SIOUX CITY -- I am flashing back to the 1995 NAIA World Series, the first of three in a row hosted by Lewis and Clark Park in Sioux City.
And, the scene forever etched in memory unfolds minutes after the University of St. Francis from Joliet, Ill., has been eliminated from the tournament by an extra-inning loss to Bellevue University of suburban Omaha.
Allowing time for a few brief words with his players, I tracked down the incomparable Gordie Gillespie in the first-base dugout, helping his USF squad pick up their garbage.
In lieu of a four-day search for my notes, I can paraphrase the remarks of a coach who was "only'' a mere 69-year-old fellow, insisting that he had always told his players to "leave the world a better place than the way you found it.''
Straight out of Joliet, Ill., home of the state penitentiary, no less, it didn't matter that his team, just two years removed from a 1993 national title, had just lost a heartbreaker to the eventual champs of '95.
Gillespie, the consummate gentleman, cared far more about setting examples than he did about the gaudy number of wins he had already accumulated in a career unrivaled by any coach our country has ever known.
To say it was a privilege just to meet him would make this sound like a past-tense tribute, which it most happily is not.
You see, although Mr. Gillespie's 59th season as a college baseball coach came to an end last weekend in one of the NAIA's four-team "first-round national tournament'' events, he is still plugging away at the age of 85.
"God will retire me,'' Gordie told a reporter in 2006. "He'll tell me when it's time.''
I was reminded of this remarkable man while researching a story on the Sioux City Explorers' Derek Schermerhorn, a four-year starter at Wichita State, where Gene Stephenson, I was reminded, has had a pretty fair run. Matter of fact, as of today, Schermerhorn's old coach has 1,757 wins in 34 seasons (620 losses and three ties), which trails only one man in Division I college baseball history.
The leader, by the way, is former Cal State-Fullerton coach Augie Garrido, the head coach at Texas since 1997 and currently 1,806-818-6 in a 43rd season that gives him a nine-year advantage over Stephenson.
Then, I discovered that our old acquaintance, Gillespie, has them both beat, sitting at 1,893-952-1 after a loss last Saturday ended another nifty campaign of 41-14. And, he's done this in a job where so many ideals far more important than championships have almost always been the primary focus.
Keep in mind, too, these are merely the college baseball wins for a man whose career on the diamond has included 23 years at Lewis University and 10 at Ripon College before his 26 seasons at St. Francis.
Gillespie, you see, has also coached men's and women's basketball along with football. And, he was also quite successful on the gridiron, directing five state championship teams in 27 seasons at Joliet Catholic High School, where one of his running backs, Daniel Ruettiger, became an American icon as the central character in the motion picture "Rudy.''
With his basketball coaching marks and a 224-54-6 record as the Joliet Catholic football coach added to his baseball triumphs, this member of 16 different halls of fame has something like 2,402 wins to show for 107 seasons of coaching. Only four of the 11 times he fell shy of a .500 record was he more than a game shy of a break-even mark.
"Don't show emotion when you do something well.... or poorly,'' Gillespie is credited with preaching.
"Never quit learning; get better each day,'' is another of his favorites along with, "Always respect your opponent and your players; don't embarrass anyone.''
That loss here in 1995 almost seems a bit ironic in light of certain public perceptions, which is to say nothing of subsequent events.
After all, that Bellevue team that sidelined Gillespie's team was the first of the Bruins' 12 NAIA World Series contenders, all under Coach Mike Evans, whose highly competitive nature spawned more than a few detractors. Many others, it should be noted, lobbied for years to get Evans hired as the head coach at Nebraska.
So, the reviews, as they are for a significant percentage of people who tackle the often thankless business of coaching, were definitely mixed.
And, just in case you missed it, the 61-year-old Evans stepped down at Bellevue late last July after the Bruins were determined to have used an ineligible player for nearly all of their 2010 campaign. Second baseman Jon Reed, an Omaha native from Millard West High School, was the athlete in question, having allegedly failed to receive a proper transfer release from Sam Houston State.
And, Reed had definitely made a difference, batting a team-leading .492 to rank fourth nationally.
As a result, a Bellevue team that stood 35-7, winning 30 of its last 31 games, was denied a probable 13th NAIA World Series appearance and had all but two their wins officially declared forfeits. With the record revised to 2-40, Evans still sported a 22-year mark of 928-457-1. However, he did not bow out without kicking one last pile of dirt on home plate.
"The NAIA killed our program,'' Evans told the Omaha World-Herald. "There was never a doubt whether (Reed) was released (by his previous school).''