From the Catbird Seat - Diamonds in the roughFor Cal Barr, the game of baseball is as much about the heart as it is about the body.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
For Cal Barr, the game of baseball is as much about the heart as it is about the body.
The coach of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College’s new baseball team is a former professional farmhand, who played in the St. Louis Cardinals organization after graduating from Duluth East. For him, the Great American Game is more than just a game.
“I think for a lot of people, baseball has attached itself to the heart,” Barr said. “My decisions about school were about the opportunities to play either football or baseball. There are a lot of kids like that.”
But now, after finishing his first season as coach of the college’s new team, Barr is working on coaching in a different way – in a player’s heart as well as his mind.
“There are lots of levels of baseball,” Barr said. “But here, kids can come in and play and that gives the coaches the opportunity to connect with a kid on a voluntary level. They are volunteers. There is a heart connection, there, over a passion called baseball, so there is a relationship that develops through the game. That allows you to earn a place into their life.”
That philosophy dovetails nicely with the athletic department’s expressed goal of developing the entire person through athletics.
“Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) talked about that,” Barr said. “Most of what I try to do is be trustworthy. If I can do that and make a heart-to-heart connection, I can coach them forever. It goes way beyond the game. That has something to say about the rest of life.”
Barr’s Thunder won three games in the program’s first season of existence, but the coach sees that as only a stepping stone.
“Winning is the intention of college sports, but the pressure to win comes from both inside as coaches and outside as players and culture.”
But, as Pittsburgh Pirate Willie Stargell once famously said, “the umpire doesn’t say ‘work ball.’” Especially at this level, Barr knows the game has to be fun.
“If it’s no fun, [the game] loses its attraction,” he said. “At this level it has to be fun because you aren’t going to make a living at it.”
For Barr, the game was once work. After graduating from East, he played community college baseball in Florida before being selected in the 1974 winter draft by the Cardinals.
“It became work in the minor leagues,” he said. “I had to ask myself, ‘Am I willing to work hard at it?’ It went from play to work.
“When you try to make a living at it as a professional, that’s a whole different level,” Barr added. “It drives people out of the game, and kids who could be good quit because they don’t see it as fun.”
Barr knows the difference, and wants to grow the FDLTCC program based on having the right balance.
“When you lose fun, the effort goes down, the joy does down and kids will drop out,” Barr said. “They have more pressing realities. They choose not to play something that is fun because of life’s demands. If you make baseball a demand like that prematurely, you lose kids, and the opportunity to speak into their lives.”
Barr does plan to recruit heavily this year to bring added talent and greater numbers into the program – but wants to find the right balance in the process.
“Baseball is another thing kids can connect to and care about,” he said. “It is important to some people. For some people, it is the most important thing. If you can couple that with becoming aware of what [students] want to do with their lives, they can come up with some academic goals and a plan.”
“When I got hired, I asked [Athletic director] Keith Turner why he stayed here after coaching at Vermilion and working at Stevens Point,” Barr said. “The progression would have been for him to be a coordinator at a D-2 program or a position coach at D-1. He said, ‘The kids need someone to help them.’”
That’s Barr’s ultimate long-term goal.
“We had a handful of kids who weren’t [academically] eligible this season and that was frustrating,” he said. “It put the team under pressure due to numbers. It’ll be a challenge, but our goal is to develop character and leadership. We want to develop and grow students as players and people. That is the measure.”