40 years in, Land O’ Lakes’ Calvin Baisley still betrothed to baseball

LAND O’ LAKES — Like many retirees in his age bracket, Calvin Baisley spends most afternoons peering contentedly from a golf cart.

Only this one is parked near a baseline instead of a bunker. From the driver’s seat, the New York native looks on as a dozen or so teenagers stretch their arms with long-tossing in leftfield. Baisley, 66, retired as a physical education teacher at Pine View Middle School nine years ago but never relinquished the other gig he has held since the Reagan Administration.

“Coaching’s a lot easier when you don’t have to teach all day,” said Baisley, in his 40th season as baseball coach at Land O’ Lakes High, where the field is named in his honor. “A lot easier.”

At this rate, Baisley — a Mickey Mantle devotee raised 40 minutes north of Yankee Stadium in Peekskill, New York — just might hit the half-century mark. Though coaching seems littered with more minefields than ever (social media and sniping parents, transfers and travel ball), Baisley seems to have navigated them all efficiently while losing nothing off his figurative fastball.

In 40 seasons, he has won 649 games and taken 18 Gators teams to the playoffs, including each of the last six (excluding the shortened COVID-19 season of 2020). Though he hasn’t reached a final four, his 2021 and 2023 teams came only a game short.

“At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the kids you deal with, and I’ve got good kids,” said Baisley, a married dad of three and grandfather of six. “I’ve got 30 kids on my team, and they all don’t play, so there’s the potential for headaches. But these kids like baseball, they like each other. I don’t have a lot of headaches.”

To commemorate Baisley’s milestone season, we’ve compiled a collection of significant stats, a Q&A with the coach himself and a brief look at arguably the most perfect night of his sprawling career.

What do you still love most about this?

“Working with the kids and watching them develop. I mean, the way these kids change in four years, it’s unbelievable. You watch them grow physically, you watch them grow on the baseball field. At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids you deal with, and I’ve been blessed. Some of my best friends are my ex-players. My golf partner’s an ex-player of mine.”

What has been the toughest change to adjust to over the years?

“I deal with good kids, but there’s so many things you deal with now. First off, I’ll never get in trouble on social media because I’ve never been on it. I don’t use it, I don’t go on it, I don’t want nothing to do with it. I don’t know how to do it. But the recruiting’s completely different. Very few colleges will even contact high school coaches anymore unless they have a good relationship, so a lot is invested in travel ball in the summer times. And I was against it in the beginning; I kind of like it now, because I get some time off.”

So you attended Saint Leo. What position did you play?

“I didn’t play. Honestly, in hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have made the team because I was a third baseman and they had an All-American that (eventually) played in the big leagues. But I came down here and had never been south of New Jersey, and by the time the plane landed I was going home. I stuck it out for the first semester and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to Southern Connecticut.’ They had interest in me coming out of junior college. I take all my stuff back home and (Southern Connecticut’s coach) says, ‘We’d love to have you, you’ve got to sit out a year.’ ... People weren’t as informed back then on the recruiting and all that stuff, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to be a professional. It’s either five semesters at Southern Connecticut or three at Saint Leo.’ I went back to Florida.”

Give me one Gators team that really, really over-achieved.

“It was when I had (future FSU tight end) Caz Piurowski as a freshman (2003). ... Just really started out slow. I started two or three freshmen. I had a freshman catcher, I had Caz Piurowski, I had (14-year-old left-hander) Jeff Bloomer pitching for me. And they just figured it out the second half of the year and won the district championship. ... There was a lot of youth on that team, and we knew they were good, it was just a matter of when they were going to figure it out.”

Give me one team that could’ve gone all the way but fell short.

“That’s easy. That (2000 team) was our chance to win the state title. ... I guess we had six kids drafted off that team, but unfortunately we ran into a team named Sarasota. ... Our first (playoff) game, we threw Derek Thompson and we beat Plant. ... (Sarasota), their top two pitchers, one was a fourth-rounder (left-hander Jason Miller), and the other was a freshman but he ended up being a second-round pick. ... I mean, they were loaded.” (Miller, who played briefly for the Twins, no-hit the Gators, 4-0).

A grand performance

Arguably the most poignant, personal triumph of Baisley’s career occurred only a couple of weeks back.

Gators senior right-hander Logan Baisley, oldest of Baisley’s six grandchildren, tossed an eight-inning perfect game in a 1-0 home triumph at Sunlake on March 5. Logan Baisley, who has signed with Saint Leo (grandpa’s alma mater), struck out 13 on only 85 pitches.

Logan Baisley said the grandkids always have called their grandfather “Big Papa,” though he shortens it to “BP” in the team setting.

“I usually just approach him when I want to talk to him instead of, like, calling out what I usually call him,” said Logan Baisley, whose father Brad was a Phillies second-round draft pick in 1998 before shoulder problems ended his career. “That’s probably the most awkward part. ... The majority of the time, I’ll just, like, go up to him and say something. I won’t call his name.”

By the numbers

4: Land O’ Lakes players who have reached the majors during Baisley’s tenure: Jason Garcia, Cory Doyne, Derek Thompson and Jeff Baisley (one of his twin sons)

6: Pasco County public high schools in existence when Baisley became Gators coach in 1985

13: Pasco County public high schools (with athletic programs) currently in existence

17: Land O’ Lakes players who have reached the professional level on Baisley’s watch

45: Years Baisley has been married to wife Susan, mom of his three boys. The couple will celebrate its 46th anniversary in September. “She’s a saint,” Baisley said. “I laugh because her birthday’s in April, and in our 46 years of marriage she’s probably spent 45 of her birthdays in a baseball park. Either at USF or a Little League game or some kind of game.”

77: Years of head-coaching experience of Baisley’s current staff, which includes former Ridgewood coach Larry Beets (28 seasons) and former Mitchell coach Scot Wilcox (nine).

What they’re saying

“We work on the same things every single week: bunt defenses, pitcher covering first. We do all the things that a lot of other teams might do once or twice at the start of the year and they never come back to it. We keep doing it every single day. ... A lot of Baise’s seasons look just like the season before, just like the season before. It’s just consistent.” — Land O’ Lakes assistant (and former Mitchell coach) Scott Wilcox

“He is a very experienced coach with some very good helpers. They are always a very talented team and one of our hardest games of the year every year. It takes a special person to donate 40 years to public school coaching and putting in the effort to make them competitive every year.” — Wiregrass Ranch coach (and former FSU All-American) Marshall McDougall

“It’s pretty special to be able to be at the same place for your whole career. Not only did he do that as a teacher, but he’s done that as a head baseball coach. ... We were actually out to dinner two weeks ago, and one of his former middle school players was playing in a country band and we sat at a table with five of his former players. ... I just think it’s a combination of working hard, having great kids and being in a great community.” — Steinbrenner coach John Crumbley, who worked with Baisley at Pine View Middle School in the early 1980s

“Outstanding leader of young men that has the discipline of Elston Howard and the tenacity of Billy Martin. Baise’s attention to detail, observation skills and patience with young men is unmatched in our profession. He truly loves and respects the game. True family man that only has one weakness: He is a Yankees fan.” — Hernando coach Tim Sims

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls