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Bob McDonald is back where here belongs

Retirement took him out of baseball for a while, but he's resurfaced as the AquaSox's hitting coach, and 'I'm finding that this is the best time of my life.'

  • Everett AquaSox hitting instructor Bob MacDonald talks with players at the team's June 17 afternoon practice.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Everett AquaSox hitting instructor Bob MacDonald talks with players at the team's June 17 afternoon practice.

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By Larry Henry
Special to The Herald
Published:
  • Everett AquaSox hitting instructor Bob MacDonald talks with players at the team's June 17 afternoon practice.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Everett AquaSox hitting instructor Bob MacDonald talks with players at the team's June 17 afternoon practice.

Bob MacDonald couldn't find his equipment bag.
And the new hitting instructor for the Everett AquaSox was taking all kinds of heat from his fellow coaches.
"See?" MacDonald said with a grin soon after the team arrived at its summer home in Everett Memorial Stadium. "This is what I was missing. It feels good to have guys ragging on you again."
MacDonald was back where he belonged: In a ballpark. Wearing a uniform. Coaching baseball.
And getting chirped at by his peers. "I guess when they start needling you," he said, "it means you've been accepted."
He should know. He's worn a baseball uniform for much of his life, either as a player or a coach. He's been a head coach at the high school (Cleveland in Seattle), major college (Washington) and service academy levels (Navy).
Now, in his first job at the professional level, he'll spend the summer working with kids hoping to one day do what such players as Rick Anderson, Mike Blowers and Kevin Stocker did after playing for MacDonald at the University of Washington: make it to the big leagues.
Only the AquaSox won't face the same coach that the Huskies did. Granted, at 66, MacDonald doesn't look much different than he did back when he coached the Huskies from 1977-92.
The difference is in his demeanor. He's much milder now.
That doesn't mean he won't work as hard as he did back then or that he won't expect his hitters to put everything they have into their jobs. And when he throws batting practice, he won't "lollipop 'em in there.''
But neither will he throw any brushbacks. "I'm a lot more laid-back now," he said.
If you were to ask some of his former UW players what he was like, they'd tell you that he was demanding and that he instilled discipline and toughness. Stuff that, once out in the real world, they appreciated.
"He was a really tough and hard-nosed coach," said Derrin Doty, who played for MacDonald from 1990-92. "He wanted you to be mentally tough as well as physically tough.''
Doty found out just how tough his coach could be one evening at practice. The previous fall, the coach and the player had worked "like crazy" to get Doty's swing straightened out. "He was raking the ball all over the place," MacDonald said.
But that night at practice, Doty fell back into some of his old habits.
"He was always trying to make you mentally tougher," Doty said, "and he started throwing inside and hit me a few times."
Doty had had it. Said he was quitting the team.
"I knew he was upset," MacDonald said. "So that night I called him up and said, 'You're not quitting. Get your butt over to the hitting cage at 1 o'clock tomorrow.' He did."
Doty went on to have a solid season and then came back the next year to have a sensational one, batting a career-high .402.
"Mac really pushed me and got the most out of me," Doty said. "I later thanked him for being such a tough coach."
Blowers credited MacDonald for helping him with the mental part of the game. "As far as the work, all the extra stuff he had me do, that was no problem for me," said Blowers, who, after being selected by Montreal in the 10th round of the 1986 draft, went on to play 11 years in the big leagues.
Blowers remembered Washington's program as "not being very good" when MacDonald took over. That was an understatement. "It was pathetic," MacDonald said, "a laughingstock of the league." The Huskies had the dubious distinction of not having had a winning season in 10 years.
MacDonald recalled that Bobo Brayton, the baseball coach at Washington State, was quoted as saying he didn't think the UW program could be resurrected but if anybody could do it, it was the new guy.
In his first year, MacDonald led the Huskies to four more wins than they'd had collectively in their previous two seasons and just missed a winning record (19-20-3). The next year, they went 29-16-2.
The new guy had put a charge in the Huskies.
Under MacDonald, they had 11 winning seasons, culminating his 16-year run in dramatic fashion by going 39-21, winning the Pac-10 North title and beating a very good Arizona team 6-5 in the first game of the NCAA West Regional. Though the Huskies lost two of their next three games to be eliminated from the playoffs, MacDonald left the program in much better shape than when he'd taken over.
"He really got things going," said Ken Knutson, who played for MacDonald and then succeeded him as coach. Knutson felt the tournament victory over Arizona was the biggest win in the program's history "because it made you feel like you could compete" with anyone.
MacDonald had a tough act to follow when he went to Navy in '93. He was replacing Joe Duff and all Duff had done was pile up the most victories in school history (595).
Duff stayed on for one more year before retiring, allowing MacDonald to get acclimated to the way things were done at the academy. "If I had gone in there and become the head coach right away," MacDonald said, "those guys could have run me ragged."
Things were very different from the UW. "It was a big change, that's for sure," he said. "Everything was time frames, our guys had classes until 3:20 or 3:30, (practice was at 4) and they had to be back for evening meals at 6 or 6:30, so you really had to be organized."
He was. Despite the time strictures and some odd situations that cropped up at times -- like having to use a left-hander at third base -- the Middies won five Patriot League titles in MacDonald's seven years as coach. Maybe more important: his teams beat Army 24 times.
Now, nine years after retiring from Navy, he's back in uniform and he couldn't be happier. "I'm finding that this is the best time of my life," he said.
Needling never felt so good.
Story tags » AquaSox

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