Inspirational Lentz paid back with induction into Hall

SIDELINES

January 15, 1995|By PAT O'MALLEY

While cancer and subsequent chemotherapy have taken some of his hair, the ordeal has not taken his spirit and Harry Lentz hopes to be in the Northeast dugout this spring.

The veteran baseball coach was inducted into the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame along with retired Navy coach Joe Duff Friday night at the BWI Marriott in Linthicum.

Lentz, who has a career record of 345-199 including three state titles and a district championship, was the final honoree in a parade of award winners that took nearly two hours. The wait was worth it for the former players, assistant coaches, family and friends who paid tribute to the man they call "Coach."

Lentz has been battling a brain tumor since October, but his spirits and optimism have been fueled by the overwhelming support he has received -- more than 300 cards and letters. Many former players, coaches and county teachers have been there for him on a daily basis.

Former players such as Frank Burkhart, who lives near Lentz' Glen Burnie home, have been there Monday through Friday to offer help.

"You have no idea how much those wonderful cards and letters have meant to him," said Burkhart.

Al Kohlhafer, who has been an assistant to Lentz for 24 of his 27 years as head baseball coach at Northeast, presented the man he calls his "best friend."

"Harry always said he was a teacher first, baseball coach second and always told his players that your family comes first," said Kohlhafer, who asked the audience to bear with him as he fought back tears.

In a light moment, Kohlhafer, looking right at Lentz, who was sitting in a wheelchair flanked by his wife Terri, his son Chris and 85-year-old father Harry Sr., asked why he thought children were always drawn to Lentz.

"I don't understand because you are short, fat and bowlegged," joked Kohlhafer before turning serious.

"They are drawn to him, because they love and respect him. Many kids have told me they learned more from you [about life] than any other teacher."

Kohlhafer mentioned a former Northeast player, who was

diagnosed with cancer in his junior year and how Lentz instilled the desire in the player to beat it. The player still came to practice every day.

"He would tell you that you're going to beat this thing and you've got the desire to carry on," said Kohlhafer. "Let me make it perfectly clear that Harry Lentz will be back coaching this spring.

"Do you realize how many lives you have touched, Coach, all the players whose lives you shaped off the field?"

Kohlhafer asked the nearly 30 former players in attendance to stand and went on to talk about the mutual loyalty and admiration of Lentz and his coaching staff. Kohlhafer cited assistants Ed Gole and Johnny Barbour (a former player for Lentz) and their 15-year commitment to the coach.

"The true value of a person's life is measured by the lives you've touched," said Kohlhafer.

With the audience standing, Kohlhafer was assisted by former Northeast junior varsity coach Dave "Pop" Warner in pushing Lentz in his wheelchair up a ramp to the center of the head table.

Taking the microphone, Lentz peered over the table as his father and other relatives proudly looked on.

"When I came from Pennsylvania 30 years ago, I almost left for another job, but the people were so wonderful here, I stayed and am glad I did," said Lentz. "I want to thank my wife and son along with many others for helping me get through the last three months."

Nearly everyone there was caught up in the moment. It might have been the first banquet of its kind where no one left early.

Even those who knew Lentz only by reputation stayed to pay tribute. That's called respect.

Lentz concluded his brief talk by thanking everyone. His inability to get out his final words revealed his appreciation that so many people care.

Duff, who was 593-328-11 in 32 seasons with three NCAA tournament appearances at Navy, retired after the 1993 season and was replaced by Bob MacDonald who presented him at the banquet.

"I've been very fortunate to work with so many fine young men and so many fine people in baseball," said Duff.

Duff cited Maryland's contributions to baseball by reeling off the names of such native sons as Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Al Kaline, Jim Spencer, Lefty Grove, Herb Armstrong and Frank Cashen.

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