Coach Spotlight: James Wood softball coach Todd Baker

5ef38ff21d3c0.imageTodd Baker has served as James Wood High School’s softball coach for the past five seasons. He has led the Colonels to four consecutive regional playoff berths. Last season, James Wood (16-6 overall, 10-2 district) captured the Class 4 Northwestern District regular-season title. Baker earned his second consecutive Winchester Star Softball Coach of the Year award and has earned the honor three times (2016, 2018, 2019).

A 1986 graduate of James Wood, Baker was a member of the 1985 Colonels baseball team that advanced to the Group AAA title game before falling 7-3 to John R. Tucker. Baker, a pitcher, third baseman and first baseman, played four seasons in the baseball program. He also played three seasons as a reserve forward in the basketball program.

Upon graduation, Baker began work on the family farm.

He coached several Little League and travel teams with his son (Logan) and daughter (Morgan) before becoming an assistant JV softball coach with the Colonels. He was a varsity assistant coach for Ted McDaniel for a couple of seasons before taking over the program when McDaniel left.

Q. What are your favorite memories as an athlete?

Baker: Just that 1985 baseball season, that entire season was special. We weren’t flashy or unbelievably talented. We just won a lot of games and won some big games. I don’t know that I have ever been a part of a team that was so tight and unified. We played together as unit and that’s kind of the way my coaching philosophy is now — you stick together 13 or 14 strong and you’re one family. You win or you lose as a team. That’s the way that team was. We ended up making it all of the way to the state championship game and that was pretty special.

I can remember knocking off Fauquier, which was a powerhouse back then in baseball. I can remember one game I pitched. It was an away game [at Stafford] and our coach [Bill Beckman] said, ‘We have never beaten this team on the road ever.’ I had like seven walks, but I threw a one-hitter and we ended up winning the game.

Q. When did you know you wanted to be a coach?

Baker: I don’t think I ever really thought about it through high school, of course. It was once my kids showed interest in playing. My son was the first one to show interest. He liked baseball and football. It was just helping out with T-ball and seeing the kids progress. It really gave me a good feeling and then it really took off with the softball program going up through.

I just fell in love with softball with how there’s no set rules. In baseball, you only bunt at certain times and certain situations. In softball, if you want to bunt with the bases loaded and two outs, do it. It works sometimes because of the short basepaths and the speed of the game. I just fell in love with that game. When [Morgan] got up in high school, I really wasn’t thinking I wanted to be a coach. They had asked me to come and help. There’s nothing like high school sports, man. Once you get in there, you get it in your blood and you can’t get rid of it. There’s nothing better than coaching high school sports in my opinion.

Q. Who are your biggest coaching influences and why?

Baker: I think when I played baseball Bill Beckman was certainly one of them. He taught me the right way to play the game. He was a very good situational game-type coach.

But honestly, my biggest influence was my Dad [Buck]. He was a great, great baseball player. He played in the minor league system with the White Sox. He coached me up through my Little League years. I think I probably learned more from my Dad than just about anybody.

Q. What’s the best coaching advice you ever received?

Baker: I think any advice is always good. I’m not one of those coaches that’s headstrong and I’m going to do it my way every time. I’m always learning.

I think what I had to learn early on was patience. Especially in practice, I always wanted things to happen quick. When we left, I wanted everything to be perfect. I realized that nobody is perfect. I think it’s just trusting the process, being patient and having a plan are the biggest things I’ve learned through the years.

Q. What have been your most difficult coaching moments?

Baker: It’s always a battle with Sherando. I’d be a fool if said it wasn’t some of those Sherando games, just making those decisions and battling out with Clarence [Smith] over there, also a great coach. It’s any inning that I have played against Sherando. It’s always a game you circle. It’s always a game you want to win. It’s a cross-town rival. Most of those kids play travel ball together. They want to win that game and you want to win it for them.

This year [with the season being canceled by the COVID-19], we’re getting ready to have [a ceremony] for the team. If I had to choose, that Friday night speech might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a coach to get through. I had three wonderful seniors this with Ivy (Rosenbery), Afton (Sykes) and Mackenzie (McCarty). McCarty is my All-Region outfielder that kind of flies under the radar, but she’s an outstanding player, too. … It was probably one of the best teams I’ve had at James Wood. That’s saying a lot because we have had some powerhouse teams. This year, I’m telling you we would have been really tough to deal with. It’s going to be hard standing up in front of those kids, have those three seniors stand next to me, hand out the awards and talk about what could have been.

Q. What have been your favorite coaching moments?

Baker: Any win against Sherando. Honestly, there have been a couple of great comebacks, but I think last year when Rebecca Boone hit the grand slam (in the first inning) and we came out on fire against Sherando and won it all. We kind of came out of the middle of the pack that season. We went through a little bit of injury problems and we were running around third place. We were basically thinking we were going to try to finish this thing in second and we ended up winning it all. That game was one of the highlights. Our kids came out on fire and scored a ton of runs early and we just cruised to a nice [8-2] victory there.

The other moment that stands out is that a few years ago we had to travel to [defending state champion] Carroll County (in 2016) for the regionals. James Wood got us a charter bus and we got on there and felt pretty good about ourselves. That was great experience. We lost that game down there (5-1), but you talk about a tough place to play. I had never heard so many cowbells. There must have been 100 cowbells ringing. They had barbeques everywhere. It was an intimidating place to walk into. … That was kind of a good-bad memory. We lost the game, but it is one of those that I will never forget, really, as I grow older. Making that trip down there on the charter bus was pretty special for the kids.

I also need to mention my assistant coaches Patrick Gibson and Steve Hicks. Without putting good people around you, I’m not who I am with all the wins we’ve had. They are two great coaches and they are a big part of that program, too. They’ve been with me from Day 1 on varsity.

— Compiled by Walt Moody

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