June 16, 2018 11:04:52 PM
CALEDONIA -- Numbers tell only part of the story about John Wilson.
Whether it was in his office at the Caledonia High School baseball field or the facility's indoor complex, numbers defined Wilson's approach to the game.
The indoor facility routinely had 15- to 20-minute increments listed on the wall for that day's practice when you walked in. As long as you had the same shirt, pants, hat, and belt as your teammates, you were good to go.
In the office that overlooks the field, Wilson would chart out pitching percentages to highlight what areas his players needed to work on to be more efficient.
After eight seasons, the walls of the office and the indoor facility will have to get used to the handwriting of a new coach.
Last month, Wilson retired after 27 years as a head coach and 40 years as a coach and as a teacher.
"It has gone by faster than I thought it would," said Wilson, who was head baseball coach at Columbus High from 1996-2002 and head baseball coach at Caledonia High from 2010-2018. "You sit here and think about it and it doesn't seem like 40."
Wilson, who said he is open to coaching again in the area if it won't prevent him from collecting retirement and social security, had a 451-276 record in 27 years. He started his head coaching career at Heard County (Ga.) in 1978. He moved on to Troup County (Ga.) and East Paulding (Ga.) before his next stint as a head coach in the state of Mississippi.
Along the way, Wilson had a number of players go on to play baseball in college and in the professional ranks, including Jimmy Haynes and Bob McCrory. Jerseys from those players were framed and autographed in the Caledonia baseball office late in May as Wilson packed up his belongings. He admitted he would miss all of the things that a head coach has to do -- cutting the grass, lining the field, watering the field, and opening the building so the boys can hit -- besides coaching, but he said he plans to find something to do because he isn't going to sit around.
Wilson also thanked Mark Hysaw, Andy Finch, and Louie Alexander for their help through the years. Hysaw served as Wilson's assistant varsity coach at Caledonia High.
"I just figure it is kind of time that maybe I can go on and do some other things since we have so many people out here who have figured out how to efficiently utilize our practice time, so they might want to help the other coach use his practice time efficiently," Wilson said. "I have enjoyed all of the kids out here. I enjoyed the kids at Columbus. You build a relationship and you enjoy being around them and seeing them and talking to them."
When asked what he thinks people will remember about him, Wilson laughed and said, "Probably that I didn't hold my tongue as much as I should have."
Just like his penchant for numbers, the comment was typical Wilson. Described as "old school," Wilson didn't mind sharing his opinion. Still, he was open to doing things different ways, especially if it produced results. But there were constants. Everyone wearing the same uniform at practice was key because it reflected discipline and a unified approach in a sport where nine players on the field have to work together to achieve the best outcome.
"I have been to some places I just can't stand it," Wilson said. "This guy comes out here in an orange shirt. This guy comes out here in a blue shirt. This guy is in a green shirt. This guy is in a white shirt. That is being individuals. Baseball is not an individual thing. Not many sports are, so we're going to be a team. We're going to look alike. We don't have to act alike because kids are different."
Wilson said differences in players force coaches to figure out ways to reach each individual. He said some can be yelled at while others require another approach. Wilson said his teams at Caledonia didn't have an issue because they only needed to know the rules they were asked to follow. If they didn't follow the rules, they were held accountable.
"If you're 10 minutes late, you run 10 poles," Wilson said. "If you're 20 minutes late, you run 20 poles."
Caledonia advanced to the playoffs in six of Wilson's eight seasons as head coach. The Confederates reached the second round in the each of the last three seasons.
"Caledonia has always been a baseball school," Wilson said. "There always have been good players here."
Wilson only had one losing season in his tenure at Columbus High and at Caledonia High. He leaves after 40 years knowing he taught plenty of lessons and that baseball played a little part in that instruction.
"We spend 90 percent of our time out here doing baseball," Wilson said. "I will be the first one to tell you I don't know everything. If you think you know everything, you need to go somewhere else. I can learn something any day, every day. You always can. In baseball, especially, there is always something else you can learn or another way to teach it. I learned a long time ago I can sit here and talk to a kid and tell them exactly what to do, but if he doesn't understand what I am talking about it doesn't matter.
"I had three left-handed pitchers one year at Troup High School. I am not a left-hander. I could not get them to understand how to cheat when you pick at first base. We came over here to baseball camp at Mississippi State and Josh Reagan, who pitched at Mississippi State, took the guys down to the bullpen. It wasn't five minutes before I had one of those kids run back to me and say, 'Now I understand what you're saying.' All it took was somebody else showing them and using a different word and they understood what I was talking about."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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