By STEVE KRAH
Don Sherman won more than 600 high school baseball games during his 38 seasons as a head coach, beginning with Tipton and Hamilton Heights.
In 23 seasons at Huntington (Ind.) North, Sherman’s Vikings went 441-211 with 15 sectional championships, three regionals, one semistate and one state runner-up (1993).
His final season was 2001.
“I’m so proud of this,” says Sherman. “It didn’t end. The people are following me. They’re doing the same things.
“We have a community here.”
Sherman still finds himself serving as a substitute teacher nearly every school day and is a regular at Vikings practices and games and often talks baseball with current Huntington North head coach Jarod Hammel.
He even goes to the field solo and plays “fungo golf.”
Sherman, whose 23 is the only number retired for the Huntington North Athletics/Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and a former Tampa Bay associate scout for, loves to share his wisdom about the game.
A few years ago, he crafted a list of “Things kids need to know in order to give them the best chance to make their high school baseball team.”
- Respect the game.
- Practice hard because you play the way you practice.
- It doesn’t take any talent to hustle.
- Be a student of the game of baseball. Study the history of baseball.
- Help your team win … whether you play or not.
- Don’t tell people how good you are, show them.
- Your parents love you; but, they don’t more than your coach loves baseball.
- Body language screams. It never whispers.
- Defense wins more games than offense.
- Work on your game every day: throwing, hitting, fielding.
- You don’t have to be a great athlete to be a good baseball player.
- When you jog to warm up, finish first.
- When you do a drill, do it perfect every time.
- Never walk on the baseball field.
- Maintain the grades that keep you eligible.
Sherman was kind enough to expound on some of these points.
“Respecting the game — that goes back a long way,” says Sherman. “It’s just playing the right way. It’s just how you put your suit on; how you take your infield drills; how you act after your strike out with the bases loaded; how you act after a game you lost versus when you won the game; how you act when you’re 0-for-3 versus 3-for-3 at the plate.
“You put all that together and it’s called respect for the game that was set up by a lot of people in front of us that played it and coached it.
“I can spot disrespect for the game. A kid might not run out a ball or throws hit glove or his bat. Or he gives the third base coach flak who puts on a bunt when he wanted to hit away when the bunt was in-order.”
And there’s more.
“It’s when the game finishes to put away equipment. It’s how you ride the bus. How do you go to South Bend to play a game and what’s your conduct?”
Sherman grew up in central Pennsylvania as a catcher.
“My coach stood right behind me,” says Sherman. “I heard everything he said when he hit infield. I heard every detail, every comment he made.”
After two years of junior college ball in California, Sherman earned two letters (1962 and 1963) at Ball State Teachers College (now Ball State University) in Muncie, Ind., for head coach Ray Louthen.
Sherman talks about “Helping the team win … whether you play or not.”
He recalls a coach telling him how he was impressed with his second- and third-string catchers (Sherman had a starter and two other receivers).
“They accepted their roles,” says Sherman of the backups. “They weren’t going to get in the game, but they did the important part of getting my starters ready.”
Starters — plural — because Sherman took the advice of Ken Schreiber (winner of 1,010 games and seven state titles) about warming up two pitchers before a championship game in case the starter doesn’t have it that day and could lose the contest in the first inning.
“The hardest part of coaching today from what I hear from younger coaches is parents complaining about their kids not playing,” says Sherman. “That’s why it’s important for the kids to buy in early and accept their role. It might be as a late-inning pinch hitter. It might be as a pinch-runner. It might be as a relief pitcher. You might be playing third base when you came up as a right fielder or something like that.
“I’ve found that kids accept their roles better than their parents do. I cut a senior one time. He wasn’t going to get to play. I told him practice was going to be his gameday. We parted amicably. I was honest with him.”
Sherman had some players tell him they came out every year because they “liked being a Viking and being part of the team.”
These kind of players never gave the gave any problems. He never kept a “clubhouse lawyer.”
“The season’s long and those kids in the dugout while you’re coaching third (base) are politicking about ‘why am I not playing’ and that spreads. I could always spot them and I would have a sit-down and ask ‘can you accept your role?’”
Sherman contends “You don’t have to be a great athlete to be a good baseball player.”
“You can have a kid that’s 5-foot-6 who can run a little bit and put him at second base,” says Sherman. “He might lay down that bunt that gets the winning run moved over.
“In so many other sports you’ve got to be a physical specimen. You don’t in baseball.”
While conducting tryout camps for Tampa Bay, Sherman saw a sorts of body types. Oftentimes the best players did not have the best bodies.
Sherman explains where he came up with “When you do a drill, do it perfect every time.”
“You never know who’s watching,” says Sherman. “The pros time you when you come out of the (batter’s) box during batting practice.
“I thought pregame was so important. I copied (Mississippi State coach) Ron Polk’s pregame and had two balls moving at the same time. We’re just getting after it. We go around the horn and turn double plays.”
Sherman had what he called “negatives” more muffs and missed cut-off men.
If there was less than perfection during the drill, the whole team might have a do push-ups or some extra running.
“It’s the old military way,” says Sherman, who saw players begin to hold each other accountable. “They coached each other.”
It’s also on Sherman’s checklist to “Never walk on the baseball field.”
“Kids know that when they get inside that gate, inside that foul line they know to hustle,” says Sherman. “That’s when practice starts.
“You’re going to practice now and the purpose is to get better.”
There also the principle of “Don’t tell people how good you are, show them.”
“Show me with your effort and your skill set rather than what somebody else said about you (in a showcase setting),” says Sherman. “It’s humble being humble. If you wear your emotions on your sleeve, scouts and college coaches will look at that and say you’re a ‘front-runner.’”
To Sherman, “Body language screams. It never whispers.”
“It’s how you conduct yourself,” says Sherman.
There was one game when his best player struck out and threw his bat. The umpire did not eject the player, but Sherman took him out of the game.
“I’ll leave games today if I see that kind of stuff (including a lack of hustle),” says Sherman. “I hate bad baseball.”
The IHSBCA long ago began a tradition of giving on “Dinosaur” T-shirts to those hitting the 20-year mark. Sherman says he has worn out a few of his.
He is proud that he got to coach against and serve with Hall of Famers Dave Alexander, Bill Jones, Jack Massucci, Bill Nixon, Jim Reinebold, Chris Rood, Ken Schreiber, Dick Siler, Chris Stavreti and Jim Turner Sr., and so many others who have made the game what it is today.