Arundel coach Walter remains student of the game

On High Schools

March 22, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Stay in a place long enough and you make friends. Stay there even longer and you can "borrow" things from them like a cake recipe or a favorite CD.

Bernie Walter has been around baseball long enough to be able to take some of his friends' best concepts and mold them into ideas that work for him and for his Arundel High team.

Just this past December, he got an idea from his buddy Ron Polk, the longtime Mississippi State baseball coach, for shortstop positioning that he plans to adopt with the Wildcats.

"I'll be honest with you," Walter said, leaning back in the chair in his slightly cluttered office last week. "I don't think too many other people are doing this, and I've been around for a while. It will give me something new, really new, and the pitching staff likes it.

"It's always about trying to get better. You steal from one guy, you copy from another, you do something else to try to get better. That's what I've tried to do. I'm a pretty good thief, I think."

You don't win 543 games, nine state championships, three mythical national titles, three national Coach of the Year honors and election to the American Baseball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame by being a mediocre pilferer.

But, at some point, merely lifting theories from people in the business isn't enough. Taking one chef's recipe and turning it into a meal that looks like the original but has its own little kick is an art form, and Walter is a master, if for no other reason than he never stops trying to learn from others.

As a kid, Walter learned the game from his Little League coach, Al Sparra, a two-time International League batting champion. Later, he picked up tips from Walter Youse, a longtime Orioles scout who coached the Leone's youth league team that Walter eventually inherited.

In college at Maryland in the early 1960s, Walter got permission from then-men's basketball coach Bud Millikan to enter the locker room at halftime to listen to his pep talks. He was so impressed that he thought basketball would be his game of choice.

Eventually, though, he returned to baseball and never left. And while some other coaches were here during the winter making sure there was enough lime to put down the outfield lines for the coming season, Walter was on the road, hitting coaches' conventions in Chicago, Louisville, Ky., and Richmond, Va., sifting through ideas, figuring out which ones might work and which ones to discard.

"You just sort of sit there for a weekend and listen to these guys talk about whatever," Walter said. "Some guys are motivators, some are technicians and others don't know what they're doing. ... No matter what it is, it's fun. It gets you excited and ready to go."

If nothing else, the mere fact that it's 2006, not 2005, appears to be enough to get Walter's juices flowing. The Wildcats, who suffered a rash of serious injuries, lost five games in a row, the first time in Walter's coaching career, which dates back to the Leone's Boys Club team in 1966, that one of his teams had lost that many consecutively.

"It's hard for me to describe exactly what happened," Walter said. "They were still good kids. They still tried to play, but there was just no enthusiasm at all. ... We were all upset about that."

And yet, the Wildcats (14-9 last year) were right there, one run shy of the Class 4A championship, as they blew a seven-run lead to Quince Orchard in the final.

Arundel lost seven seniors to graduation, but there they are right near the top of the polls, ranked fourth in the area, heading into their season opener with No. 10 Eastern Tech on Tuesday.

"They're playing incredibly hard," Walter said. "I think we're going to have a pretty good team."

And even if the Wildcats weren't going to be good, Walter would still want to be out getting the Arundel ballpark that bears his name ready for another year, his 33rd at the school, because there's still more to do, more to learn.

"I really enjoy what I'm doing," Walter said. "I decided a long time ago that when you're doing things and it's not fun anymore, you go do something else. I'm still having fun coaching baseball."

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