Professor baseball

SPORTS PROFILE

On the field and TV, Arundel's coach Walter teaches the basics

Sports profile

October 17, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to the Sun

During the sixth inning of a state playoff game, Arundel High baseball coach Bernie Walter called time out. He told the home-plate umpire that the hitter's bat was not marked to show the upper limit for pine tar application.

The umpire agreed and called the batter out that spring day in 1987, deflating a rally, helping Arundel later win the game - and teaching more than few fans about a little-known baseball rule.

Perhaps the most successful high school baseball coach in Maryland, winning 10 state championships and 652 games during his 34 seasons with Arundel, Walter is also well-known and respected for his knowledge of the game.

It earned him the the honor of "Disney Teacher" in 1996, which led him to another job for the past eight years: educational consultant to Fox's popular This Week in Baseball television show.

It requires Walter to watch the 30-minute show each week and write a report for Fox summarizing each of its five segments.

"I evaluate what they do, and I verify that what they're doing is in some way, shape or form educationally [oriented]," Walter said.

The educational themes often revolve around history and teaching of athletic skills and motivation. This year's shows focused on character and charity, with several stories on the late Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates star who died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972 while trying to take supplies to Nicaragua. Walter sat in his basement and wrote a report for each of this year's 26 shows.

"It's really fun to listen to these guys being interviewed and the things that they say when they're talking about skill," Walter said.

This was the 30th season of This Week in Baseball, which began as a weekly highlights show but has evolved into something different. Jeff Scott, senior writer for MLB (Major League Baseball) Productions, who has written the show since 1989, said TWIB is considered an educational show for Fox, and Walter helps ensure it stays that way.

"That was one of the provisions of the contract, that we maintain an educational theme to it," Scott said. "It's not a kid's show, necessarily, but with baseball you can make almost anything educational, and that's what we try to do."

"Bernie does a fabulous job of watching what we do and maintaining that educational component. That's what we like about his reports. He really gets down to the basics. He's been an important part of our show for eight years, and I love working with him."

The show gave Walter a chance to visit the company's headquarters in New York City, where he was impressed by the depth of its video catalogs. People watch Major League Baseball games all day and night and file away every kind of file imaginable - close plays, game-winning home runs, things that can be pulled up on a moment's notice.

But Walter still sees himself as a teacher when on the field at Arundel. He isn't just a coach who wants to win. He wants to teach his players the right way to handle every situation.

Greg LeGrand is the coordinator of athletics in Anne Arundel County and was Walter's assistant from 1997 to 2002. He remembers the way Walter put his players through games in practices to teach about baseball, pressure and other life experiences.

LeGrand loved it when Walter had the Wildcats play a game called 21 fly balls during practice, especially on a windy day. The coaches would hit balls in the air, and the players needed to catch 21 straight to get out of the game. LeGrand said that could take up the entire practice but taught them about handling pressure.

"He's a giant among giants," LeGrand said. "He's one of the most knowledgeable folks about baseball that exists today. The kids learn so much sitting on the bench, and no stone goes unturned. He's certainly well-qualified to be in the position he's in for This Week in Baseball."

Walter takes pride in helping Fox weave an educational theme throughout this show but said, with a laugh, that he enjoyed the season's final show, where it rolls the credits of everyone who had anything to do with it. His name is right there.

"It's pretty nice to see your name on TV," Walter said.

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