July 2007

If the Tigers Win...

Author: Paul deVere

High Stakes in Dixie Youth Baseball

It’s the night before the Hilton Head Dixie Youth Baseball minor league championship—that would be nine and 10-year-olds. The American Paint Tigers (12-3) and the Pinnacle Mortgage Phillies (12-2-1) are going to battle it out at Crossings Park. There is a great deal riding on this game for coaches Bryant Brigham, Pat Mason and Eric Rulin, but it has little to do with baseball and more to do with embarrassment.

The term “suit up” has taken on a whole new meaning for the Tigers’ coaching squad. If the Tigers win, the coaches have to walk through Harbour Town in dresses when the team goes for an end-of-season celebration (win or lose) on the sightseeing cruise ship, Vagabond. “The kids don’t care about anything else,” said Head Coach, Brigham.

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Tommy Lewis, one of the parents, even agreed to shave his head if the Tigers came out on top. “The kids refer to him as ‘Coach Lewis’ because he helps out at every game and, well, he’s a football coach,” Brigham explained. The team, it seems, would like to see a bald Coach Lewis.

“They brought this incentive thing to a whole new level. It started out with the dresses, then lipstick. The one girl on our team, we call her ‘Diamond,’ wanted me to wear a bikini. I told her that this coach was not wearing a bikini,” Brigham said, laughing. “I didn’t want this to get out of hand.”

Coaching any children’s sport is a very tough job, especially in those instances where advice comes hot and heavy from the “bleacher coaches.” Brigham says that is definitely not the case with Tiger parents. “They are all very supportive—always there to help out.”

They have been helping out since Brigham started coaching his son, now 10, in the Dixie Youth Pee Wee league for four-year-olds. His second son is now in the Small Fry league and a third son is three… “Coaching will be a lifetime commitment for me,” Brigham laughed. “They’re going to have to give me a preferred parking spot so I can make it up to the ball fields.”

Most of the 11 players on the Tigers team have been playing together and coached by Brigham since the Pee Wee league. “My philosophy is, I’m not there to win at all costs. I’m out there to let everyone have a good time and to teach the kids baseball,” said Brigham. “For most of these kids, I’m the only coach they’ve ever known. The greatest recognition you can get is if you can walk down a hall in school and have kids come up and say, ‘Hey coach, how you doing?’ or ‘Coach, how can I get on your team next year?’ To me that’s the greatest compliment you can get.”

Another very important element in the Tigers’ story is the team’s sponsor, American Painting and its owner, Dustin Wehrung. “Even though he doesn’t have kids playing, he shows up at all our games,” said Brigham. “He got us these really good bats and I broke one. We didn’t have time to send it back before our next game, so he just got us another one. They’re like $200. He’s always there for us. I think that says a great deal about our community.”

Bryant Brigham grew up playing baseball in North Carolina where his field was not much more than a cow pasture. “Had to watch where you were sliding,” Brigham joked. A few of his fellow players went on to the majors.

Brigham wants to pass on his love of the game to his three boys—his reason for coaching. “I’m at the shop [Island Tire] all week long. Sometimes I’ll work late, and the weekends are pretty much the only time I get to spend with my boys,” he said. “I want to spend as much time as I can with my kids.”

For Brigham, coaching is a win-win situation, no matter what the score.

Dixie Youth Baseball is a program of the Hilton Head Baseball Association. The program has produced two Dixie Youth World Series championship teams, in 1999 and 2001.

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