Monday, March 19, 2018

Billy Reed, Hillsborough High baseball coaching legend and Belmont Heights Little League co-founder, dies at 86

TAMPA — He had no biological sons, but that was just a technicality.

Hundreds — perhaps thousands — can attest that few had a stronger, more nurturing paternal presence in Tampa’s inner city than Billy Reed.

"Just a great guy," said retired peer Frank Permuy, who won more than 1,300 baseball games in a local high school coaching career spanning more than 40 years.

"Not just a good baseball man but just a genuinely good man. There’s no telling how many lives he touched, especially in his area. He had to be a father figure to a lot of guys — a lot of guys — in his area."

Mr. Reed, who helped develop major league stars Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield and several others during an iconic high school coaching career in Hillsborough County, died Saturday evening of natural causes.

A U.S. Army veteran, he had been suffering from congestive heart failure and died in a Tampa rehabilitation facility, said Dorothye Reed, his wife of 56 years.

Mr. Reed was 86.

His baseball rosters at Hillsborough High — where Mr. Reed coached for roughly a quarter-century before retiring in 1997 — included eventual big-leaguers Gooden, Sheffield, Vance Lovelace, Carl Everett and Floyd Youmans. The baseball field at the city’s oldest high school is named in his honor.

"He turned us into men," said Jason Romano, who was a standout on Mr. Reed’s final Terriers team.

"Coach Reed was a great man, a great coach, a great friend," said Tony Saladino, who in 1981 co-founded a Hillsborough County spring break baseball tournament with his late wife, Bertha, that continues flourishing to this day. "A true legend."

Isadore Reginald "Billy" Reed Jr. was born in Tampa and excelled in football, basketball and baseball at Middleton High (then an all-black school), where he graduated in 1949. He shined in those same three sports at Florida A&M University, where he met Dorothye, a cheerleader.

He returned to Middleton, coaching football and baseball from 1957-70. When the school closed as a result of desegregation, he moved to Hillsborough.

Amid those tenures, he also helped found the storied Belmont Heights Little League, which produced a handful of big-leaguers and four Little League World Series teams from 1973-81.

"Even before I got to Hillsborough, he kind of instilled a culture at Belmont Heights," said Lovelace, a 1981 Hillsborough graduate and first-round MLB draft pick by the Chicago Cubs who pitched briefly in the majors from 1988-90 and later became a Los Angeles Dodgers executive.

"And the bottom line was, it was about taking responsibility, taking responsibility for your teammates, for yourself. He helped people grow up."

A stickler for detail, Mr. Reed’s teams’ modus operandi was mastering the "little things" — such as laying down a bunt, or hitting the cutoff man with a throw — and assuming responsibility when you didn’t, Lovelace said.

"He really made us accountable for everything we were doing," said Romano, who was selected by the Texas Rangers in the first round of the 1997 draft and spent parts of four seasons in the majors, including with the Rays in 2004.

"We’d show up on the field and it would be time to work and time to get after it. He was very big on the fundamentals, which I think is a lost art these days. He made us do bunts and do run-downs and pick-offs. He’d always be out there with his scowl, looking over us, making sure we did it the right way every time or we had to re-do it. Just a good overall fundamental coach."

That philosophy produced five playoff teams and two Saladino Tournament championship squads at Hillsborough. His 1980 club, led by Lovelace, reached the Class 4A state tournament.

"Even if you thought you were better than they were, they were gonna give you a hell of a game every time," Permuy said. "He saw to it that no one quit, and I tell you, they played seven innings of baseball ’til the end."

Mr. Reed’s pouty grimace at a questionable umpire’s call ("Ahh, you gotta be kiddin’ me") became one of his trademarks. And his disciplinary measures often had flair.

Romano, among at least a half-dozen members of his family to play for Mr. Reed, recalled the punishment imposed when his coach discovered a bunch of Blow Pops missing from the ballpark’s concession stand.

"So he called a team meeting and said, ‘All right you Blow Pop bandits, I don’t know who did it, but all I know is, you guys are gonna run until I’m done eatin’ all the Blow Pops I wanna eat,’?" Romano recalled.

"So he stood on top of the press box, eating Blow Pops while we were running laps and laps around the field. He must’ve eaten like, four or five Blow-Pops before we stopped."

In retirement, Mr. Reed indulged his passion for golf, visited the Saladino Tournament annually and earned induction into at least two halls of fame, FAMU and Hillsborough High football. He also kept his diabetes under control but had to give up driving a couple of years ago when other health issues besieged him.

Mr. Reed is survived by his wife, two daughters and three grandchildren. One of those grandchildren, Eric Blanc, is an outfielder at FAMU.

Then, of course, there are all those surrogate sons.

"He would correct you and let you know he had sons who were doctors and lawyers and police officers and firefighters," said Dorothye Reed.

Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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