LCM Bears: Now you’re talking baseball
LITTLE CYPRESS — What is the best time to be a high school baseball coach? Ask Little Cypress-Mauriceville skipper Steve Griffith, and he’ll take you on a little journey down memory lane to 2006.
“It was senior night and we had 12 seniors lined up to one side of the field,” Griffith said. “On the other side it was me, Wayne (Stephenson, assistant coach) and junior Jake Rowell. We were losing all but one player.
“Those are the best years to be a coach.”
Now, some may think Griffith may have caught a few too many line drives to say that, but they may have never coached the next team of fresh faces to be district champions the very next season.
“No one expects much out of a squad that is made up of a majority of junior varsity players from the year before,” he said. “When you have 10, 11 or 12 guys graduate, no one expects you to be the team to beat. But, on the flip side, if you return a majority of your team everyone is gunning for you and it is almost impossible for that team to live up to everyone’s expectations.”
Griffith has seen the expectations fluctuate over the 18 years he has been head coach at LC-M, but he lives by a philosophy that helps him to meet those expectations year in and year out.
“If you surround yourself with good people, then good things will happen to you,” he said. “And, that is exactly what we do. We surround ourselves with players that come to us and are dependable. I don’t care how talented someone is, if you have to talk them into playing then the chance that they will quit on you is ten-fold.”
A graduate of LC-M, Griffith came back as head coach in 1993 after a year as assistant coach of the Hooks Hornets and three for the Joshua Owls. Since coming back, Griffith has compiled a record of 424-158 record prior to the current season, six third-place finishes, three second-place finishes, 55 playoff victories and seven district championships.
“We start preparing for the baseball season on the second day of school,” he said. “It is never a crash course for our players. I call it keeping a constant, light pressure from beginning to end.
“If you keep your foot on the throttle about halfway you won’t run out of gas.”
Griffith said that over the years they have had some great teams and some that were not as good as the others, but he coaches them all with the same mentality.
“When things are going good, you can’t get too high about it,” he said. “And, when things are going bad you can’t get too low about it. If it ever gets to the point that losing doesn’t hurt, then there is a problem. If you have enough sweat invested in the team, losing and winning mean a lot more.”
Southeast Texas has become a place where great ballplayers seem to be bred now, but Griffith said was made possible by some coaching pioneers 30 years ago or so, that he and others in the area have benefited by following in their footsteps.
“Vince Buffamonte, from here at LC-M, West Orange-Stark’s Ronnie Anderson and Bridge City’s Chuck Young laid the foundation for Southeast Texas high school baseball,” he said. “I used to pick (Young’s) brain by asking him questions about baseball to get him started talking and then just listening to all he had to say.”
Griffith said that one of the things he learned from Young came in a game against Bridge City when they were down two runs with one out and had one man on first base and one on second.
“We tried to steal second and third and Young’s players got our runner out easily at second, putting us in an even deeper hole,” he said. “From that time on, we began practicing that play and put it into our own playbook. We still use it today.
“We learned it the hard way, but we learned it.”
Griffith graduated from Stephen F. Austin in 1988 and received his masters in 1998 from Texas A&M-Texarkana, so he puts a big emphasis on seeing his players further themselves in their playing opportunities and in their academic success.
“We want our kids to do well,” he said. “Since 1994, we have had 70 kids go on to play college ball. Our kids are going to work hard on the field as well as pass their classes. We try to help them all we can. And, I couldn’t do all of this without help from (Stephenson). I don’t treat him as an assistant under me. We coach this team together and he has certain responsibilities that he rolls with so I can take care of other things that I’m responsible for.”
Griffith and his wife, Lana, daughters Morgan and Sydney, and son Gage are all from and live in Orange.
“Gage will be seven in May,” Griffith said. “When I’m not coaching here, I go to his Little League games. I’m never going to force playing baseball down his throat, but if he enjoys it, or some other sport, I will encourage him.”
Speaking for himself, Griffith plans to spend his own days on the diamond until the day he hangs up the cleats for good.
“I wanted a career where I would wake up and want to come to work,” he said.
And, for now, Griffith is only looking at how this season plays out.
“Right now, our team is 17-7, 6-2 in district play.We were picked to finish third or fourth and are currently sitting in second place (as of April 11). We have faced some great pitching this year, and if we make it to the post-season that will definitely help us out.”