Doug Baggett hinted throughout the 2011 baseball season that it might be his last coaching the Tabb High Tigers. But he deferred announcing his decision because he didn't want to take his players' focus off of baseball.
The tactic worked beautifully as the Tigers, who finished a disappointing fifth in the Bay Rivers District standings, won the district tournament, a regional tournament game and came within a run of reaching the Group AA state tournament. With that solid finish to a spectacular high school baseball coaching career, Baggett has decided to call it quits after 27 seasons as the Tigers' coach.
Baggett, a physical education teacher at Tabb, will remain in that role and in his job as the boys varsity basketball head coach. But after nearly three decades of using his sixth-period planning session to work on Tabb's field, he's lightening his load.
"I'm getting old and tired," joked Baggett, who is, in truth, still almost as fit as the youngster who turned double plays in the middle of the infield for Forest Glen High in Suffolk. "I'm looking forward to my first spring break since I began coaching.
"I love baseball and I love the kids, but I felt it was time to move on."
Among district coaches, only York's Rusty Ingram has coached prep baseball in the area longer.
"I'm sorry to see him go, to tell you the truth," Ingram said. "He's been a good friend for a long time and always ran a quality program.
"We always looked forward to competing against each other. I have a lot of respect for him."
Tabb has not picked Baggett's replacement, but whomever it is will have huge shoes to fill. Baggett doesn't know exactly how many games he won as the Tigers coach, but says it's more than 370.
His teams won nine York River or Bay Rivers district titles, five Region I titles and reached the AA state tournament championship game twice. He doesn't know how many of his players went on to play in college, but recalls that nine from his 1994 state finalist played in college: three in Division I.
That team, which lost a 3-2 heartbreaker to Tunstall in the AA state final, is one of his favorites.
"They were so cohesive," Baggett said. "For many of the years I coached baseball at Tabb, the kids worked so hard we'd be out there until dark.
"We'd always have at least one kid on that ('94) team staying after our regular practice, working on hitting or fielding or pitching. They loved baseball."
The 1997 team was similar and also reached the state final, losing at William Byrd. One of the most prolific hitting teams in Bay Rivers history, the '97 team featured two players, Chaz McGuirk and Rob Dye, who batted over .500.
"That's the only time I can remember two of my players batting that high on the same team," Baggett said.
The '97 team produced Baggett's most memorable victory, a state semifinal win over favored Western Albemarle. The Tigers won that game 9-6 on McGuirk's three-run home run the bottom of the 11th.
"I remember that game started during the school day because Western Albemarle had prom or graduation that night," Baggett said. "So there was a huge crowd of teachers, students and coaches lined up around the fence.
"That game will always be special because of how long it went, how many people were there, how it ended and Western Albemarle having a couple of guys who were drafted."
Two of Baggett's toughest defeats came in extra innings during the past decade.
In 2003, Billy Marn, who batted .603 and was named state AA Player of the Year, helped the Tigers rally to tie their state quarterfinal against Potomac Falls. But the Tigers lost 5-4 in eight innings after failing to plate a run with no outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh.
The other disappointment came via a walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth of a 1-0 regional semifinal loss in 2008 at eventual state champion Powhatan. The 2011 team sent Baggett out in style, with a district tournament championship few expected after the Tigers struggled all season to score runs.
Baggett says he'll remember the people he worked with more than the wins and losses.
"I'm going to miss the kids and coaches," he said. "We had kids who worked hard and coaches who were here because they wanted to be part of the program: not just to move on to head coaching jobs.
"Jay Barbee (Baggett's assistant of nearly 20 years) is like a brother to me. He always had my back."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times