|Hundreds attend Steen's finale|
|By Chace Bryson|
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
|Article Launched:05/19/2007 03:01:34 AM PDT|
|DANVILLE -- Andy Tarpley remembers the moment quite vividly.|
It was 1991, Tarpley's senior year as a member of the San Ramon Valley High School baseball team, and the Wolves were in the North Coast Section semifinals.
Tarpley had just connected on a no-doubter of a home run and was standing at the plate watching the ball sail out of the yard, when he heard the yelling. The yelling came from his own dugout and his coach Rick Steen; it was terse and to the point.
"I heard him yelling at the top of his lungs, 'Run, (darnit), run!,'" said Tarpley, now in his fourth season as the baseball coach at Acalanes. "He yelled at me all the way around the bases, reminding me that we don't show up teams that way; we have class, integrity and respect for our opponents. I almost felt bad for having hit a homer in an NCS game."
But Steen made his point, and the moment was a perfect illustration of the type of coaching that has helped him remain one of the most respected coaches in the area over the past three decades.
After 32 years at the helm of the Wolves baseball program, a run that included three NCS titles, the 60-year-old Steen more than likely coached his final home game at San Ramon Valley on Friday -- an emotional 3-1 win over crosstown rival Monte Vista.
Before the game, Steen was honored with two standing ovations by a crowd of roughly 500 students, parents and fans, and a ceremony that dedicated the San Ramon Valley baseball field as Rick Steen Ball Park. The coach was clearly touched by the moment as the sign dedicating the field was revealed above the scoreboard in left-center field.
"It was emotional, even semi-knowing what was going to happen," Steen said after the game. "I had just got done talking to the team about keeping our emotions in check and just playing ball, but once the sign was shown, all the memories started rolling."
More than a few of Steen's colleagues and former players were in attendance to bid him farewell, including Tarpley, who continues to marvel at what Steen has accomplished.
"He's a blue-collar, hard-nosed, hard-working coach," Tarpley said. "He has pride in his facility, his program, and the players that come out of his program. He's someone I've modeled myself after, and someone I'll continue to model myself after."
Monte Vista coach Bill Piona, who himself has been coaching the Mustangs for 20 seasons, paid his rival an equally-impressive compliment.
"He's such a man of integrity," Piona said. "I'd be proud for my son to play for someone like Rick."
Integrity, instilling a passion for the game and playing the game the right way were all topics that continually surfaced when former players spoke of Steen.
"The biggest thing is he instilled the same thing my parents taught," said San Francisco Giants outfielder Randy Winn, who was a teammate of Tarpley's in 1991. "(Things like) working hard, practicing, playing the game the right way and doing the best you could do on a daily basis."
Dave McKae, a 2000 San Ramon Valley graduate who now pitches for the Single-A San Jose Giants, said he most appreciated Steen's sense of fairness.
"He gave everybody opportunities and believed in each of his players," McKae said before his game Tuesday. "He always gave people chances to show what they could do. He was out there to win, but he wanted everybody to be a part of it."
Steen and the Wolves got a much-needed win Friday, one that perhaps prolonged the coach's services at least one more game. The victory put San Ramon Valley's overall record at 13-11, making the Wolves eligible for the 16-team NCS 3A East Bay playoff bracket, which will be selected Sunday.
"I wish we would have had 16 wins. I think I would've enjoyed (the festivities) a little bit more," Steen said with a slight grin.
The decision to hang it up wasn't necessarily an easy one for Steen, but it came logically.
"Sixty years old was just something that I was pointing at," Steen said. "I was not trying to pick a team or a freshman class to go out on. It was basically just based on age and the smile on my wife's face when I mentioned retirement."
Steen won't leave the game entirely, however. In between a lot of golf, he will still do extensive traveling as part of his job with Major League Baseball International and the International Sports Group.
"I have some irons in my mind," he said. "I'm just waiting to put them in the fire."
MediaNews staff writer Andrew Baggarly contributed to this story. Contact Chace Bryson at email@example.com.