Three years ago, in May of 2014, after a quarter century of coaching college baseball at Lock Haven University Paul ‘Smokey’ Stover stepped into retirement At the time Stover had been coaching for over 40 years and felt there were things at home for him to do.
“It was a tough decision, but I needed to give my wife the time I’d never been able to give her before. I didn’t know how she put up with me all those years. Since then he’s watched his granddaughters play softball, played golf, and spent time during the winters helping out with the Keystone Little Leaguers. If he ever thought about coaching again he pretty much kept that to himself.
Then last summer he was approached about his interest in taking the South Williamsport High School baseball-coaching job after longtime Mountaineer coach Shawn Finn was not retained.
“People asked me to coach at South and I said no,” Stover said. “Then they asked me again and again and I said, ‘Why not?’ I get so bored after putting all those hours in with baseball during the winter I thought I would give it a shot. I didn’t know the history of what had gone on or anything like that. Anyways, I’m here and I’m enjoying the players. The kids are real nice.”
While Stover had coached high school baseball at Jersey Shore before beginning his long association at Lock Haven University, he has encountered differences between the college and high school experiences.
“The difference between college and high school, in college I may start out with 80 players and cut it down to about 26 kids. They all want to be there and when you say something it gets done. They work real hard and they want to achieve whatever goals they have set for themselves. The high school kids; it’s like, ‘Well we came to play baseball and if we are a few minutes late it is OK.’ I didn’t handle that too well and let’s just say we are all on time now.”
“These kids are really good kids. But at a small school like South, many of them play football and basketball so after the winter sports season is over you only have a few weeks to get them ready for baseball. At the beginning of the season they were learning as we went along each day. Obviously, the goal is for them to get better each week as we have moved through the season.”
“For the players it is different as you go from one coaching style to another, not that one is any better than the other — but they have to do it my way now. So some things and the way we wanted it done were new to them, but they seem to be having fun and that is the most important thing. We are playing schools that are a step above us in classification and there are no easy teams on the schedule, but I like it that way because the kids have to improve and get better as we move through the schedule.”
“Coming back to high school baseball I’ve found the talent and the coaches to be really good. The teams seem to be really well coached and I was pleased to see that. The level of baseball is pretty good and, although I haven’t seen all the teams, the level of play is pretty good. There is some good baseball in this area.”
As for the new pitch count rule adopted by the PIAA this season, Stover sees it as a good thing.
“The new pitch count rule really doesn’t affect me. I can tell when a pitcher’s mechanics start to break down whether he is at 60, 80 or 100 pitches and that is the time to get them out of the game. Some of our pitchers have been throwing since December and their arms are in pretty good shape. The others kids aren’t near that ready so we get them out at 40 or 50 pitches until we’ve had a chance to build up their arm strength. I think the pitch count rule is a good, especially for those coaches who come from a hitting or fielding background and may not be able to tell when a kid is breaking down. Some pitchers do get overused and I saw that at the college level a lot. When pitchers get tired, that’s when you begin to enter a potential danger area. So I think the rule is a good thing. Teams are going to have to use more pitchers so all the coaches now have to work to have enough pitchers ready to throw.”
“The bad weather we had at the beginning of the season backed things up a bit. We had some pitchers that were a little nervous early on and didn’t throw as well, but as a whole we have been playing pretty well. One thing we had to address, I am very aggressive swinging the bat and we had some players not taking that approach. Some of the kids like to look, look, look. I like to swing, swing, swing. But it has been slowly coming around. The fear of swinging and missing or striking out is disappearing. I want them to swing the bat and have no fear and enjoy the game.”
So while there is still some time for golf, pontoon boating on the river and helping out around the house, Stover’s afternoons are once again being spent on the baseball field. Boredom didn’t enter the conversation.