Chuck Barrett shouldn’t have cared about my triple.
It was the summer of 1980 and I was a scrawny first grader on a little league baseball team. I was high on self-expectations, but fairly low on talent. I had been struggling all summer on a team that Barrett was helping coach alongside fellow Troy Junior High School teachers Greg Hillman and John Maurer.
In one of the last games we played that season, toward the very end of a summer filled with flailing strikeouts and frustrated tears, I managed to get ahold of a pitch that I sent screaming into the outfield. It was probably as much a matter of divine providence or dumb luck as it was any modicum of athletic ability, but that didn’t bother me at the time. I remember rounding the bases with equal measures of joy and relief, ending up on third base with a triple.
It would be the biggest — and, truthfully, one of the only — hits of my little league career before I gave up the sport just a few years later.
Chuck Barrett shouldn’t have cared about my monumental childhood moment.
As an assistant football coach and junior varsity baseball coach at Troy High School — he would add varsity boys golf coach to his impressive coaching legacy later in his career — Barrett saw Troy’s finest athletes on a regular basis. During his career coaching baseball, he would see countless future college players — along with a future Major League Baseball pitcher — come through Troy’s system.
He shouldn’t have cared about one kid with absolutely zero athletic future getting a lucky hit.
But he did.
When we went back onto the field in the top of the next inning — I assumed my rightful place in rightfield, the one place I could do the least amount of harm to the team — I remember Barrett walking up and kneeling down in front of me, so he could look me right in the eye.
For some reason, I remember his nose being badly sunburned, probably from spending his summer coaching not only our team, but working with his high school teams. It’s amazing the small details you can remember more than three decades later when you experience a truly life-changing moment.
“Man David, you really ripped that one!” Barrett said to me, almost as excited as I was. By his demeanor, you would have thought I had just won our team the World Series. “You have really been practicing, haven’t you? That was great! Keep it up!”
Chuck Barrett shouldn’t have cared about my triple — but he did. That’s because Chuck Barrett truly cared about each and every one of the hundreds of kids he coached and the thousands of kids he taught at Troy Junior High School and, later, Troy High School.
From the worst player on the team to the Division I college prospect, every kid mattered on the playing field. From the class valedictorian to the kid who was struggling just to graduate, he put his heart and soul into his teaching every single student every single day. Barrett didn’t play favorites — he truly loved every young person that came through his program or his classroom.
Which may be why it hurt so much last night when I learned Barrett — who was always Mr. Barrett to me, even as I entered adulthood — passed away at the age of 69. Like the thousands of others who came into contact with him, I will never forget the man who always made me feel like I was the only student who mattered to him — even though I knew, deep down, he made every student and every player feel that same way.
I would be fortunate enough to have Mr. Barrett twice as a teacher during my scholastic career — once in the eighth grade for American history and again as a senior in high school for an international relations class. Even though I wasn’t on any of the teams he coached, Barrett knew of my love for sports and would always take the time to stop me in the hallway or talk to me before class about the hot sports topics of the day.
After I went to college and returned home to take over as sports editor for the newspaper, our friendship continued to grow. I would meet with him weekly to eat lunch in his classroom and talk sports. One time, he surprised me with military rations — a Meal Ready to Eat — for lunch. We ended up spending that day talking about his service in the United States Army, which included winning the Bronze Star while serving a tour in Vietnam.
Every time I saw Mr. Barrett around town, he was quick to greet me with his sly grin — which I’m sure every student who ever had him remembers — and talk to me about my most recent stories in the newspaper. He always told me he loved my writing, because, “I can actually hear your voice when I’m reading your columns.”
God, how I wish I could hear his voice just one more time.
Mr. Barrett was an outstanding coach and teacher — but an even better person. I’ll never forget him — if for no other reason than he cared when he had every reason not to.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong