Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chris Kay interviews former VT manager Chuck Hartman

This interview doesn't need much of an introduction. Chuck Hartman is a member of the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame and could chat you to death. He's one of baseball's all time great characters and a true legend. If you're interested in more by Chris Kay, check out his blog, We Talkin Bout Practice here and his archive of posts at DC Sports Plus here. If you're interested in more about Chuck Hartman, check out his bio here and an article written by Virginia Tech's Sports Information Director, Dave Smith, here.

Chuck Hartman is well known when it comes to [Blacksburg]. The former Virginia Tech head baseball coach has 1,424 wins under his belt which ranks him tied for 4th all time in college baseball history. Hartman’s 47 year coaching history involved only two stops: High Point College and Virginia Tech. The first 19 years of his coaching career were at High Point College (now known as High Point University). The High Point team had eight wins in the previous three years, but with Coach Hartman at the helm they averaged 25 wins a year over a 19 year stretch and achieved 10 Carolinas Conference Championships. After a successful stop at High Point, Hartman moved on to Virginia Tech in 1979. For 28 years with the Hokies, he would amass over 900 wins including the special 1000th career win which occurred in 1992 versus in-state opponent Liberty. Like at High Point, Coach Hartman had great success winning three Atlantic-10 Tournament Championships, one Metro Tournament Championship, and sharing regular season championships in both the Metro and Big East regular seasons. In 2004, Chuck Hartman received the highest honors a collegiate coach could receive when he was voted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Chris had the chance to sit down with this Hall of Fame coach and what is seen is a selection from the interview that took place.

Q: Can you tell me about some of your early days of baseball as a player and early coach?
A: Well as a player, I came up in a high school that had very very good baseball. In fact, won 9 out of 10 state championships. I happened to be a part of the club that didn’t. As a sophomore I got cut. And then later as a senior when we won the state championship I was all-state, and captain of the team and ended up going to North Carolina and having an ok career down there. Thought I was good as a sophomore and then they started pitching me a little tougher (laughs).

Q: When did you know that you wanted to get into coaching?
A: I had it kind of in the back of my mind. My dad had coached [a] legion team. I had to play for him one season. In fact, I made a couple errors one day and we were on the bench and I was about 14 or 15 years old, tears running down my cheeks cause the fans were hollering to put this other kid in. You only play him cause you’re the coach’s son! And I wasn’t mature enough to handle that. He said, “Are you a quitter?” I said, “No, I’m not a quitter.” He said, “Well get your little hiney back on there out on the field.” I wavered a little bit my freshman year of college. At one time I thought a little bit about going into the FBI, but then I changed my sophomore year and from then on I wanted to be a coach.

Q: Did you ever expect coaching for 47 years?
A: (Laughs) No, no, no. No, I never thought it would be that long. I just got real real lucky, fortunate or whatever. It was in January and it was High Point College at the time and now it’s (High Point) University. They were looking for, believe it or not, an assistant tennis coach and an assistant basketball coach and a teacher. I was in the middle of grad school… So, they came in. In fact the president of the school and the athletic director of the school interviewed me. They caught me down in the gym and interviewed me in the dressing room. So they said they would be back in touch with me. I went back to my room and wasn’t thirty minutes they knocked on the door and said, “The job is yours.” And I said, “Well, I’ve never seen the place. I got to come up.” It ended up I coached tennis the first year. I didn’t know anything about tennis. I gave them a can of balls, wrote out the lineup, and got out of the way and sat around and drank water while they were playing. Gave a little pep talk every once in a while. (Laughs) In fact we played for the conference championship. In basketball, I was the recruiter for three years. The second year I was there he told me he wanted me to give up tennis and wanted me to be the assistant baseball and assistant basketball. So, that’s the way that year started off. And half way through the season the head coach at High Point resigned, and I became the interim. In two-and-a-half years I had become the year coach. (Thinks) I was 26 years old. I had become the head coach at High Point College. Oh, they were horrible. The field was bad, but I loved baseball... Having played baseball at (North) Carolina, and I loved baseball. We started working. Of course we did a lot of the work on the field, but then we started recruiting some players. We had very limited. In fact, we had no scholarships to start with… They had won a total of eight games in three years. My first captain came to me and told me we really appreciate the work you’re putting in, and you’re energetic and we’re having a lot of fun playing for you, but we can’t compete against those other teams. So right then we gotta get rid of this losing attitude. 5 years later we won the conference championships and we ended up winning 10 conference championships before I left…

Q: Coach Hughes is in the process of rebuilding the Hokies. What kind of advice can you give him because you did the same thing with High Point College?
A: Well, it sometimes becomes a slow process. You got to get good players let’s face it. I’ve got a little slogan I use. A mule never won The Kentucky Derby. You got to have horses. I still believe that. Now, you have to coach those horses just like those guys have to train those horses, but you can’t train a mule. He can only go so far. You know you got to continue to get good players. It’s a real difficult league to say the least. It’s one of the better leagues. It comes down to recruiting. I think this is a great place. The improvements ya’ll have made in the ball park. It’s got to help in the recruiting…

Q: You and Johnny Oates are the only two baseball retired numbers in Virginia Tech history. Can you tell me your favorite Oates memory?
A: Yea I do. We were playing here, and I can’t remember who we were playing, but it was a Sunday and we always had devotionals down in the bullpen after we took batting practice. We went into the bullpen and it was optional. Johnny had came down for that weekend. I had asked him if he would do our devotion. He was very religious, really religious. Lived it. His wife came down to the bullpen. We were getting ready to assemble. She said she didn’t think he (Oates) was going to be able to make it. He was sick. He was still taking all that chemo treatment and everything. Then he waved his arm, and he was coming down. He came down and spoke to us. He cried like a baby. After it when I talked to him about that. He said that it was one of the most prominent times of his career. Playing for all those teams and managing two different clubs. He said, “That was a moment I will take to my grave.” It was a very emotional day. We were all out there crying.

One note-this may end up being posted at Planet Blacksburg. Wanted to make sure to give them props just in case it does.

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