Yoakum's baseball coach retires after 30 seasons
May 22, 2010 at 12:22 a.m.
YOAKUM - Jace Wood remembers when coaching baseball wasn't a popular choice.
"Back in the day coaching baseball was when you lost a flip between track and baseball," Wood said. "A lot of coaches got stuck with baseball and that's never been the case in Yoakum."
Wood coached baseball in Yoakum for 30 years, the last 28 as the head coach.
But Wood's tenure came to an end with the Bulldogs' Class 3A area playoff series loss to Needville.
Wood will stop coaching although he plans to continue his freshman English teaching duties in the upcoming school year.
Wood, who also coached football, said the decision was a personal one and in his typical style, he made it without much fanfare.
"It's just the right time," Wood said.
Wood came to Yoakum after coaching for a year in Harlingen.
He intended to work his way back to Plano, where he went to high school and played on the baseball team that advanced to the state tournament.
But Wood enjoyed coaching in Yoakum so much that he stayed.
"This is just a great place," Wood said. "The kids are great. The families are great. The town's great. They're hard-working kids. They're kind of blue-collar kids and they're raised right. There was just no reason to leave."
Wood had a 488-266 record that included state tournament appearances in 2000 and 2005.
He coached more than 20 players who played at the college level, including Ryan Wagner, who went on to pitch in the major leagues.
"The games kind of run together, but there are so many moments that just stand out," Wood said. "Grand slams to win the game, great diving catches. Baseball to me is truly the most team sport. You can have a dominant pitcher, but you still have to have people backing him up. You can't rely on just one guy making the team. It's just a great game."
Wood knows he was second guessed through the years, but understood it was part of the game.
"I second guess myself a whole lot," Wood said. "I've had some fantastic assistant coaches. A lot of the decisions I made were made after a discussion with assistant coaches that I put a lot of faith in. I've been very lucky in that every assistant I've had come through here has always loved baseball."
Tim Blakeney has been Wood's assistant at Yoakum for the past 14 years and never considered looking for another job.
"He's not afraid to take chances and he's one of the hardest-working coaches I've ever been around," Blakeney said. "We're always prepared. We go over every possible situation before it comes up.
"We both firmly believe you can't hold a kid accountable for something unless you've covered it first. We make sure we cover every situation in practice with everything that could possibly happen. I always felt like our kids were as prepared as they possibly could. Our goal as coaches was to make sure our team out-worked every team we played."
Wood was especially pleased with this season's team, which made the playoffs after starting District 28-3A with a 1-4 record.
"I'm so proud of these guys," he said. "I mean 1-4 in district. A lot of teams would have packed it up looking for the end of the season. These guys kept competing and battling and ended up 5-1 with a tie with Gonzales and keep fighting and win the first playoff round and competing against a good Needville team."
Wood knows it will feel strange not being on the field next season.
"The part I'm going to miss is coaching third," Wood said. "You've got the best seat in the house. Waiting for the big gapper with a runner on first, or go first to third, and whether you send this guy on second base. I'm going to miss it."
Wood's success has made the Yoakum baseball job one of the most desirable in the state.
The position has been posted for less than a week and the school district has already received nearly 30 applications.
"I was a bit surprised about Jace," said Hallettsville coach Shorty Cook, who played for Wood at Yoakum, "I thought he would hang on for a little while longer. He's a great baseball coach and even better man."