Mountain View head baseball coach Jason Johnson has met a lot of baseball men in his years coaching in Gwinnett County. He met even more during his days in college at Auburn University and Minor League Baseball.
For the third year Johnson reached out to a pair of baseball legends, one from the college ranks and another from a short drive to Lilburn. For the third year, the guest credentials and personalities did not disappoint.
Hugh “Buck” Buchanan was Parkview’s first baseball coach and won 546 games, 12 region titles and three state championships. He served as the head softball and football coaches briefly and has been inducted into five different halls-of-fame, including the Gwinnett Sports Hall of Fame, the Gwinnett Dugout Club, Georgia Dugout Club, Georgia Athletic Coaches Association and National Baseball Coaches Association. His counterpart is known as the “Godfather of Southeastern Conference baseball.” Ron Polk is a former longtime coach at Mississippi State University and currently a volunteer coach at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Polk has recorded the most wins in the history of SEC baseball coaching with 1,373 wins to go with five SEC Championships and eight College World Series appearances. Polk is a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame, American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Hall of Fame and a Lefty Gomez Award recipient, the highest award given by the ABCA.
Banquets scheduled post-season are reflective, award-centric and celebratory. Mountain View’s Night in the Big Leagues is centered around keynote speakers that are typically motivational in nature.
Buchanan’s remarks were cursory compared to the man following him, but Parkview’s Hall-of-Fame coach remarked on the opportunity Polk provided him at Georgia Southern as a graduate assistant. That motivated Buchanan and sparked his legendary coaching career in Gwinnett County.
“It was an opportunity I probably didn’t deserve,” he said. “I feel like the lead act for a rock star.”
Buchanan is still an active scout, and he remarked on the frequently asked question: What are you looking for in a baseball prospect?
Perhaps it’s unsurprising his answer had little to do with fielding grounders, executing pitching mechanics or the proper launch angle. There’s no “magic bullet,” he said, but he spent time elaborating on the concept of “makeup,” a colloquial baseball scouting term that pertains to a player’s character.
Buchanan’s philosophy of good makeup is not about a consistent routine, it’s about repetitions. He encouraged Mountain View players to take responsibility for their own development rather than expect the tools to success to be served to them. He encouraged them to live in the present and not let their thoughts drift to opportunities in college baseball before their time had come.
Buchanan wrapped up with a concept he developed during his tenure at Parkview. He gave a name to the wall that he saw right when players walked into the Panthers’ locker room. That was “The Wall.” He wanted to remind his players of “The Wall,” or the inevitability of adversity, and he wanted them to remember the positive ways to react to hitting that wall. He encouraged Mountain View’s players not to just run through the wall, but accelerate through it.
Polk took the podium with a demeanor that more closely resembled a stand-up comic than a long-time baseball man. He rattled off anecdote after anecdote — at first mostly about his lack of remorse for being thrown out of hundreds of baseball games. In each story, he seemingly had a witty response for everything.
“If I wanted to get thrown out of a game, I knew what I had to say,” Polk said. “‘How did we get a high school umpire in an SEC baseball game?’”
He had tales of umpires and hecklers from every stadium in the SEC. His speech sometimes started as a roast session — no one, including players and coaches, were safe — then shifted to stories of his childhood and disciplinarian father.
Late in the evening, he started to relish his outlook on high school baseball. He pleaded for attending parents to support their children. He remarked on the differences between growing up as a distracted teenage baseball player in the United States and an impoverished teenager training in a Dominican Republic baseball academy.
He ended the session with his personal keys to success. Polk’s first coaching job was as a graduate assistant at the University of Arizona, where he was a 21-year-old third base coach on a College World Series team. That was when he decided he no longer wanted to be “a” coach, but “the” coach. He gave credit to his faith in Christianity first. He used anecdotes to apply the idea that a person is only as good as their worst bad day. He emphasized the importance of a determined work ethic and his desire to make a difference to one person at a time.
He concluded the night by shaking the hand of every Mountain View player at the door and talking to the one-on-one.