When Ty Calloway coached his final game for Western last weekend in the Class 3A semistate game at CFD Investments Stadium in Kokomo’s Highland Park, it finished a four-decade run in which he started as an assistant, then spent 36 seasons as the Panther skipper.
That closed the book on his time in the No. 18 jersey, which he wore as coach in memorable games, against friends and rivals, and against a host of great players.
Talking to the Tribune last week, Calloway looked back at some of his impressions of the last four decades at Western. He enjoyed taking his squad to play against a host of managers that were fun to play against, like long-time friend George Phares of Taylor, Greg Marschand and Jack Ayers of Cass, Kenny Seitz at Hamilton Southeastern, Gary DeHaven at Benton Central, Ken Kaufman, Dan Armstrong and Ryan Berryman at Northwestern, Dave Spargo at Eastern, Mark Massariu at Haworth, Mike Smith and Steve Edwards at Kokomo, Dennis Kas at Clinton Prairie, Chuck Brimbury at Peru, Don Sherman at Huntington North and Dustin Hays at Maconaquah.
He also got to coach the Panthers, who he played for in his own high school days, against a host of great players. Jasper’s Scott Rolen, Tom Underwood and Pat Underwood of Kokomo, and Logansport’s Aaron Heilman stood out to him. All four became major leaguers. Other memorable rivals were Taylor’s Joe Beason and Cass’ Ted Kitchel.
The following is a question and answer with the outgoing Western coach, who led Western to the Class 3A state title in 2012 and took the team to the semistate this season.
Q: What was the highest high you’ve had from coaching, the best thing?
A: “When I first started coaching at the high school, and particularly when I was [a player] in school ... I don’t think the mental attitude was there that they could beat the biggest schools. That was the first thing that I thought we had to get over at Western, we can compete with, we can beat the big schools. Once you get to that point that you can do that — and I think you saw, it happened in baseball and eventually in basketball — I think the stigma is [ended].”
Calloway gave an example of how when he was first an assistant with Western, the Panthers ran up against a powerhouse Lafayette Jeff team that was beating teams by the 15-run rule, as the mercy rule worked then, as the defending state champion Bronchos racked up victories in 1974.
“I told the coach at the time, one of these days I wanted to compete at that level. I think getting to that level is the most satisfying thing in coaching that I did.”
Q: What’s the toughest loss, or hardest finish to a season?
A: “There’s no doubt the ‘93 loss to Huntington [in the semistate]. That tore the heart out of you. We were six outs away and we had a three-run lead. The rain came [delaying the finish from Saturday to Monday]. We had a couple dropped foul balls, and a slipped bunt coverage. They caught us. That’s the hardest loss that I’ve ever had. We ended up going 11 innings before we got beat. That was a tough one. That was the toughest one.”
Q: What’s different abut high school baseball, from your point of view, today, compared to 36 years ago?
A: “I think back when I started, we had more three-sport athletes playing baseball than we do now. I think it’s become more specialized. I’m not sure it’s for the better, but that’s the way I see it. Today, you’ve got a lot of kids that play one sport or no more than two.
“And I think the way the kids play in the offseason [has changed]. It started with AAU basketball. The money thing has gotten too out of hand in baseball. I don’t think kids should be paying through the nose in the offseason.
“I liked the local kids playing against each other instead of going to Indianapolis or Fort Wayne or all over to play. That’s my opinion for what it’s worth.”
Calloway noted how schools or various teams occupy so much of a young player’s summer.
“I think there comes a time when a kid needs to be a kid. They’re at a time now where you’re in one season, then in another, then another. I think [the IHSAA and schools] got tired of dealing with it and washed their hands of it. I think they sort of said [to coaches] you do your thing and now everybody thinks they have to do it or be left behind.”
Q: You’ve coached about the same number of years under the open and class sports systems. What are your thoughts on those?
A: “It doesn’t really affect me, or our teams too much. I don’t like it. I like playing the best people you can. If you’re going to have a champion, make sure it’s a champion over everybody. We came close two times in non-class to make the state finals. One break or two, we probably could have made it.
“I’ve always enjoyed the challenge — make you work harder, motivated you more. I’d like to see it go to one class but it won’t. There’s too many people that don’t want to see it.”
Q: Who was your favorite ballplayer growing up?
“I was a Mickey Mantle fan. I grew up a Mickey fan. Micky was mine. My brother [Mike, two years younger] was Duke Snider. I was always a Yankee fan growing up, still am.”
Q: Other than playing a home game, what’s your favorite ballpark to visit as a coach?
A: “Victory field. That’s the best one. That was an easy answer.
“I’ve had a lot of people say ‘what’d that feel like?’ I say ‘satisfying.’ Finally get to that field and play as well as we did, that’s satisfying.
“Coveleski ballpark [in South Bend] was great to play in, that’s a good experience [as was Fort Wayne’s park]. I’ve always enjoyed Hamilton Southeastern, and Crawfordsville ranks high on the list. In the conference I’ve always enjoyed the Cass games. And we always thought Highland Park was our second home. Highland Park’s been good to us.”