David Mitchell column: Hardaway coach Chris Gilstrap wears burden of hurt for his players

dmitchell@ledger-enquirerMay 9, 2013 

Hardaway baseball coach Chris Gilstrap put on a brave smile as he approached to talk after a 7-6 loss to Evans in the state playoffs ended his team's season.

"If you go out, I guess that's the way to do it," he said sheepishly, almost shrugging his shoulders in resignation.

Then he started talking about his players and what they achieved this season, winning 25 games and a region championship in the face of a host of doubters. He spoke of how far they had come, how hard they had worked and how much each of them craved success.

His voice broke. His head dropped. His face was covered by dark sunglasses, but it didn't matter. You could see the moisture that lined his eyes.

He got to a point where he could no longer speak, and I didn't want to make him.

As I stood and waited for him to collect himself, I couldn't help but think how losing sometimes brings out the biggest winners.

Gilstrap wasn't upset for himself. As some

one who has undoubtedly experienced his share of highs and lows in baseball, he can handle the disappointment that goes hand-in-hand with athletics.

He was tearful for his players, who he spends as much or more time with than his own children. The amount of respect and care he has for each player on his team was demonstrated fully in a short moment that could otherwise have been filled with meaningless talk of line drives and strike threes.

"They do everything for you," he managed to say despite being choked up. "Everything you ask of them. It just hurts to see them hurt."

It's been years since I played ball, but if I were in high school or if I had a child playing in high school, that is the type of coach I'd want him to play for.

People can learn fundamentals and they can learn how to teach, but it takes a special person with a genuine passion for the game and the players he coaches to feel the emotions of his team.

That is a sign of a close-knit group of players and coaches, who are willing to lay everything on the line for each other no matter the outcome of the game.

I had a list of questions I had planned on asking Gilstrap.

I had planned to ask about the 11 runners the Hawks left on base. I wanted to ask about the six-run outburst the team surrendered to Evans in the third inning after taking an early 2-0 lead. I wanted to ask what was next for a team that had come so far, only to see its season abruptly ended.

In the end, though, all that mattered were the words that Gilstrap couldn't say, and there's no greater sign of a winner than that.

David Mitchell, 706-571-8571, dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.com; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.

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