When David Pierce coached a motley summer league team

It was a reference dated even to the summer of 1992, and I had no idea at the time that I was calling the future head coach of one of the best varsity baseball programs in the country.

But David Pierce’s unconventional delivery to the mound did indeed resemble Hall of Fame’s loose exit Feller, and Pierce’s players had already been kicked by the idea that he would sometimes throw a few pitches late in the game. a summer league game.

29 years ago, Pierce was a 29-year-old assistant coach at Episcopal High and a full-throttle Summer League coach. His current job is to lead the Texas Longhorns in the University World Series in Omaha, Neb., For the second time in the past four seasons.

The UT No.2, the remaining eight-team CWS seed, will face the Mississippi State No.7 at 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2. We were even thousands of miles away from doing ESPN The Ocho that summer at the Butler Sports Complex in the southwest of town, but you never would have known thanks to Pierce’s upbeat but still intense approach in training… a motley summer league team.

I was a left handed reliever at Sam Houston State looking for a summer night league in Houston while working in construction during the day at Bellaire, and Pierce stepped in to coach one of Butler’s few teams. as part of a college Stan Musial upstart league.

We wore green jerseys – the extent of my memory as to whether we had a team name. Years later, when I crossed paths with Pierce and reminded him of our Summer League adventures, he responded with a pleasant nod, “Oh, yeah, the Green Team.”

Andy Straub, longtime assistant baseball coach at Episcopal High, was our hard-line catcher who also played for Pierce at Episcopal. In what amounted to a 29-year-old reunion via My Bell (phone) last week, I asked Straub if we had a team name.

“In this league, I think the teams were happy with color,” Straub replied with a chuckle. “I don’t think we had anything on the front of our shirts, but at least we had numbers on the back.”

Straub enlisted the help of one of our infielder Greg Petru on the team name front.

“All I remember,” Petru offered, “is that we were green.”

The league was new to the area at the time, and a handful of college and pro scouts were in the stands on its first night. The second night was a different story. Right before the first pitch of our second game and as we prepared to enter the field, Pierce pointed to the empty bleachers except for a parent or two and maybe a lot girlfriend. too loyal fanning himself in the Houston heat.

“Do you all remember those scouts that were here?” Pierce asked (of course we did). “Well, they didn’t come back. So just have fun playing baseball and keep working on the things you need to work on to get better. “

Straub, Petru and I all wonder if there is any footage of our time together at Butler on those summer nights – mostly because of our now (more) famous trainer. Keeping in mind that it was 15 years before the iPhone was introduced.

“My parents might have taken pictures,” Petru said with a laugh, “but I really doubt they went to any of those games.”

Pierce’s roots in Houston run deeper than Brays Bayou. He was born in Houston, attended St. Pius X High School, then Wharton Junior College and the University of Houston, helping lead the Cougars to the 1985 NCAA tournament under coach Rolan Walton. .

Pierce was an assistant to Episcopal and head coach at St. Pius X, then at Dobie High. In the varsity ranks he was an assistant at UH under Rayner Noble in 2001-02, but it was his stint at Rice as an assistant under Wayne Graham from 2003-2011 that really propelled Pierce into the coaching ranks.

“One of the smartest coaches I’ve ever met,” said Pierce of the iconic Graham, who led the Owls to the 2003 national championship. “I had the ability to sit down and paying attention to the details and how to prioritize guys and prioritize winning. I always thought I was good enough to max guys out, but there were just things Coach Graham showed you that the others didn’t know.

With all due respect to Graham – and he was great as a coach of the Owls – Pierce had the characteristics of a top coach long before he started helping Graham. I mean, who conducts exit interviews for a bulky summer league team?

That’s exactly what Pierce did, however, and I vividly remember him pulling me aside after our last game.

“Listen, you have to strengthen your lower body if you want to continue playing this game,” said determined Pierce, carefully outlining a workout plan to develop what amounted to chicken thighs over a period of time. 20 years. skinny old left-hander of spring.

Pierce’s passion and personal attention to detail during those few minutes impressed me a lot – and I was not alone on that front.

“This is totally the character of Coach Pierce,” recalled Straub, who has remained close to his mentor over the decades. “He could walk past a batting cage and if a kid is in there he’s never seen one in his life, the coach is going to stop and watch and see if he can help. Something like, “Stand back and look at the ball a little deeper, and go the other way with it.” “

“This something I learned from him – try to help others whenever you can. He’s not only a great coach, he’s been a great mentor and friend.

At the same time, at the time, Pierce, who wasn’t exactly a towering figure measuring around 5ft 9in, was so unassuming, friendly, and funny that I honestly never imagined him taking the lead in the baseball program. most historic university in the state.

He made it to Texas with great success in a short period of time, just as he did when he won three straight Southland Conference titles in his first varsity head coach job at Sam Houston from 2012 to 2014. He then had Tulane in back-to-back NCAA tournaments from 2015 to 2016 before succeeding UT for reassigned legend Augie Garrido.

“A dream come true,” Pierce said when I visited him shortly after moving to Austin from New Orleans. “It’s been a lot of hard work, and my former players and coaches – these are the guys who made it possible.”

Straub, who knew Pierce much better from his early coaching years than I did, was a bit like me believing Pierce to seem overly approachable and generally upbeat and helpful even with players who weren’t going to help advance his career, to one day be in such a position of power.

“The thing with him – nothing really changed,” Straub said in awe. “Looking at him now on ESPN and his behavior with the players, he’s still the same great guy. Just because he’s in Texas, nothing has changed, and I think that’s great.

Straub recalled an amusing phone call as he entered his final year at Episcopal, allegedly from John Skeeters of the State of Sam Houston, another coaching icon of that time in the southeast Texas.

“There were hardly any cell phones back then, and he called my house,” Straub recalls with a laugh. “I said ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir’ and he could tell I was nervous. Finally he said, ‘Hey Straub, this is Coach Pierce, I’m just jerking off with you.’ “

Nearly two decades later, Straub was coaching Pierce’s son, Shea, at Episcopal High, and a certain mentor was regularly in the stands.

“I was walking up to the coach at first base, and coach Pierce was like, ‘Run over there, pick up your legs and run over there! I don’t want to see you walk! ‘ ”Straub said. “He was still giving it to me. “

Pierce, who undoubtedly ran for position in the summer of 1992, was the coach of one of the bases of the Green team when I arrived at home plate in a draw and with the winning point in third in end of final round. .

Knowing my limited punching abilities – the observant man who trains Pierce – he slipped the cavity out of me. His plan worked, and after the winning race, the Green team players and Pierce hugged each other in celebration – a moment I will always remember.

As if we had just won a College World Series game on a hot summer night at the Butler Sports Complex.

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