As Andy Bass continues in his 17th season as head baseball coach at Greenwood Community High School, current and former players have plenty to say about him.
Most of what they say echoes a common theme. Woodmen assistant coach and former player Mario Buscemi sums it up nicely.
“He just loves baseball,” Buscemi said. “As far as I know, he’s been around baseball his whole life.”
Bass, 41, confirms both assertions.
“Baseball has been my passion from an early age,” the veteran coach said. “I grew up watching the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970s) on Channel 4. I would pretend to be Johnny Bench because he was
Bass went on to play catcher for his dad’s Shelby County Little League team and played the same position at Triton Central High School and at Franklin College.
Now the dean of Johnson County baseball coaches with the departure of longtime Center Grove mentor Dave Gandolph to Scecina, Bass has refined his childlike devotion with an intellect for the game that could only come from experience and maturity.
“There are so many life lessons you can get out of baseball, as with a lot of sports,” Bass said. “Particularly with baseball. Baseball is a game of failure. The best guy fails 65 percent of the time — the best.
“But how are you going to respond to that failure?”
While success on the field is important to the competitive Bass, it’s what comes after high school baseball that matters most to him.
“We hadn’t had a player drafted by a pro team until last year with (Alex) Krupa,” Bass said.
“But we’ve had a lot of kids leave this program and be successful in society. That’s our goal.
“You may not be the next Johnny Bench, but you can go out and get a great job and be a great husband and father and contribute to making our community and society better. You can learn a lot about doing that from baseball.”
Greenwood senior co-captain Mitch Caster said his players get the message.
“He holds us responsible for taking care of what we need to take care of, but at the same time he’s there to help,” he said. “He’s got a great knowledge of the game, obviously. We try to soak up as much of that as we can and go out there and give our all for him.”
Along with effort and character, Bass stresses the mental side of the game as well, noting that this is perhaps the most deficient area evident in many players coming through today’s youth ranks.
“These kids play travel ball at a much earlier age, and they play a lot more games in the summer than we did,” he explained. “They also have these indoor facilities that we never had, so they can work on their skills all the time. So they understand what they are trying to do individually better, but I think the team strategy is lost on a lot of them.
“Kids now hear ‘Move the runner over’ and think it means ‘get a base hit’ because they don’t understand you do it by putting the ball on the right side of the infield or bunting him over. The art of small ball is gone, because when you turn on SportsCenter, you see 450-foot home runs or you see the guy who hit two or three home runs in a game.
“You ask some kids to bunt, and they’ve never had to do it before. So a lot of the little fundamentals are lost to players because it’s not the glamorous things you see on SportsCenter.”
As a result, Bass includes some remedial baseball strategy sessions with his players each season.
“We try to talk about different situations when we’re hitting. ‘What kind of pitch are we looking for? What are we going to do with it? There are two strikes, how does that make what we are trying to do, different?’”
Bass takes a total program approach, using the freshman and junior varsity squads to prepare players for the stiffer competition they will face at the varsity level.
“We spend a lot of time working on little things that often got overlooked before they came in. We spend a lot of time with freshmen on base running because they haven’t gotten that.
“We also often have to fix bad habits at the plate,” he added. “Some kid maybe is hitting well because he’s big and strong, but nobody fixes his bad habits, then he gets to high school and the quality pitchers who understand the process of changing speeds, pitches, eye level and all that, will make the kid with poor hitting mechanics struggle.
“You may have to break down everything with that batter and teach him a new way of doing everything.”
Buscemi, who played on Bass’ first Greenwood team in 1998, said the head coach is still more than up for the job.
“He’s really energetic,” he said “He relates to the kids well and is a fun guy to play for. He got the most out of the kids when I was here and still does. He’s an all-around good guy.”