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Saturday Morning Quarterback
Oct 07, 2012 12:00 am
Final chapters in Hunt's book yet to be written
It probably wasn't the first time I met Woody Hunt but it is essentially my oldest memory of him, an incident Cumberland's longtime baseball coach no longer remembers himself.
On a Sunday afternoon in the mid-1980s, a Cumberland batter hit what old-timers call a Texas Leaguer into short center field against Middle Tennessee State at what would become Ernest L. Stockton Field a year or so later.
The MTSU outfielder dove for the ball and was credited by the base umpire with making the catch. Coaching at third base, Hunt thought the ball was trapped and made his feelings known in no uncertain terms.
Eventually, the umpire heard enough of Hunt's opinions and banished him from the game.
With no clubhouse or anyplace else on the premises to retreat to, Hunt spent the rest of the afternoon leaning against a riding mower parked outside the fence down the left-field line.
Here's how much things have changed in almost 30 years: That pressbox I watched the game from has long since been replaced. In fact, just about everything about the place has changed. Even home plate was dug up, auctioned off and replaced by a new dish. That spot where Hunt waited for the end of that long-ago game can no longer be seen from the current press box. It's view is blocked by the Jeanette C. Rudy Clubhouse.
The only constant on the corner of West Spring Street and South Tarver Avenue from 1985 to now is Hunt himself.
When Hunt came to Cumberland as an assistant to Mickey Englett in 1977, the baseball field consisted of a diamond, backstop and little else. By the mid-'80s, the school was transitioning from junior college to four-year status, a press box and concession stand were up, dugouts were in place and a small scoreboard stood above the right-field fence alongside West Spring.
Today, a mammoth scoreboard stands alongside South Tarver above the left-field fence. Hundreds of chairback seats [the third set of seats of the Hunt era] ring the backstop from dugout to dugout. A modern, comfortable pressbox with all the amenities stands behind the stands. There's even a souvenir shop on the ground floor. The clubhouse, which had a large locker room [considered Double-A level by a pro scout when it was built in the late '80s], laundry room, lounge and coach's office, has been expanded to include several offices and a trophy case for the spoils of success.
The facilities are just a large microcosm of the program Hunt has built. Though successful on the juco level under Englett, Hunt always looked to take the program to the next level - conference championship, region championship, World Series, national champion.
When the Bulldogs finally caught that elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in 2004, Hunt continued to look for new worlds to conquer. No. 1 wasn't high enough for this coach. Status quo is a four-letter word.
Someone once told me Woody Hunt must be a genius.
No doubt, Hunt has forgotten more baseball than most of us will ever know. But the secret of his success is his drive. Most coaches and leaders emphasize the importance of hard work, as does Hunt. But Ronald Hunt is driven to achieve that next level of success - whether it be another championship or another amenity added to the stadium which has born his name for nearly two decades now.
Along the way he has developed dozens of pro players. More importantly, just about everyone who has donned a Bulldog baseball uniform over the last three decades has learned first-hand about work ethic. After all, they either built the stadium and/or field themselves or worked to raise money to further the program. In addition to the dozens of players sent to the pros, there are those who are now doctors, police officers, high school principals, teachers and coaches [and that's just in Wilson County].
Baseball is a game of failure. In the pros, the best hitters fail seven times out of 10. But 2010 saw the Bulldogs go an unfathomable 58-9 on the way to their second national title.
CU has backslid the last couple of seasons since that title. Last spring's 32-26 record is the worst of his 31 seasons record-wise. The last time the Bulldogs were even close to such a mark, 33-25 in 2009, they followed with that spectacular '10 season. Looks like another world for Hunt to conquer.
Hunt has just written, with the help of CU songwriting professor Michael Kosser, a book detailing the program's rise to glory. If the coach still has the drive of the young man who was biding his time against that mower [and I strongly suspect he does], the pair will have to get together a few years from now. There will be new chapters to write.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952, ext. 17; or by email@example.com