The silver screen turned it mainstream. Waxahachie baseball players, parents and alumni lived it.
How can you not be romantic about baseball?
Though it wasn't spoken by Brad Pitt Wednesday night at the Waxahachie Civic Center, the some 250 in attendance for the annual Waxahachie RBI Club First Pitch Dinner were treated to an exceptional Valentine's Day dinner and program. Pitt famously posed the question to a fictional colleague when he played the role of Oakland Athletics general manager, Billy Beane, in the Hollywood production, "Money Ball."
On Wednesday, though, University of Oklahoma head baseball coach Skip Johnson stole the spotlight, as he served as the guest speaker at the fundraising event. Johnson spent 16 years at Navarro College and also held a stint as the pitching coach at the University of Texas before being named the head coach of the Sooners last spring.
Waxahachie head baseball coach Tracy Wood, who is entering his 11th season as the Indians' skipper, introduced Johnson. Wood recalled his time learning from Johnson while the latter was coaching at Navarro College.
"In the era of summer league coaches getting rich off of lessons and showcases, Skip could have very well of gotten rich had he not of given so many lessons for free," explained Wood of Johnson's love for the game and his immense care for ballplayers.
Wood recalled a recent trip that he and special assistant Jim Miller took to Norman to visit Johnson and the Sooners. Wood said, "he has hasn't changed a bit."
Johnson humbly thanked Wood for the introduction and then recalled frequently watching the Waxahachie baseball program when he was an assistant coach at Navarro.
"The name on the front of their jersey was more important than the name on the back of their jersey," Johnson said. He described the players all shining their cleats before games and cinching their pants to the same height during the late 1980s and early 90s.
"If anyone tells you this game is about wins and losses, they're lying. This game is about relationships and the relationships you build," Johnson said.
"[...] If I told you that you could win every game, would ya," Johnson asked a few times as a few more feeble hands shot up. He also asked the same question to the parents.
Johnson then told a figurative story of a player taking a pitch in a 0-2 count and striking out. After the game, the player and his parents went out to eat and he was asked why he took the pitch.
"Because coach gave me the take sign," the player said.
"The take sign," asked the father. "What do you mean he gave you the take sign?!"
Johnson explained that the parent has to realize that the bigger-picture goal might not have been to take a hack in that at-bat for several reasons.
"[A ball player] has to realize that you are part of a bigger plan and a higher plan because you are trying to win a state championship. We have to take every game one pitch at a time. Sometimes baseball is not fair, and I'm living proof of it," Johnson said. "[...] Every player has a role, and if you aren't in the game that day, then you have to know your role."
Johnson then spoke to the student-athletes in attendance about courage, keeping a one-pitch mindset, and focusing on the now, not the what-if or what might come down the road. He preached that ballplayers have to remain locked in every day, at every practice and on every pitch.
"The game is played in pitches. It is played in moments," Johnson said.
He then challenged each class of Indians in attendance to leave a mark on the younger ballplayers.
Johnson finished by asking the same question he began with.
"Do you really want to win every game? Because you can. If you're committed to it," he said.
Wood followed by reminding the fathers in attendance that "this doesn't count as a date. You know that right?"
Senior first baseman Ryan Allen then issued the senior challenge. He asked the younger players to treat each other like family because "over the next few months you'll see these guys more than your actual family." Allen also challenged them to accept responsibility, push each other and to enjoy their time as Indian baseball players.
He also thanked the coaches, despite the"meet [Wood] at the front gate" texts or notes on the dry-erase board that read "conditioning with coach Miller." He thanked parents, Waxahachie ISD, baseball alumni and God.
Oh, and the Mott's for regularly feeding the guys.
Wood concluded the program by recognizing the "elephant in the room." The Indians graduated 15 seniors last May, which included a district pitcher of the year in Levi David and defensive player of the year, Trey Thompson. That team won 28 games and advanced to the third round of the 5A playoffs.
"I don't know how you're made, but it excites me when people doubt us. And I think some people are going to doubt us," Wood said.
"[...] I just feel blessed to be doing this. I think our players are lucky to be where we are. I think if you look around this room and all of the people who are here, it's obvious we are in a really special place."
He added, "Come see. These guys aren't afraid. They are ready to step up. Don't doubt them. Just come watch them."