HEBRON – Jeff Baire played shortstop on two state tournament teams in Lakewood under the legendary Don Thorp.
He later became head baseball coach himself at Weirton, West Virginia Madonna, and took her to two state championships.
“We happened to be nicknamed Dons, so we’re talking about playing Don Ball,” said Baire. “So now it’s ‘Don Ball’ and then it was ‘Don Ball’. It remains true to me today what he taught me. I had the ability, but to play for him, the game is my focus Just the way he did things helped me mature. “
A 1989 graduate of Lakewood, Baire was one of numerous coaches, ex-coaches, and players who appeared at a reception in the high school cafeteria on Friday for Thorp, who aged 77 in retiring, everyone with the Lancers. He led Lakewood Baseball to a record 1,011-335-3 (0.751 win percentage) with state titles in 1993, 1994 and 2005 and five other semi-finals in the state.
Health is declining
Thorp’s general health was good through 2019. He had to overcome three strokes and open heart surgery to remove a blood clot. He also had to deal with the loss of his beloved wife, Mary Ann, about six months ago. Her 50th wedding anniversary would have been in July.
“The time has come. I just can’t do it physically,” he said on Friday. “I’ve had this conversation with myself many, many times. Everyone talks about all the wins, but I remember the losses too, and the loss of Mary Ann is by far the greatest loss I’ve ever had Rocks. “
Thorp started out in Hebron as a minor league coach. “The first time I applied to coach Lakewood (baseball), I was turned down,” he said. “I applied again two years later and got it.” He was also college football assistant and chief basketball coach, where he won over 200 games and was inducted into the District 11 Hall of Fame.
But baseball was where he embarked on an unprecedented path with the Lancers from 1973 onwards. He won 26 titles in three leagues (Licking County, Mid-State, and Buckeye Athletic Conference), 14 district championships, and eight regional titles. He was five-time State Coach of the Year and Lakewood won five state election titles. Thorp was 12-time Central District Coach of the Year and was inducted into the Ohio Baseball Coaches of Hall 27 years ago in 1994.
John Cannizzaro, still head coach at Newark Catholic and with numerous state titles, and Heath’s retired Dave Klontz with two state championships attended the reception on Friday. Fred Heatherington, in his 33rd year as head coach at Steubenville; and Tim Saunders, who recently retired after 33 years at Dublin Coffman. Thorp’s brother-in-law, Rod Lindsey, was a longtime baseball coach at River View.
“I read in a book that he has already won 500 and here I was in my third season when I faced him in the Regionalliga in Athens,” recalled Heatherington. “That was one of his best teams in 1992 and we managed to beat them. Well, he avenges Wand, ‘Lakewood beats Steubenville.’ I had to sit there the whole time and watch it. He was a great competitor. “
Current Assistant to the Lancers, Chuck Davis, a 1996 graduate, started his sophomore year on the 1994 state titles team in the Right Field. The Lancers took up their trainer’s battle.
“We lost eight runs to Steubenville in the regional final in the first inning and that was on the hill with our ace Scott Cummins,” recalled Davis. “Damian Abbott, who relied on the curveball, slowed them down and gave us time to catch up.” The Lancers won 16:14 in a walk-off grand slam.
The 1993 state title team relied more on Small Ball, including Jason Slack’s home theft in the state semi-finals and his game-winning squeeze Bunt in the final. Thorp taught them how to win in different ways.
Saunders, who won 589 games, including a state title with Coffman, called Thorp a mainstay of baseball in the Central District and Ohio for many, many years. He was a mentor to many and you could easily learn from him by watching his way of watching teams played. “
Lots of assistants
Cannizzaro also assisted Thorp for a few seasons, and various assistants, many of whom played for Thorp, attended the festivities on Friday. Thorp’s son Jerry has been by his side for 29 years. Dave Parkhill was a longtime assistant. There was Jay Davisson who led Lakewood to an LCL title in the late 1970s and was drafted by the Phillies. Mike Mohler. Andy Bowman, Rob Englert. Jack DeBord. Joe Joe Lyons.
In terms of intensity, Davis said Thorp has been relaxed in recent years compared to the 1990s. “It was ten times as bad back then,” he said. “He was very intense and very dedicated. I remember he took us to practice after a double header and we had to pull our cars around for the lights so we could see the batting cage. He was trying to make the players so competitive.” as he was and he could get a lot out of the children. “
Craig Lee, who has been an assistant since 2015 and also played for Thorp, will remember him for his jokes. “And the hard stuff,” said Lee. “He took losses hard. He didn’t sleep at night when we lost. I played for him and trained for him and he expected as much from you as a coach as he did from a player.
“Because of what he taught me about prep, I was prepared for my exams and because of him, I did better in college,” Lee added. “I probably wouldn’t have graduated if it hadn’t been for him and Andy Bowman.”
When Thorp made his 1,000th birthday in Northridge. Having achieved victory that season, many came from near and far to congratulate him. That was how much influence he had.
More than a trainer
“He has been a teacher, coach and mentor to thousands in Lakewood,” said Lancers alum and current headmaster Kevin Krier. “All of those wins on that banner are not really what he is about. What made coach Thorp so special was for every day, for 48 years, that he taught people to be respectful of achieving their goals to dedicate and take responsibility for what you do in this field. “
At the reception, Thorp was honored by proclamations from the Mayor of Hebron, a district commissioner, and a trustee of the community. But the best was yet to come.
Before Friday’s football game with Newark Catholic, Lakewood’s baseball field was dedicated to Thorp and his wife. It is hereby known as Don and Mary Ann Thorp Field.
“It will be an honor to see her name next to mine in the field,” he said. “Tonight is not about me. It’s about her and the players. She did everything for me. She drove our bus, fed the players, weeded the field. She even practiced a few times on her own. She was the toughest person. ” I’ve ever met Even when she ended up suffering, she never complained about the pain once. “
Twitter: @ noz75