Leagues : : Story
Friday, September 17, 2010

Knee Operations Can't Stop Van Scoyoc

Jim Ecker        

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- It's hard to keep Jim Van Scoyoc away from a ballpark. Nearly impossible, in fact.

Van Scoyoc, a Hall of Fame coach in Iowa, underwent an operation that's called a "whole knee joint replacement" in June of 2008 where doctors relieved biting pain in his right knee by replacing damaged parts with titanium and plastic.

Van Scoyoc, 67, had the same operation done to his left knee this past August. Two years, two surgeries.

"Ooooh," Van Scoyoc said, discussing the procedure and pointing below his knee. "They saw this bone off at the top, and they drill a hole, and they hammer and thong and put glue in there.

"You out to see the operation. It's ugly," he said. "I saw one on TV last Thursday, and I'll never watch it again. The doctor told me I wouldn't want to watch it, and he was right."

Van Scoyoc may have been joking about the glue, but maybe not. Something is holding his knees together.

He's got scars on both knees, but his right knee is much better than it was before the surgery two years ago, and his left knee is improving. The pain had been excruciating before the operations, especially when he'd try to sleep at night.

"Last night was the first good night of sleep I've had in 5 1/2 weeks," he said Wednesday. "I got about 5 1/2 hours straight."

Van Scoyoc's latest operation took place on Aug. 6. A few weeks later, he resumed his duties as head coach of the PG Iowa Steel team in the Perfect Game Fall Wood Bat Scout League. And this weekend he'll be coaching his team in the Kernels Foundation Championship in Iowa.

He's got a good team and he's looking forward to the challenge of competing in the strong 40-team field.

"Are you kidding me? I get excited," he said before practice. "I really get into it. I'm just glad I haven't lost my temper."

Van Scoyoc has the reputation of being a "crusty, old-school" coach, but he cares deeply about his players and he cares deeply about the game.

"This, probably, is one of the two things that I think I'm capable of really making a difference in somebody's life," he said.

The other thing, he said, is woodworking, and the former industrial arts teacher has his own shop in the basement of his home in Norway.

Van Scoyoc won 12 state titles and compiled a 796-239 record during his years as the head coach at Norway High School from 1972 to 1990. They made a movie about Van Scoyoc and the Norway baseball program that was called "The Final Season," chronicling the events that led to the school's controversial closing after the 1991 academic year and their final, improbable state title under Van Scoyoc's successor and former assistant.

Van Scoyoc served as a pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers in their minor league system for several years, but he's mostly retired now. He gives private lessons at Perfect Game USA in Cedar Rapids and has a blast coaching high school kids in the Perfect Game leagues and tournaments.

"They've got some talent," he said. "It makes you feel really good when you see somebody actually apply what they learn in a ballgame. All of a sudden the success is there, and it's fun."

His players know they're being coached by a legend.

"It's obviously an honor," said David Yancey, an outfielder/pitcher who played for Cedar Rapids Kennedy's state championship team this summer. "He's always making us work hard, even if it's just a simple infield practice. Just go out there and work hard. That's one of the main things he's taught me."

This is Yancey's second year on Van Scoyoc's team, so he's gotten to know the crusty old coach and relax a little.

"He gets on you, but you know it's all in good fun and he's just trying to make you a better baseball player," Yancey said. "The stuff he says is kind of funny sometimes, once you get to know him."

Van Scoyoc talks about more than baseball with his players.

"We talk about how to deal with recruiting situations, we talk about how to deal with situations with players from other teams, game situations in how to professionally react," he said. "And we try to teach a lot about baseball's unwritten rules. They've never been exposed, in some instances, to some of these rules in baseball."

Some of those unwritten rules are tried-and-true: Don't swing at the first pitch if the batter ahead of you was just hit by a pitch, don't swing at the first pitch if the preceding batter was walked on four straight balls, don't swing on 3-and-0.

Van Scoyoc thinks he wrecked his knees by years of throwing batting practice, but he doesn't know for sure. He developed degenerative arthritis in both knees and it was painful. "The cartilage was all gone," he said.

Both knees have been fixed now. The left one is improving, but he might have to coach from the dugout in the Kernels Foundation tournament to limit swelling. The worst part is behind him, however, and he's already looking forward to coaching again next year for Perfect Game.

"I'm going to have to find two catchers," he said, looking ahead. "I'm actually thinking about next year. I've been thinking a lot about next year."

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