McCrabb: Baseball diamond renamed for Hamilton man who has dedicated his life to coaching kids

It’s easy for coaches of any sport, at any level, to get wrapped up in the importance of wins and losses.

They judge themselves based on that season’s winning percentage.

What some youth baseball coaches don’t realize is the seeds they plant on the dusty diamonds grow up to be productive citizens, regardless of how many errors they committed as youngsters.

Lindsey Cook, 37, who owns a catering business and operates a culinary school, often remembers what her father, Virgil Cook, who coached her T-Ball and softball teams at Joyce Park in Hamilton, taught her, words spoken years ago when her uniform was covered in dirt and grass stains.

Those hours spent at the ballpark had nothing to do with hitting the cut-off man, moving the runner over or the proper way to turn a double play.

She was taught life lessons.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

“When I’m having a bad day,” she said, “I hear my dad’s voice. He’s telling me, ‘Just keep going, keep doing the best that you can.’ My sisters would tell you the same thing about our dad.”

The three Cook girls, Denise Thomas, 38, Sarah Hahn, 35, and Lindsey, all coached by their father, and hundreds of other players have been influenced by Virgil Cook.

Cook, 66, a 1973 Garfield High School graduate, has coached T-Ball, softball and now Minor League baseball for 30 years, and on Thursday night, he was surprised when Diamond 9 at Joyce Park was renamed in his honor.

“I had no idea,” Cook said through tears after the ceremony that was attended by his family, friends and former players. He was told it was a coaches meeting.

Lindsey Cook said the renaming shows her father “what is his legacy. Just remind him how important he is. Like most volunteers, he doesn’t do this for the recognition.”

Ben Davidson, president of the Lindenwald Baseball and Softball Association, said Cook possesses a “passion for the league and the game.”

He started coaching in 1986 when his oldest daughter, Denise, played T-Ball. He and his wife of 43 years, Debi, have three daughters and nine grandchildren. He has coached them all and is coaching a grandson’s Minor League team.

“Ran out of grandkids playing T-Ball,” he said with a laugh.

But he’s still loves the game of baseball. Growing up in Hamilton in the 1960s, Cook and his four brothers and two sisters played baseball with the neighborhood kids. They walked to the nearby park, split up into teams and played until it was too dark.

They had a few wooden bats held together by nails and one worn out baseball. When they “knocked the cover off” the baseball, they took it home and sewed back its stitches, a trick taught by their grandmother, a seamstress.

Baseballs now aren’t in short supply. In fact, when Cook coached T-Ball, he gave players a baseball to take home and practice. At the beginning of every season, he had three goals: Teach the 4-5 year-old players how to throw, hit and catch, in that order.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

“Throwing is the hardest part,” he explained.

Then, without hesitation, he added: “Well that and what hand to put the glove on.”

There is a shortage today of volunteer coaches and underpaid umpires. Cook blames overzealous parents.

“Too critical of their kids and the refs,” he said. “They overreact to situations and it’s not worth arguing.”

Last season, Cook’s team was sponsored by Hill’s Properties, owned by his daughter, Sarah. Her daughter, Vivian, was permitted to pick the team colors.

Pink, of course.

Now taking the field the Pink Panthers.

When Cook isn’t at the park, either coaching or picking up litter, he can be found tending to his backyard garden. He suffered back and neck injuries many years ago, has had five spinal surgeries and calls being outside “distraction therapy.”

He’s most at home on the diamond.

“He likes to teach,” Lindsey said when asked why her father has coached for nearly half his life. “He likes teaching and he thinks athletics is the best way to do it.”

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