Mr. Baseball: John Ball
There isn't a person in New Richmond more appropriately named than John Ball.
For 30 years, Ball has led the New Richmond varsity baseball program. In that time the Tigers won 520 games. Ball's leadership made New Richmond one of the most successful baseball programs in the state during his tenure.
For the past 17 years, Ball has served as athletic director at New Richmond High School. He announced last week that this will be his final year as athletic director. He is retiring from the position, and the position of varsity baseball coach, at the age of 55.
Ball is a life-long New Richmond resident. After college, he returned home, teaching high school math for six years. He was then hired by the City of New Richmond to be the City's first parks and recreation director. He served in that role until he was hired as the athletic director, replacing Stan Barr, who retired.
In his 17 years, Ball has dealt with a large number of school personnel. By his count, there were five High School principals, six administrators, 10 assistant principals and countless coaches who have been on the staff during his tenure.
Ball is held in high regard in baseball circles around the state. He is the president of the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association. His career coaching record is 520 wins and 204 losses. That mean's his teams have averaged more than 17 wins per season. Among current coaches, Ball's 520 wins ranks third among active state varsity baseball coaches.
When you ask Ball what he remembers most about his coaching career, wins and losses rarely get mentioned. It is his former and current players and the times spent with them that fill his memory.
"I could coach baseball morning, afternoon and night," Ball said. "I don't know if I could have done athletic director work for 17 years without baseball to fall back on."
When asked for games that stood out in his memory, two state tournament games immediately jumped to the front. One was in 1989, when the Tigers won their opening round game at state over New Berlin Eisenhower by a 2-1 score. It was a brilliantly pitched game by Jacques Charland. The Tigers also turned the only triple play in the history of the state summer tournament in that game.
The other game that Ball recalled was the 2001 state tournament game where the Tigers lost to Menomonie Falls, 7-6 in 11 innings in the state semifinals. The Tigers went 28-2 that year.
"It seemed like that game went a million innings," Ball said.
Coach Ball said one of the secrets to his success was his family's support. His wife, Bev, is one of the team's most vocal backers and she has run the concessions and done the public address announcing for many of those years.
"My girls (daughters Jessie and Lindsay) grew up at the ballpark. If you don't have your family's support, you can't do the job. It's so many hours and so much time away from home," Ball said.
There's no question that New Richmond is a "baseball town." Ball said he has benefitted from the strong feeder program in New Richmond, starting with the Little League program and the teams competing in the Metro League. When players reach the high school level in New Richmond, there is an expectation that they will have a strong knowledge of baseball fundamentals.
"It's a credit to the lower level coaches that they do a good job," Ball said.
Park and Rec director
When Ball was named as the City's Park and Rec director, he immediately took on two projects. One of those was the beautification of Knowles Avenue. All the trees and planters on Knowles Avenue were put in place as part of that project.
The other project was getting softball back into New Richmond. Softball had once been a large draw locally, but had gradually moved away from New Richmond. The City sought to have softball restored as a leading recreational activity, so Ball led the effort to get Hatfield Park constructed. Hatfield Park is now one of the top softball facilities in western Wisconsin.
Ball's athletic director contract runs through June 30. He then plans to take his first summer off in "30-plus years."
He said his plan is to spend time with his grandkids. He is also leaving the door open to staying involved in the Tiger baseball program in some capacity. Rest assured, Ball will find something to do.
"It would drive me nuts to do nothing," he said. "I'm sure there's somebody out there looking for a short, gray-haired guy."
FORMER PLAYER COMMENTS
We contacted a few of Ball's former players to give their perspectives on the impact that Coach Ball has had on their lives.
Bill Knutson played for the Tigers from 1987-89. He then coached against Coach Ball when Knutson was the head coach at Somerset from 1996-99. Knutson is now a Tiger freshman coach.
"He's been a father figure for me," Knutson said. "He treats people with respect. He finds a way to make each player feel significant."
Knutson said he doesn't recall ever seeing Ball yell, but he was still able to get his point across.
"When kids don't play well, he takes the blame. He'll do whatever he can for his players," Knutson said. "He's made a huge impact on the community."
Ryan Stephens played for the Tigers from 1993-95. He then joined the New Richmond Millers city league baseball team and has been the Millers' player-manager the past seven years.
Stephens said one of the things he admired about Ball's coaching was the amount of responsibility he gave to his seniors each year.
"Your role (as a senior) was to help him coach the program," Stephens said.
As Stephens became involved in managing the Millers, Ball guided him in learning how to manage schedules, field maintenance and dealing with players.
"It was a great relationship, on and off the field," Stephens said.
Chad Fehrman played with the Tigers from 1997-99. He is now one of the freshman team coaches. Fehrman said he was hot tempered when he reached the varsity level. After he threw his helmet after a strikeout early that year, Coach Ball sat him down for a talk.
"He told me 'You win with class, you lose with class.' Not only did he he demand respect, he gave respect when it was due. A big reason why (former players) want to give back to the program is because of him," Fehrman said.