his first season at Crowder.
Williams started both years and helped the Roughriders win the Region 16 title in 2008, the first for the school in 17 years. Lallemand used Williams to help recruit players during his sophomore year – many who helped the program reach the Junior College World Series for the first time in school history in 2010.
"It was like having another coach," Lallemand said of Williams. "He took guys around on the weekend so they can ask questions freely. I figured what better person to be an ambassador for our program than Bubby. He did a lot of things before that. I always talk about 2008; they were my Grand Junction team even though they didn’t get to go to the JUCO World Series. We hadn’t won a regional championship in 17 years. They made us relevant again."
Williams helped bring a pair of area players to Crowder in Eric Silkwood from Blue Springs and Kyle Clifton from Truman. Now, Crowder is still recruiting the Kansas City metro area and getting players from schools that they never could before Williams.
Williams still holds the single-season home run record with 15 his sophomore year. That record will stand forever as the players have to use BBCOR bats now, and if the 15 homers in a season is passed, it will be a separate record.
Three of his Crowder teammates also made pro ball, Matty Johnson, Dan Kickham and Mike Kickham, the only one of the quartet to reach the big leagues. Williams would again play with Dan Kickham, a pitcher, with the T-Bones.
"Bubby was one of the guys that had a knack for leadership, for sure," Lallemand said. "He led by example. He wasn't vocal but guys gravitated toward him and what he did. He did so many things so well and did so many things with such enthusiasm. He was always excited to come to play and always excited to be at practice."
After a while being an assistant coach, Williams’ wife knew he needed a change. Tarin encouraged him to start his own program.
The name for his program was a simple one – and one used before by Williams. He didn’t play American Legion baseball in high school but did play on a rag-tag squad of players from all over the metro area. The group was hanging out together and the movie "Old School" with Will Ferrell had just come out. They decided that would be part of the name.
That group of players from Blue Springs, Blue Springs South, Lee’s Summit, Liberty and as far as Humboldt, Kansas, became known as Old School Baseball.
The name came in handy years later when he started this program.
"Tarin said this is what you love to do, do your own style and I sent out emails that I will have a tryout," said Williams, who started an online hitting instruction business called Bubby Williams Hit Factory this spring.
This year’s 18U team is the second edition for Williams. All 14 players on the first team when he started coaching in 2017 went on to college to play ball.
"We will find a place for them to succeed and excel," said Dyllon Williams, who went to Drury after playing at Blue Springs and now coaches with his older brother.
The Old School Baseball Ducks don’t have a facility to practice at, but Williams always finds a place for them to work out. He knows the brand – with green and orange color scheme – is getting its name out there.
"My big thing is I won’t gouge parents to put up a building some place to have a facility just to say we have a facility," Williams said. "All these guys are building these clubs and doing it for what they think is right. I want to be genuine and I want good baseball. I won’t take anyone and everybody. I want a group of kids that want to work for a goal and have an idea to play the next level. I want to keep it elite and competitive at every level and have a family feel."
This year’s 18U team features players from all over, including Blue Springs’ Gabe Coit. Other players hail from as far as away at Trenton. The high school group should play 30 to 35 games before the season is over, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to more than a month of canceled tournaments.
Williams keeps busy coaching the three teams.
"I like being there for the kids and giving them something to work for," Williams said. "I know what life is like at the next level."