CALEDONIA — In a sport where numbers add to its allure, Caledonia High School baseball coach John Wilson credits all the kids who have played for him in helping him to achieve his latest milestone.
On April 16, Wilson earned his 400th victory as a head baseball coach in Caledonia’s 4-3 win against Leake Central at Caledonia High. The team helped Wilson add to that total April 18 with a 13-4 victory against Hamilton. Since those games, Caledonia (14-13) closed its regular season with losses to Nettleton on Saturday and to Columbus on Tuesday. The Confederates finished fourth in Class 4A, Region 4. The top three teams from each region advance to the postseason.
For Wilson, who coached baseball and football at Columbus High from 1997-2002 and has been baseball coach (he also has worked as a football coach) at Caledonia High since 2010, his win total says something about his longevity (he is 61) and the number of talented players he has had the opportunity to coach.
“When I was at Troup (County Ga.) High School, I had six players drafted to play pro. One of them (Jimmy Haynes) played in the Major Leagues for 10 years,” said Wilson, who is 401-238. “East Paulding (Ga.) was a first-year school. We had a kid (Keith Law) drafted from there. I was at Columbus and we had Bob McCrory, who pitched several years with the Baltimore Orioles. We have had a couple kids sign from Caledonia since I have been here. The kids have done all this. All I try to do is point them in the right direction and let them go.”
Wilson started his coaching career at Heard County (Ga.) High, where he went 44-31 from 1977-82. Coming off a 1-17 season the year before he arrived, Wilson had a losing season in his first season, but he helped the program reverse its fortunes. He then moved to Troup (Ga.) High, where he had his most success (168-62 from 1983-91). He moved to East Paulding (Ga.), a new school, for one year before he took his next job as a coach at Columbus High. He guided the Falcons to a 109-88 record and had the second losing season of his career in his first year at the school.
Wilson is 66-49 in his time as coach of the Caledonia High baseball team. In 23 years as a baseball coach (36 years as a coach in all), he has had only three losing seasons, which have all come in his first years at schools. His schools have made 11 postseason appearances, including 1999 at Columbus High and in 2012 and in 2013 at Caledonia High.
Wilson said his record would look a little different if he had coached in a different state. When Wilson coached baseball in Georgia, his teams could play only 20 games in the regular season, unlike the state of Mississippi, which for years played 40-50 games. But Wilson said he still experiences the butterflies before every game and has survived the ups and downs throughout the years because he still loves the game. He said he experienced the same butterflies before games he played shortstop at Leto High in Tampa, Fla., before going to play at North Florida Junior College in Madison, Fla. Wilson then went to school at Mississippi State, but he said he didn’t play baseball.
When Wilson turned to coaching, he said he started out as a vocal coach, but he smiled and said he has mellowed and learned there are different ways to motivate and to reach players. These days, he leaves instructions for his players what to do and lets them do it under his watchful eye. He admits he still hollers, but he emphasizes it is not personal and that he tells his players they should forget it because the next day he has forgotten about it.
“I will stick to what I say and stick to what I do,” said Wilson, who typically throws batting practice every Wednesday. “I graduated from State in the spring of 1977 and then I went to Heard County High School, a A school, in the fall of that year and I was varsity football coach and the head baseball coach.
“Because I have been around long enough, in some instances I would say I am ‘old school,’ but you have to learn to change as things change, and I think I have changed some things that I do. When we first started practicing, we hit and hit and hit and hit on the field until the cows came home and then we would take infield for an hour or so. Now we do a lot of group work. We spend 20 minutes with each group doing our stuff. … One thing about what I do now is back then we used to have 15 guys standing around talking. Now we have nobody standing around talking. Everybody is doing something.”
Like all coaches, Wilson said he has borrowed drills and taken advice from others in the profession in an attempt to find a better way to do things. For instance, he said talked with Southern Mississippi assistant baseball coach Mike Federico to try to find a way to run a more efficient bullpen session. Caledonia now follows Southern Mississippi’s program in which multiple pitchers throw in one sessions to maximize the time. He said tweaks like that and the ability to adapt to players and changes in the game have helped him stay involved in a game he loves for so long.
“The only thing I want them to do is to work hard and listen to what we say and try what we say,” Wilson said. “I am not so obstinate that if you show me a better way we are going to do it the better way. I want them to try to do it the way we ask them to do it.
“I like football, too, and I probably coached football more years than baseball. But it is the competition and trying to teach somebody what they need to do and, bottom line, winning. I don’t care what it is. I can’t stand to lose. I don’t care what it is.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.