Saturday, November 07, 2015


On April 27, 2006, I penned the following entry which has the same name as Jimmy Dean's best known hit son.  Sometimes kids and events leave their mark on a coach/teacher. Johnny was one of those kids.

Another high school baseball season is drawing to a conclusion. I haven't been to a game this year. Our school's home games are played a considerable distance from campus and I have been unusually busy. If I could go to one high school game, it would be back at the scene of my first coaching job. Years ago, I took over the baseball program at Georgia Christian School in the village of Dasher, five miles down the road from Valdosta. We struggled from the outset but we improved with parental and community support and kids who wanted to play. In my third year, a beautiful baseball facility was constructed on our campus. Not coincidentally, it was the first season we enjoyed any success, the culmination of players who bought into what we were trying to do. There was a senior on that team named Johnny. To say he was a character doesn't do justice to the word but Johnny was one of the favorite kids I've ever coached and one of the toughest. Several weeks before we concluded our regular season, Johnny got hurt. He was catching against Worth Academy and there was a collision. It was the first game of a double header and Johnny played every inning of both games. When the day was over, his right hand, his throwing and dominant hitting hand, was swollen to the point of being almost round. X-rays confirmed the hand was broken, ending his senior campaign. As fate would have it, we qualified for the State Tournament for the first time in the history of GCS. Days before the opening round, Johnny approached me. If he obtained a doctor's note clearing him, would I let him play at State? There were two dynamics at work. The first was I knew how hard he had worked to make it to that level as a player, coming light years between his tenth and twelfth grade years. It would be heartless to say no. The second was I knew there was no way he had healed enough to get clearance, even if he had removed his own cast. It was easy to give consent. I knew it would never happen....but it did. The next day, Johnny brought me a doctor's note giving him a clean bill of health. I was shocked but Johnny said they took an x-ray. I spoke to our school president who gave me the thumbs up. So, Johnny's name was penciled into the lineup for the first State Tournament game GCS ever played, in right field to minimize the chance of re-injuring his hand. We were out of our league and got thumped but it was a terrific memory for Johnny and his fellow seniors in their final high school contest. I hated to see them go.

That summer, the kids filled me in on the Miraculous Healing of Johnny's Right Hand. Johnny told them he pulled a switch at the doctor's office. When the technician prepared to perform the x-ray, Johnny simply offered his left hand instead of the injured right one. Of course, it came out clean with the doctor finding no evidence of any fracture. As hard as it is to believe that he could pull it off, it was so brazen I could see him getting away with it. Perhaps the clinic was extremely busy at the time- I don't think there was any negligence on their part. If anyone would have been liable, it might have been me for not double-checking. As a player, I know exactly how he would have felt, to come so far and yet be denied the ultimate team goal. As a coach, you have to love the spirit of a kid who wants to win that badly. As an adult, I know that love of baseball cannot override sanity: the safety of the youngsters who play for me has to be of the utmost importance. But as a dreamer, don't you wish something mattered to you enough that you would do whatever it takes for one chance to fulfill your dream? Dreams die agonizingly slow deaths by neglect as we get older. I would never condone what Johnny did to simply put on his baseball uniform one more time. If the story is true and not simply another urban legend, (or rural legend in this case), he deceived a number of people, including me. But, sometimes, I wish I had the passion to pursue my outlandishly wild hopes and dreams one more time. The Bible is full of scriptures that give the believer hope in making big plans, as long as we consult the Chief Architect in charge of The Big And Crazy Dream Department. Give him a call. I guarantee He won't make you take an x-ray!

Applicable quote of the day:
"A catcher and his body are like an outlaw and his horse. He's got to ride that nag until it drops."
Johnny Bench/ Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame catcher

To see and hear Jimmy Dean sing Big Bad John, click below:

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at


Marian said...

Hi Coach Hawley, its me Marian and i would just love to say YOUR MY HERO!!! I dont know how i would of made it through this year without you. I was bombarded with so many obstacles this last year and God knows i would not of been able to make it without your great words of encouragement.
Thank You a lot,
Marian F.

chuck said...

Please understand that this is a true story - no urban myth. I still to this day, can't believe Johnny pulled it off. Most of the Seniors knew this at the time - Coach - sorry we had to pull the sheets over your eyes. This was without exception the most determined group of characters I've ever been associated with.

Steve Hawley said...

I can echo Chuck's assessment of his teammates/classmates/friends with an emphatic AMEN!

Jon said...

Our baseball record ended up being 12-2 the best in school history!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!