- HIGHSCHOOL - Back to the Beginning

Wednesday, July 16
Back to the Beginning

Room service. Charter flights. Complimentary everything. Not a single retired pro athlete in their right mind would wave goodbye to that life, then willingly bypass elite coaching opportunities to coach a high school team.

"You'd be surprised," says former Red Sox closer and fourth-year head baseball coach at St. Michael's Academy (Austin, Texas), Calvin Schiraldi, himself a father of two players. "For me, personally, it's a tremendous satisfaction in that you get to watch kids for four years and watch how they grow not only baseball-wise, but maturity-wise. In fact, it was more satisfying for me when we won our first state championship than anything I did in pro ball. Just watching them dog-pile on the field and see the elation in their faces was awesome."

"It was more satisfying for me when we won our first state championship than anything I did in pro ball," says Calvin Schiraldi.
Schiraldi, 38 this month and a key member of Boston's run to the World Series in 1986, is one of a small but apparently growing group of former professional athletes choosing to bring their vast experience to bear on impressionable, developing talent.

Other such celebrity coaches include former major leaguer Mike Pagliarulo, 40, now in his third season as the head baseball coach at Winchester High (Winchester, Mass.), former NBA All-Star Mark Price, 36, who will take the helm at Whitefield Academy (Atlanta, Ga.) next winter, and former major leaguer Mark Langston, 39, who has agreed to coach the baseball team at Lutheran High (Orange, Calif.) next season.

"Mark's a tremendous role model," says Lutheran High (Orange, Calif.) athletic director Jim Kinau (pronounced Koo-naw). "Mark could've gone into broadcasting or coaching at any level. Obviously, he's working with high school kids because he has a genuine desire to help younger kids. It really is amazing. In addition, he has so many close friends who are current or former major leaguers who he can bring in to work with the kids on occasion."

To be sure, these aren't guys who were sitting around collecting dust. Langston and Price retired in 1999. Schiraldi retired in '91, completed his college degree and began coaching in '96. Pagliarulo's last pro season was '95 and his first high school coaching season was '98.

"In this world, I can be fooled in a whole bunch of places, but [the diamond is] one place I can't be fooled," says Pagliarulo, who played 11 seasons with five major league teams and won a World Series title with the Minnesota Twins in 1991. I know the difference between real hustle and fake hustle. I know who's doggin' it and who's hot-doggin' it, and I don't miss anything. The coaching itself is a lot of fun. I wish the season was longer. I didn't think it would be as fun as it is."

Pagliarulo helps make sure it stays fun. He's even adapted the big league's version of clubhouse justice, the kangaroo court, for the Sachems. Guilty offenders are forced to wear a dunce cap and jog around the field in catcher's gear, only once the school's softball team is in sight, of course.

"The coaching itself is a lot of fun. I wish the season was longer," says Mike Pagliarulo, who won a World Series ring with the Twins in 1991.
But coaching teenagers isn't all fun and games. There are real challenges, real obstacles and gargantuan talent gaps between the players and the former players now coaching them.

"The most important thing for me is to let them know, whether they're my best player or my 12th player, that they're a valuable person," says Price, a four-time All-Star with the Cleveland Cavaliers who played 12 seasons with four teams and holds NBA career records for free throw percentage in the regular season (.904) and the playoffs (.944). "That they can go on to be successful in life if they adopt the work ethic and things they need to.

"You have to try to realize they're a work in progress and to try to be patient that way," he continues. "I feel like I have the personality to do that. You have to remember you're there to try and help these kids get better."

There's also the risk that a former pro's presence in a scholastic program will become an overwhelming distraction. But talk to the former pros, and it's life back in high school that can oftentimes be overwhelming.

"The tough part of the high school thing is no buses showing up or principals having proms on your field when you're supposed to have a tournament game," says Pagliarulo, who had to move a postseason home game this week because an event tent was set up on the Sachems' home diamond. "It's the craziest stuff I've ever seen."

Welcome back to high school.

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