Baseball is woven into Pat Held’s fabric as tightly as seams are sewn into the ball.
That’s why it likely will be difficult when the 2013 baseball season rolls around and Held will no longer be coaching the game he loves, a game he has coached for 43 years.
After coaching virtually every age level imaginable in Central Minnesota, the 61-year-old has decided to retire following three years as head coach of the Central Lakes College Raiders.
What did Held do shortly after making the decision? He and his wife, Carolyn, his devoted sidekick and fellow ball nut, attended the Minnesota College Athletic Conference/Region 13 tournament May 10-13 at St. Cloud.
“A couple of my friends were umpiring, they came by and we talked, and they asked, ‘What are you going to do next spring’? and I didn’t have an answer,” Held said. “I just don’t know. Baseball has been so much a part of my life, that’s what makes this so difficult. It’s not that I won’t find something to do. I’m just not interested in doing any more head coaching. Maybe I’ll volunteer a little bit. Motley Middle School is only five miles away from my house.
“I’ve had enough riding buses, especially this year. We played 11 games at Austin. That was more games than we played in Brainerd (10). It was a very unusual schedule. The final budget figures aren’t in yet, but it won’t be pretty with all that travel.”
Held’s first Raiders team went 9-29 before an 0-31 season in 2011. He said the winless season wasn’t nearly as bad as dealing with Carolyn’s cancer.
“It would have been different if the players were hard to work with, but they were not,” Held said. “They hustled, they played up to their ability. We didn’t have the numbers. A winless year, people automatically think it’s been a bad year. It all depends on what you compare it to. One of my former students lost a leg in Afghanistan. That’s what it’s all about. That puts (0-31) in its proper place.
“As a coach, I knew right away it was going to be a tough year. We had all those guys ineligible, but we did what we could. The guys played hard, they were good citizens, they competed. I think we built our reputation that year. It didn’t make any difference what happened, we played hard.”
This spring the Raiders lost their first 16 games before beating Rainy River at the Metrodome, snapping a 47-game losing streak. CLC finished 9-40 and was seeded seventh in the Southern Division playoffs where it bumped off No. 2 Riverland 1-0 in the first game of a best of three series. Riverland swept the next two games 2-0 and 8-0.
“I thought we made some real progress with the program this year,” Held said. “We were a lot more competitive. We had a great group of guys to work with.
“I felt very affirmed at the end of the year. We played very well the last two weeks. The 1-0 victory over Riverland ... We were the only lower-seeded team that won a game. Everyone else went two and out. And, we had them on the ropes the second game.”
A classy act by Riverland and by Raiders players made Held a bit emotional following the final game.
“As I walked to meet with our guys (in the outfield) they applauded, and then the other team applauded too,” he said.
Carolyn was CLC’s official scorekeeper. Her cancer forced her to miss the 2011 season but she returned this spring.
“The players loved her,” Pat said. “She was an inspiration for them. They knew what she was going through. She wasn’t around at all last spring. The players understood how much it meant to me to have her at the ballpark. They treated her like a queen.”
Held said CLC’s tentative plan is to create a full-time teaching position for his successor.
“I will miss the good nucleus of guys they have coming back,” he said. “They could have as many as 10-12 good players to build around next year.
“I don’t leave with any sour grapes, but I put in a lot of time and effort into the program the last three years. I don’t want to see it disappear.”
One thing is certain. Held will not disappear. He and Carolyn will be going to as many games as their time, and her health, permits.
Mike Bialka, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.