This article first ran in The Cedar Rapids Gazette on June 18, 2017, and can be found here.
OXFORD, IOWA — Walking from the dugout to the coaches box on the third base side — as he does to start every game — Jim White noticed a gate to the field was still ajar.
Quickly, he jogged over to the fence line and grabbed the gate. But right before he pulled it shut, he recognized a group of fans.
“The bench changed sides, huh?” White called out, jokingly.
“That ain’t right,” one joked back.
And for many, it wasn’t right.
White coached at Clear Creek Amana from 1995-2012, leading the Clippers to six state tournament titles and 13 tournament appearances. But on Wednesday, White returned to the field he used to call home with No. 4 Solon (15-5) to take on Clear Creek Amana (7-15), and had to switch to the visiting duggout.
It was just his second trip to Oxford since taking the Solon job in 2013.
“I don’t even drive by it,” said White, who still teaches in the CCA district. “The last time I’ve been here was four years ago when we played here, and I’m in this town a lot. I just try to avoid it.
“It has a lot of special meaning. A lot of the greatest memories of my life have been here. A lot of time, a lot of effort, a really unique family atmosphere we had here, so all of those things make it tough to come back.”
But White’s return trip to the diamond wasn’t met with any animosity. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
Dozens of White’s former players and their families packed the tailgate-lined outfield fence, all trekking back to see their former coach's team play. They even hosted a mini-reunion with him after the doubleheader.
“Obviously he knows the game and can coach it and can teach it, but I think he relates so well to kids,” Clear Creek Amana Athletic Director Kurt Ronnfeldt said. “Kids want to play for him, and the number of alumni here tonight shows the relationships to him and what they think of him. He’s the best.”
With all of the commotion, White said it took him a few pitches to get refocused on the game. Once he settled in, though, Solon had no trouble sweeping the Clippers, winning 8-4 and 8-5.
But Wednesday night wasn’t about the results of the doubleheader. It was about the relationships White built in both communities.
After all, he did know just about everyone in the ballpark.
“These (CCA) kids, I have in class,” White said. “I’m really good friends with them, too. It’s tough calling pitches against some of them. If I wasn’t coaching against them, I’d be cheering for them.”