The house that Sam builtPublished 10:34pm Monday, May 5, 2014
Former players, parents, fans turn out
to honor longtime baseball coach
It might be a cliché, but Sam Kitchens says his 40-year career coaching recreation baseball in Troy came to be because he just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Kitchens, who won two Dixie World Series Championships and led Troy teams to two others, had the field where he coached for nearly four decades named in his honor Monday evening. After receiving numerous honors from Dixie Baseball officials and local dignitaries, Kitchens addressed the crowd and cited one of the most famous sports moments in history.
“Lou Gehrig said a long time ago that he was the luckiest man on earth, but I feel I am today,” said Kitchens during his speech. “Because of boys like these, and people like you, I have been able to do something I truly love for a long time. I sincerely thank you all.”
Kitchens got his start in coaching in 1975 as an assistant on his little brother’s team Dixie Tournament team. He can still remember the day.
“Don Sasser was the coach, and I was just standing around at the beginning of practice one day when he came up to me,” said Kitchens. “He told me that he didn’t have a coach, and told me that I could be his assistant if I wanted. I didn’t know anything about coaching baseball then, but I am really glad I was there when he asked.”
Troy Mayor Jason Reeves played baseball as a youngster and faced off against Kitchens-coached teams on dozens of occasions. Reeves went on to win numerous honors and awards as a player, but says one simple sentence holds more weight in his mind than any other.
“I remember the first time I ever played a team that Sam coached,” Reeves said. “He told his players that I was a good hitter. To have done things to earn just a little bit of respect from him as a baseball player meant the world to me then, and still does now.”
While Kitchens loves winning, and whole-heartedly admits that losing “eats him up,” he says he tries to use his position as a coach to teach more than the fundamentals of the game.
“You try to teach them a little discipline and how to be a good sport,” said Kitchens. “Anyone can win, but if you win with class the wins mean more. I wanted our boys to play well, but I wanted them to be good boys more.”
The new Sam Kitchens Field, located adjacent to Scotty Sauers Field on South Franklin Street, wasn’t the first field Kitchens coached on, but he remembers how it came to be.
Kitchens first coached at the fields on Knox Street and later at the then Pace Field on the Troy State Campus, Frazier Field at Charles Henderson High School and the field named in his honor.
“I was finally able to talk Mr. Russell Harris in to switching to Dixie affiliation. We played at the high school for a while, and later on we played here. When this field was first built, it was anything special,” Kitchens said. “It was thrown-together field that served a purpose. Over the years it has gotten better and better, and it now one of the best in the state”
Kitchens is known to be a coach who nearly always keeps his emotions in check. In 39 years of coaching, and thousands of games, Kitchens was never ejected.
He said he had to teach the players about the game, and to show them that “you can’t complain about every single call.” But Troy Parks and Recreation Director Dan Smith said Kitchens was doing more.
“There isn’t a better role model for our baseball players than Sam Kitchens,” Smith said. “He coaches every child with fairness. There are no superstars on his team, only team players. It is always what you say, not how you say it, when it comes to umpires. Sam always treated the umpires with the same fairness he showed his players. He is a class act all the way.”
While Kitchens may have been reserved during ball games over the last 40 years, Monday evening he was overcome with emotion. Several times during the ceremony Kitchens wiped tears from the corners of his eyes or gave handshakes and hugs to Dixie officials, former players and friends.
Kitchens has stepped away from coaching for this season, but did hint that he may be back in the future.
“Everyone has always asked me when I was going to stop coaching and I never had an answer,” Kitchens said. “I knew after last season that I didn’t have the same fire and energy for baseball like I had in the past. I decided to step back and just watch. I have always enjoyed watching baseball, no matter what age level. I’m not coaching this year, but I live just around the corner, so never say never.”
Over two dozen of Kitchens’ former players and coaches attended the ceremony, including members of the 2004 and 2009 Dixie World Series Championship teams. Kitchens said that while the players no longer play for him, they would always hold a special place in his heart.
“They were my boys 40 years ago, and they will be my boys 40 years from now,” Kitchens said. “They are the reason I did it for so long. I love each and every one I ever coached. I was their coach, and they will always be my boys.”