Persistence pays off

WESTFIELD – Earlier this spring, Westfield’s baseball team got a lesson on the word persistence from their coach.

Persistence, in its verb form, is defined as continuing steadfastly or firmly in some state, purpose, course of action, or the like, especially in spite of opposition or remonstrance.

For most of the Wolverines, it was a lesson on how to live on the baseball field after years of regular-season dominance led to zero sectional titles.

But for 55-year-old coach Doug Kaltenbach, it was a lesson in life.

In the spring of 2011, Kaltenbach was cutting a piece of molding with an electric saw when his sleeve got caught in the blade and the saw ended up cutting through his left wrist.

Emergency first aid essentially kept Kaltenbach alive and five days later a team of seven doctors was able to save the longtime art teacher’s arm.

Extensive rehab was needed just for Kaltenbach to perform everyday activities with his left hand, but more involved activities had to be re-learned right-handed.

“I know the injury has made me appreciate things more, there’s no question about that,” Kaltenbach said Wednesday afternoon as the Wolverines prepared for the first trip to the state baseball Final Four in their history. “I’ve always said if I get to this position, it’s not a do-or-die game, especially with these kids and all the pressure on them.”

Eventually, just a few months after the accident – against doctors’ wishes – the longtime coach found himself back in the dugout leading Westfield to another successful season, ending with a loss in the Section 6 championship game.

That was how nine of Kaltenbach’s first 27 seasons ended coaching at Westfield.

“There’ve been years. … Anybody who coaches a long time says. ‘The heck with this, this is ridiculous,”‘ Kaltenbach said. “I’ve been fortunate as heck. I haven’t had that in probably the last 10 years. But there were stretches in the middle where we were still winning, that it got frustrating.”

Despite having all-stars throughout the years such as Shawn Fuller, Chad Fuller, Ryan Vandevelde, Kyle Bestine, Mike Burnett, Matt LaPorte and Austin Alonge, among others, the Wolverines were never able to get over the hump and win a sectional title.

Until this year.

“It’s surreal. It’s hard to describe. It’s a good frustration. I’m very proud of what we’ve done here,” Kaltenbach said. “There are a lot of red (runner-up) patches on my wall and those were against some really good teams. I’ve always wanted to get that blue (championship) patch. Now that it’s here it’s extra special.”

While he has been hearing it for years, Kaltenbach didn’t let the noise affect the current crop of Wolverines, who he assembled three years ago when the JV program at the school was cut.

“I think the stars are aligned for us. Everything has fallen right for us,” Kaltenbach said. “The guys who are juniors right now – Schroeder, Wilson, Quagliana, North, Haskins, Bates – I cut upperclassmen when these guys were good little freshmen. We lost our first game that year and I don’t think we’ve lost a league game since. That was three years ago.

“It was the best thing that happened to me. If we had a JV program they wouldn’t have been up. Everything happens for a reason.”

In the school’s first Far West Regional game on Saturday, the Wolverines coasted to a 10-1 win behind five no-hit innings from senior Nolan Hunt.

“Nolan stabilizes us. I’ve seen the whole progression. Like most coaches, you watch the kids grow up,” Kaltenbach said about his ace who will pitch at Canisius College after high school. “He’s taken on the role of leading us and he’s run with it. Not once all year has he mentioned the word Canisius. I told him, ‘Enjoy what you are doing now and go with it.’ He works like an animal. I have pictures of him in the winter time with snow up to his knees, pitching against a net. Everything that’s come to him he’s earned.”

What’s given Westfield a better opportunity of winning at the state Final Four has been a No. 2 pitcher like junior Greg Schroeder.

“Greg’s the greatest complement for him. Not just right-lefty,” Kaltenbach said. “Nolan throws a hard cut without much up and down action. Greg has one of the best curveballs I’ve seen. He’s deceivingly fast. He’s perfect for this role because coaches say ‘Greg who?’ and that’s fine.”

While Schroeder may be the perfect complement for Hunt, Kaltenbach is the perfect complement for the entire team. Despite 28 years of postseason disappointment, the veteran coach has preached to his team that it must take each game as its own.

“I used to always look ahead, but there’s too many things that can go wrong. It doesn’t do any good,” Kaltenbach said. “I have 15 pretty good baseball players and they are all pretty special, too.”

Wednesday, after a round of batting practice off assistant coach Dan Martin, who just happens to be a left-hander, the Wolverines needed to practice hitting off a right-hander.

Kaltenbach called himself – the former southpaw – in from the bullpen.

That’s persistence.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.