Babe Ruth’s Holbrook a coach? Yes, believe it or not

Telegraph photo by TOM KING Former Bishop Guertin player Todd Holbrook keeps his eye on the prize as he has guided the Nashua 14U Babe Ruth All-Stars to the Nationals.

NASHUA – A few years ago, Todd Holbrook was working with some young ballplayers at North Common Field, near where he lives.

Driving by was former Bishop Guertin High School coach Mike Lozeau, who was on the Cardinals staff under Bill Dod when Holbrook was a player at BG back in the mid to late 1980s.

“Hey Todd, what are you doing?” Holbrook remembers Lozeau saying.

“I’m coaching,” Holbrook told him.

Lozeau wore a look of disbelief, and rightfully so. Holbrook was the redheaded-always-chatting senior infielder on 1987 Cardinal team that rose through the tournament riding the left arm of Walter Wrobleski to the state Class L title.

Coach? Not a chance.

“Never, never,” he said when asked if back then he could have envisioned himself being a coach. “And most people on that team would think no way also. Mr. Dod probably wishes I was more laid back and not as loud, also.”

But here he is today, coaching the Nashua 14U Babe Ruth All-Stars to a state and regional championship, and back at North Common hitting grounders, fly balls, lecturing and coaching up his team in preparation for the Babe Ruth Nationals that begin in Demopolis, Ala.at 4:30 p.m. Thursday vs. the Southwest champion.

Yes, Todd Holbrook, baseball coach.

Holbrook, now 50, has learned from the best. He had Dod as a player in high school, and Nashua Babe Ruth coaching legend Duane Erickson as not only a youth player but also as an assistant. In fact, Holbrook took over Erickson’s Yankee Babe Ruth league team after his mentor retired. Both were master tacticians who would focus more on the mental game than the physical.

“I learned from both of them,” Holbrook said. “I still keep my own style, but they taught me you have to have everybody on board on the team, you know what I mean? You have to play all the personalites and all that. I didn’t change my style. I’m much more of a yeller than they have nowadays but thanks to Mr. Erickson and Mr. Dod I’ve learned how to tone it down a bit.”

“I think it’s great,” Dod said of Holbrook getting involved in coaching. “I’ve followed him the last couple of years, and he’s always been a very competitive individual. But in his self evaluation, it’s (surprise at him being a coach) is very true. But he loved to play the game of baseball. Baseball has always been very important to him.”

Note the respect from Holbrook. It’s not “Duane”, or “Bill”, but “Mr.” Holbrook is all about respect, and he’s been coaching All-Star baseball for pretty much the last decade, with one son on his Nashua 14U team and the other on the 15U squad. It’s basically the familiar story of a guy who had kids playing youth baseball and decided to help out years ago. When you volunteer at the young level, you basically sign your next, oh, eight to 10 years away.

“It’s exactly it,” he said. “My kids have grown up on these fields. The kids were 5 and 6, and I was thinking, you know, just teach them the basics and have fun.

“There’s not a lot of people who want to give their time nowadays, quite honestly. I saw what was going on, I talked to (a youth coach) and said ‘Hey, do you mind if I hit infield?’ He said, ‘No, no problem, go ahead.’

“And within a couple of weeks, I was roped in.”

Holbrook fittingly works in sales as a career. Back in 1987, with the Cardinals title team, he DH’d when Wrobleski would pitch, and when third baseman Tom Coate would pitch, Holbrook played third. The team knocked off Concord 5-4 for the title at Manchester’s Gill Stadium. Then the last time he played was later that summer for Hudson Post 48, losing to Concord 10-9 in the ’87 tourney.

Holbrook went to Bentley to study business, and likely could have played college ball. But instead he joined a fraternity. That is something that wouldn’t have surprised his teammates.

But the fact he’s coaching would certainly shock them.

It even shocks Holbrook.

“I’m very surprised I’ve liked it as much as I had,” he said. “I’m into it. I come down early, fix the field up, and since I’ve gotten into it, I think I want to win more than people do nowadays.”

That, Dod said, is what has made Holbrook a good coach.

“I think it’s the competitive level, his spirit, his passion that he shows the kids,” Dod said. “A lot of people don’t understand that passion.”

When Holbrook coaches, he wants what a lot of baseball coaches want: his pitchers to get ahead in the count, and the team to play well defensively behind them. Hitting, he says, comes naturally to this Nashua All-Star team.

“We hit, hit, hit,” he said. “But if we pitch well, and play defense, we’ll be great.”

He remembers Dod having to tone him down when he played at BG.

“He’d say, ‘Baseball is even-keel,'” Holbrook said. “‘Don’t be so much like you are, Todd.’ Both Mr. Erickson and he always told me that. I didn’t always listen, but I’ve listened enough now. And maybe that’s why this group, that’s not a loud group, has taken to me.”

The other big thing Holbrook took from Dod was how baseball is a thinking man’s game.

“The thinking, the bunting, the thinking of what they’re going to do before they do it,” Holbrook said. “And that’s what he always taught us, try to think ahead as players and be ready for it.

“And whatever happens, I want these guys to be ready for it. The competition around here isn’t what it’s going to be (in the nationals).”

And with Erickson, Holbrook noticed how he always treated every player equally, and tried to teach “other things besides baseball. Mr. Erickson always wanted to make sure a player would be a good person in life.”

But now, Holbrook goes back to the words he remembers Lozeau told him when he drove away that day.

“Enjoy it,” he said, “and do your best. Or something like that.”

Holbrook did that as a happy-go-lucky p layer. And now he’s a focused – but happy and successful – coach.

Who knew?