Archives – old and new – help tell the story of Ronnie Coker

There are a lot of reasons why, but old baseball scorebooks are something that I hang on to. They are from which I played, coached, or covered. From Little League to high school to minor league, even semi-pro games I once played when I refused to believe I was too old to give it up.

It’s not enough to say that these are stories of a game – a mini-history you might say — played out on two pages of a spiral notebook. If that’s all they were, that would certainly be enough.

But what these scorebooks represent to me – and I have more than 40 years worth — is much more than that.

They are treasures.

Every time I look at one, it brings back a memory. Something that might be long since forgotten or something I remember like yesterday.

So when I found out that Ronnie Coker had passed away this week, I went straight to my old, dusty scorebooks. He was known for many accomplishments – a successful coach, a leader in high school athletics, and lately, a powerful force in the lives of the people he loved and for people he had never met.

I was fortunate to know Coker in three of his “lives,” all three thankfully still accessible in one way or another.

The old scorebooks reminded me of what I already knew; he was a tough out for Minden’s American Legion team in the summer of 1982. He was a really good player surrounded by two really great players, but you never could afford to look past Coker. In one game, he came to the plate five times against us and reached base all five times. In another, he had a two-run single in the eighth inning and in another he had a sacrifice bunt to set up the go-ahead run.

Whatever he needed to do.

I remember Coker being a part of one of the most storied games in local state championship history – one ended by a two-out, eighth inning, walk off three-run home run to give Minden a win over Catholic High.

What I didn’t remember was that he was the losing pitcher in one of the most incredible games I have still ever seen. Minden’s two best players were gone (one was the catcher) and so the team I coached stole 18 bases. But even with that, we still couldn’t put Minden away as the game moved to the 13th inning. Being the bulldog he was, took the ball after playing in the field for 12 innings and went to the mound. We ended up winning on a single by one of my players whose life, sadly, also ended way too soon.

The next year, he was playing semi-pro ball and there in another old scorebook it was shown that he was the starting pitcher against the team on which I was playing. All I could manage was a fly out and ground out against him, so I bunted the third time up. At least I did something.

When I became a sportswriter and he became a coach (at Parkway), the first article my search engine took me to was dated April 30, 1993. It was a feature I wrote about how the Panthers were preparing to open the playoffs. It was a story about motivation; how Coker had taken the team’s best catcher and made him into a pitcher and how he had decided to play four freshmen among his top players.

“The biggest thing we have is leadership,” Coke said in the feature. “We really don’t have the greatest offense or defense around. But for some reason they don’t give in.”

But for some reason they don’t give in. Little did I realize how those words would have an impact 30 years later.

And then there is the modern way of archiving – the cell phone.

One day last summer, I was sitting in the Querbes parking lot waiting to cover a golf event and Coker was a-calling me back. Trying to casually let him know that this would be quick, I began by saying I only had a couple of questions about the quantum leap improvements that have been made over the years to local high school baseball fields.

The conversation lasted 17 minutes.

Once Ronnie got started, you couldn’t stop him. Listening to that conversation, it was evident of the passion in his voice, even though he had been stricken with cancer a couple years earlier. He had thoughts on what had been done and thoughts about what needed to be done and wanted to share them with me.

Also on my phone, I also checked last text I ever received from him. It was about a project for his foundation and he was wanting to drum up interest to show what was being accomplished by young athletes – and to young athletes.

Just like he did with thousands of other people he knew, he ended it with “WTD.”

Win The Day.

That was his signature, in more ways than one. It was how he played the game, it was how he coached the game and, until he couldn’t do it anymore, it’s how he lived his life.

He had 21,540 days to win on this Earth. Ronnie Coker gave every one of them his best shot.

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