Tyrone Ricks has been around the block a few times, to say the least.
The Washington, D.C., native has served in the military, played and coached college baseball and was even one of the first African-Americans to graduate high school in the D.C area. The real story, however, is how Coach Ricks, as his players call him, has been involved with baseball for nearly 60 years.
"The most important lesson I can teach kids is friendship," Ricks said. "During high school, you develop a bond with friends in your life that you must maintain."
Ricks, 70, first played baseball for his neighborhood team, the Skaters, when he was 12. A year later, Ricks tried out for the then-Washington Senators. He went 3-for-5 that week, recording three bunt singles.
Once he got to Howard University, he played baseball for two years, then returned as an assistant coach for 10 years (1985-1995). Ricks was offered the job after coaching a softball team that beat another team that had sneaked two boys on dressed as girls.
Chuck Henton, Howard's head coach at the time, approached Ricks about the boys in drag and immediately offered him the assistant job. Under the tandem of Henton and Ricks, Howard won six of 10 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles. Ricks also took it upon himself to make Howard a university sanctioned by the NCAA.
After Ricks finished his tenure at Howard, he moved to Spring Hill with his wife, Sharon. But Ricks couldn't stay away from baseball long.
Ricks and his good friend Brian Moore, now a politician, founded the Nature Coast Adult Baseball League, which is open to all ages and plays Sundays in Spring Hill, Dade City, Homosassa Springs and Brooksville. He also joined a local Dixie Youth League, looking to coach again.
"When I moved down here, I heard Florida was a baseball state," Ricks said. "But I couldn't find the talent and I didn't see the coaches helping kids try to be better and achieve the next level, that being high school and eventually college. I focused on getting the kids to the college level, (since) I had been there and knew what it took."
So Ricks founded a group of 14-year-old Dixie Boy All Stars. These 12 kids ultimately would finish third in Florida in all-star competition and produce nine varsity players at Nature Coast Tech, including recent graduates Travis Murray, Joe Silvestri and Brandon Derespiris.
That team went on to graduate high school with a 3.9 grade point average and have the 2008 salutatorian, Chris Jones.
"My goal for them was to get the best education they could in the classroom and on the diamond," Ricks said. "They have achieved success on and off the field and nothing could make me happier. … At the end, you can look back, and if you still have a good bond with your friends and your degree, when baseball is over, they can't take either of them away from you."
After coaching for the better part of 30 years, Ricks plans to hang up the spikes now that the Class of 2008 graduated.
"I made that class a promise when they were 14," he said. "I promised I'd see them through high school and off to college. They all made it, and my job is done."
Sharon is already worried about her husband, who is a Type 2 diabetic and has a demanding schedule that begins at 8 a.m. for work and doesn't end up after 9 p.m. following practice and/or games.
"I worry about him running himself into the ground," she said. "But he loves this game and it makes him happy, so I can't tell him no because I love him."
But perhaps Ricks really can't stay away from baseball.
"I think I'm done. I have played, coached, served in the military — saw the world, got married," Ricks said. "I have accomplished everything I wanted to in this life. I think I'm done with coaching, but who knows? My grandson will be at the high school level in a few years, so it's a possibility."
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