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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Remembering Coach Walsh

Jerry Ford        
Photo: Harvard Athletics

The entire sport of baseball, and especially at the college level, lost one of its greatest ambassadors this week. Joe Walsh died on Tuesday of an apparent heart attack. Joe was 58 years old and had been the Head Coach at Harvard the last 17 years. Joe was a family man leaving behind his wife and four daughters, as this loss is heavily felt throughout the baseball world. I’ve been so lucky to have met so many good people through Perfect Game, but I was extremely lucky to have known Joe Walsh.

Joe Walsh coached for over 30 years. He did it with class. Not once would he leave the impression he was better than the next guy. He knew how to have fun, and more importantly, he knew how to create fun for everyone around him.

Even though I had met Joe a few years earlier, I first got to know him well when Perfect Game started doing events in the Northeast. Those events, the Northeast Top Prospect Showcases, were held in Wareham, Mass. at the time. Former PG scout and current Red Sox scout Tom Battista set it all up with John Wilde, who ran the Wareham Gatemen club in the prestigious Cape Cod League.

John Wilde passed away a few years ago after a long battle with cancer. John Wilde and Joe Walsh were great friends, and two of the nicest men I’ve ever met. Current Yankees scout Matt Hyde was Joe’s assistant back then and I will never forget the days we all spent in the press box in Wareham. I truly enjoyed those events more than any other. It seems like just yesterday that these two legendary baseball figures were telling stories in that press box.

Being a relative hick from Iowa, I still felt very comfortable around both John and Joe. These were real people that loved the game of baseball. They had a way of making me feel much more important than what I was. This developed into a friendship that never ended.

Joe had a smile and twinkle in his eye that would make you feel happy. He loved baseball as much as anyone I’ve ever known, and over the years he attended Perfect Game events from coast-to-coast. I last saw him at the WWBA tournaments in Georgia a couple weeks ago. A couple years ago he even brought his daughter Katie to help my wife work the gate. Katie was very likeable, no surprise there.  She was Joe’s daughter.

I think it was 2005 when a hurricane dumped close to 30 inches of rain in Georgia during our big July tournaments. This was perhaps the toughest few weeks we’ve ever had at Perfect Game. Some people made our lives miserable and tempers flared as we worked around the clock. I guess some thought we were responsible for the daily downpours.

I still remember the last day of the 17u tournament: While we were getting ready for the championship game Joe passed me at the park, didn’t say a word, he had a big grin on his face and his body was twitching uncontrollably from holding back laughter. For some reason – I think it was simply the silly look on his face – I started laughing out loud. We looked at each other and laughed. No one said a word, because it wasn’t necessary. He got me laughing for the first time in weeks. That really felt good. Thanks Joe!

Joe was a great evaluator of talent. He could have been a perennial College World Series contender at most big D-I programs. However, Joe was a true Harvard man and so very proud of the University. Recruiting is a different ball game at Harvard, just as it is at all Ivy League schools. Still we would see him working hard at the events, separating the academic kids with talent from the rest.

The reason I know how great an evaluator Joe was is because he would let me know about every talented kid he would run across. There are hundreds of extremely talented kids that ended up in ACC, SEC, or other top programs that don’t know how much Joe Walsh actually helped them. When Joe told you a kid could play, you took that to the bank. He was the first to recognize many outstanding players that ended up at Stanford, Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, etc. He would tell me, “Jerry, we are not going to get him, so spread the word, get this kid to some events, he is for real.” Joe was right every single time.

Back when we first met, I told Joe it was always my goal to get players into Harvard and other Ivy League schools. At the time we had kids going to colleges all over the country, top college programs and College World Series contenders. Yet, we only had a couple attending Ivy League schools, and none at Harvard. A few years later Joe and I went over the Harvard roster. Nearly every player had attended PG events. There is something very rewarding when kids that attend your events end up at Ivy League schools. Sure there are several outstanding academic colleges with great baseball programs, but there is still something extra special about the Ivy League. Joe knew this and he was so damn proud of being part of it.

These are just some of my feelings and memories regarding Joe Walsh. It relates to Perfect Game because that is how we got to know Joe. However, most anyone who has ever met Joe would have their own memories. I’m sure that, in almost every case, those memories would be very pleasant because Joe was just a regular guy who was fun to be around. He had a way of just making you feel good.

Our deepest sympathy goes to Joe's wife Sandra, and his daughters, Tory, Holly, Katie and Kasey, as well as the thousands of Joe’s friends throughout the country.

Joe’s family lost a great father and husband, the Red Sox lost a great fan. Harvard lost a great coach. Baseball lost a great ambassador, many of us lost a great friend, and heaven gained a great man.

R.I.P. Joe.

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