By Larry Henry Special to The Herald
EVERETT — When you do something for nearly 40 years, even if you love it, you get tired.
Harold Pyatte is tired. “I’m running out of energy,” he says in a vapid voice.
He is 67 years old. For the past 38 years, he has spent his summers coaching the Everett Merchants semi-pro baseball team.
It is his passion. “I love it,” he acknowledges.
Loves the game. Loves the kids. Loves the competition.
Loves coaching. Oh, if only that was all he had to do. Just show up at the ballpark, fill out the lineup card, flash signals, match wits, make substitutions, and go home.
It’s not that easy.
He solicits sponsors for support, scouts and signs the players, lines up volunteers to work the games, buys — with his wife’s help — the food for the concession stand, carts the equipment to the ballpark, helps get the field ready, cleans the restrooms after the game. And occasionally, opens up his home to a player needing a place to stay.
Coaching? That’s the easy part. The fun part. But even that has its hazards.
Pyatte has twice been hit by baseballs this season, once on a throw that got him in the back of the head and stunned him for a few moments during infield practice.
The other time, he was in the dugout during a game when a line drive hit him on the leg. “I almost ended up in the garbage can,” he said with a sheepish expression. “The kids got a kick out of that.”
Pyatte got a sore leg that took three weeks to heal.
Then there was a game in Canada, played with the temperature at 104 degrees. Pyatte turned to his coach in the dugout and said, “I’ve got a brand new 26-foot boat and the salmon are biting. What am I doing here?”
What he was doing there was the thing he loves most to do during the summer. Try to win a baseball game.
But, it’s gotten harder. There’s not much gas left in the tank.
“This will probably be my last hurrah,” he said this week.
They’re words you never thought you’d hear coming from the mouth of this man who was inducted into the National Baseball Congress (NBC) Hall of Fame in 2005.
You figured he’d draw his final breath in the dugout. But, no, he just might call it quits after this season.
Unless … “I told my wife ‘this is it,’” he said. Then, laughing, added, “She said, ‘Don’t you dare make any statement about retiring.’”
Because Sherry Pyatte knows her husband. Knows that when the weather starts to warm up next spring and the crack of the bat is heard on baseball diamonds, the man she’s been married to for 42 years will be energized to get back on the field.
Of his thoughts about retiring this year, she cautions, “I’ve been hearing that for the last three or four years. He’s tired because they’ve played a lot more games this season than ever and been in two tournaments instead of one.”
She doesn’t begrudge him his passion for baseball. She fully supports it.
That’s why she tells him to hold off until the season is over to make a decision.
Which, undoubtedly, he will.
Meanwhile, he has bigger things to think about.
For the first time since 2001, the Merchants have qualified for the NBC World Series in Wichita, Kan. They’ll play their first game either on Aug. 1 or 2.
Twenty-two years ago, the Merchants brought home the championship trophy. That memory still brings a smile to the coach’s face. Nobody expected his team to do much, if anything. Nobody but the players themselves. They knew they were good. They knew they could win it.
Now he has another good team, one of his better teams in recent years. They’re 30-10 with one regular-season game remaining. Perhaps sensing that this might be his last year, he went out and recruited a lot of top community college players from the Puget Sound region. “There’s so much talent in the area,” he said, “and so few teams to take it.”
For Pyatte to sign a player, he must show — besides talent — two qualities: good character and hustle. If he sees a player strike out with the bases loaded, and the kid responds by swearing and throwing his bat, he won’t be wearing a Merchants uniform.
“If you fail at the plate, go out and make a great defensive play,” Pyatte said. “If you fail on one side, pick it up on the other, and do it with good character.”
Most importantly, he stresses, “respect the game.”
His current team puts a lot of emphasis on “small ball” tactics. “We’re not a power-hitting team,” he said. “We’re a gap-hitting team, we put the ball in play.”
The Merchants have had nearly 50 kids go on to play professional baseball, including several who made it to the Major Leagues. On the current team, Pyatte believes third baseman Bobby LeCount and outfielder Andy Lyon, both of Edmonds CC, and first baseman Craig Monson of Everett CC are “legitimate pro prospects,” and he wouldn’t be surprised to see catcher Tyler Cox of Bellevue College playing for money someday.
“LeCount has been absolutely phenomenal at third base,” Pyatte said. “He has an unbelievable arm. He gets the ball over there quickly.”
He can also make the transition from infielder to pitcher quickly. In a game against Red Deer, B.C., Pyatte needed LeCount to go in and close the game. LeCount was the second batter up in the inning. “You’d better hit a home run so you can get warmed up,” Pyatte said.
So what’s LeCount do? Tees off on a full-count hanging curveball for a solo homer.
Asked how that happened, he shrugged and smiled.
That’s just this screwy game of baseball. It delights, it frustrates, it surprises, it bewilders. It’s all of that that has been bringing Harold Pyatte back to the Everett Merchants summer after summer for the better part of his life.
Another thing that has pulled him back is the fear that if he retires, there’ll be no one to take over the team.
Oh, there have been people who have inquired about the coaching position and then they ask what it pays. And this is what usually ends the conversation. It pays … nothing.
It is strictly a voluntary position. Hours and hours of work and not one cent of remuneration.
If there’s no one to lead the team, there is no team.
That is Pyatte’s greatest fear.
Which is why we might see him back next summer.
The salmon may have to wait awhile.