It's five minutes before powerful Archbishop Spalding takes the field for another important softball game, and coach Linda Taylor is quietly hitting ground balls to the infield.
Taylor never raises her voice and looks more like she is getting ready for a pickup game in the back yard than preparing one of the most feared teams in the state to do battle again.
Surely, this will all change once the game starts. Right?
Taylor keeps the same laid-back posture for seven innings, and the top-ranked and unbeaten Cavaliers (15-0) walk off the field with another victory.
The woman some call a push-button manager is closing in on a remarkable feat: Coaching Spalding to the No. 1 ranking in the final Baltimore metro area softball poll for a fourth straight season -- in just four years as varsity head coach.
Her record in those four years is 75-4.
"I've always said anybody could coach this team and get the same results," said Taylor. "I've been very fortunate as a coach to have so many talented athletes."
Certainly, having two super pitchers -- Crystal Ray and Kathleen O'Hara -- for four years and two gifted shortstops -- Crystal Henderson and Sabrina Ryals -- have helped immensely.
But don't let Taylor fool you.
She may be young, 29, unassuming and low-key during a game, but she has worked very hard to succeed.
A lot of her coaching occurs long before the team ever plays the season's first game.
Taylor is a master psychologist who begins the season by trying to wipe out any fears her players have on the field. She has players write down secretly their worst fears in playing softball and then works one-on-one with each to overcome that hang-up.
Taylor also makes players set exact goals for the season in terms of batting average, RBIs, home runs, wins and strikeouts for the pitchers and team success.
"I don't let them say they're going to hit a lot of home runs or strike out a lot of batters," said Taylor. "I make them tell me exactly how many, and I keep reminding them of that number throughout the season."
Also, each player gets a Spalding softball handbook that explains the game's rules and regulations, team rules for conduct, and even how to talk to the press.
It's safe to say Taylor touches all the bases mentally and is a quiet disciplinarian.
O'Hara said her coach "has this quote -- 'The strength that comes from confidence is easily lost in conceit'-- and she constantly reminds us of that. She knows when to yell and when to boost our confidence. It's just a gift some people have.
"I believe you have to be as good a coach or better than others to coach a good team, because you have to keep a lot of talented players focused."
And what about teaching the fundamentals and all the other inside knowledge of the game?
"I feel I have a lot to learn as a coach," said Taylor. "I don't know
the game inside and out. I really think I haven't earned my respect yet. Fortunately, I've had two good assistants in Carl Henderson and Bill O'Hara helping me out."
However, Taylor does have a player's mentality, gained from three outstanding seasons of playing shortstop for Glen Burnie High and several more years of sandlot softball.
Taylor had a superb senior season in high school, hitting .500 with seven home runs and earning 1985 All-Metro Player of the Year honors. She later played at Anne Arundel Community College.
"I was an athlete and understand from the other side what the players are going through," said Taylor, a North Arundel Hospital medical technician who also played high school volleyball and coaches Spalding's varsity in that sport.
It was this understanding of the players that Taylor used last week to snap the Cavaliers out of a late-season case of the blahs before a tough game against Washington-area power Pallotti of Laurel.
"I gave the players a little pep talk based on what happened to me in high school when we lost in the region finals to Eleanor
Roosevelt," said Taylor. "I had to ask myself if I had given everything I could in that game, and the answer was 'no.' I told the players to make sure that didn't happen to them in the Pallotti game."
The Taylor pep talk worked.
Ray struck out the first six Pallotti batters, and Spalding erupted for five runs in the third inning, eventually winning, 9-0.
No one was prouder of the soft-spoken Taylor that day than her father, Roger, and mother, Peggy, and no one will kid her more than her five brothers, Jim, John, Jeff, Joe and Tim.
"They just like to pull out one quote from me and rib me about it," said Taylor. "I was constantly trying to prove myself against my brothers in whatever sport we played as kids, so this teasing is a breeze compared to all that."
Pub Date: 5/02/97