Coach Field reduced baseball down to its simplest form, and built his dynasty out of it

— Photo from Don Asch

Guilderland High School’s 1961 varsity baseball team: Coach Frederick Field, at far right, stands with his team. Don Asch, who sent this photo to Jim Meade after reading his letter online, is smack in the middle (second row, third one in). Meade notes that Asch was also class president and valedictorian.

To the Editor:

Coach Field. Coach Frederick Field. There’s the answer to the trivia question that’s been rolling around in my brain, the question being, “Where have I encountered true greatness in the sporting world I know directly?” Coach Field.

We were a dynasty. Guilderland Central Baseball. 1960s. It was a different time. First of all, everybody went out for baseball. The whole thing was a process of natural selection based on how big and strong and fast you were and on how soon puberty had set in for you.

Experience counted some, too. We started playing baseball upon leaving the womb — catch with a rubber ball from the cradle.

Mickey Brutchak was our man. His dad played baseball for the Albany minor league team. Albany still had one then. Mickey pitched. He batted fourth and could definitely take you deep.

But it’s Coach Field I wanted to write about. I was reading a John Grisham novel called “The Bleachers,” and the whole story was about a coach who built a football dynasty, built it out of merciless training where players would pass out, throw up, play through injuries, and raise toughness to a level so ridiculous that you wonder why anybody would play for him. Yet everybody did.

Well, Fred Field was a legend, too, but he didn’t build his team that way, and I want to marvel a bit at how he did it. In googling him, I see that Guilderland now has a Fred Field Diamond for varsity baseball. They probably wanted to call it Fred Field Field, but you can see the obvious problem with that.

Here’s what I want to marvel at with you. Yes, it’s about baseball, but it’s really about life. He developed a system I’ve never seen anywhere else in baseball at any level. When I applied it myself, coaching Little League, well, if I’d kept it up I might have become a legend, too. As it was, we rarely lost and often destroyed opponents by the 10-run rule (game over if you’re ahead by 10 after four innings).

Here’s the marvel. Wait, I’m getting to it. First of all, he apparently did need a key cog in his machine. That would be a Mickey Brutchak, a pitcher who could hold the other team scoreless or nearly so.

Also, around that stopper on the pitching mound, he wanted players who knew what was happening and where to stand whatever happened. Where should the cut-off man stand, the back-up man, other relay people as needed? He needed people who would be yelling at each other in the action so that the right person was poised to make the catch and everyone knew where the ball should go next (and next if needed).

But that’s not it. At every level teams do that, more or less. Baseball becomes boring to all but its true fans, because nothing much seems to happen. The game runs like a watch.

The only difference was that Coach Field’s teams ran like a Rolex. (I didn’t even play on his varsity. I played in his system, on JV. The freshman team used his system, too. Everyone knew it automatically, without a lot of thinking. You’d be baseball smart even if school wasn’t generally your thing.)

OK, I’ll tell you. He built his game on a mostly ignored, mostly disdained, mostly forgotten part of baseball. The bunt. Everyone in Coach Field’s system at every level could bunt.

What was so great about that? Well, other parts of the game are not something everyone can do. Home runs? A few players can do it, not many. Place hitting to the right places, in the old “hit ’em where they ain’t.” Takes a lot of skill, good eye-hand coordination, and foot speed helps, too. Not so easy.

But bunting — everyone can do that. You would not think everyone could do it, to watch today’s game of baseball or any other day’s game, for that matter. Players don’t practice bunting. No one teaches them bunting. We tend to think that bunting is so simple that you don’t need to teach it. Stick the bat out, that’s all. That’s what you see people do most of the time — stick the bat out, pop up the ball, or miss it.

But Coach Field’s players learned how to bunt properly. You square around, and catch the ball with the bat. Any dope can do it. You don’t have to be one of the ones who matured early, runs fast, and can bench press 200 pounds. And Coach Field’s players practiced bunting. It was a standard part of batting practice. “Good. Now lay a few down, and you’re done.”

Other things in life are like that. I hear that cutting hair is like that. If you can cut in a straight line, you can create a fancy hair style. Carpentry is like that. First be able to cut straight and nail straight. Cooking? Sure. Get the right ingredients together. Put them together in the right proportions. Anybody, with a little training, can cut hair, nail a few boards together, or cook.

Coach Field reduced baseball down to its simplest form, and built his dynasty out of it. Because anybody can bunt once you have learned how. First of all, you have somebody bat first who is fast, has a good batting eye, and can make contact. He or she isn’t going to bunt (at least not the first at bat).

Then, the second person can bunt. It’s called a sacrifice bunt because all he has to do is catch the ball with the bat and not pop it up. He can miss it. The runner just retreats to first.

The runner moves to second. One out. In the rigmarole of things, he gets to third with less than two outs. Then comes the grand Coach Field moment, the high drama, and the stroke of genius — the squeeze bunt. It’s used so rarely every place else (but routinely with Coach Field) that it catches everyone by surprise.

If you know how to bunt, then everything about the squeeze bunt is high percentage. The runner on third breaks for home with the pitch. He’d be completely out if he were trying to steal, but he’s not. The batter knows how to bunt. Either the pitcher throws the ball way outside, and the runner slides in, or — much, much more common — the batter bunts the ball in fair territory and the run scores.

It’s all so strikingly simple. You have a good pitcher and keep the other team from scoring too many runs. You have a defense that runs like a clock, also keeping the score low. Then, unlike everybody else (who is always trying to hit the ball hard and far, with a much lower percentage of success), you bunt people along and squeeze out a run here, a run there.

My senior year, 1962, Coach Field’s varsity team won the conference and the districts. My two years on junior varsity, we almost always won. There we were, bunting our way to glory. Unstoppable.

I’m glad they’ve named a field after him. “Fred Field Diamond” or, as I’ll want to think of it, “Fred Field Field.” The man was a genius. A legend. He built a dynasty in baseball, and he did it in a way no one else has done, before or since, that I know of. He built his teams around the bunt. Coach Field, or, as all of us still remember him, just plain “Coach.” 

Jim Meade

Los Angeles

Editor’s note: Jim Meade went to Guilderland Central High School where he played junior-varsity baseball, was a drummer in the band, and was vice president of the student council. He graduated in 1962.


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