Every time the Firefighters Little League team takes the field, they know “Big Brother” is watching and they wouldn’t have it any other way. This term of endearment belongs to the team’s first-year manager Dan Watson. Only 19, the precocious skipper has guided the Firefighters to a sparkling 9-3 record in the Boys’ Minor League division of the Forest Park Little League.
“I’m beginning to really love this group,” Watson said. “I feel like I have 12 little brothers. I’ve tried to take on a fun and relaxed approach to coaching this team.”
While the bond between these baseball brothers is primarily figurative, it was actually Watson’s little brother, Chuckie, who made everything fall into place. Chuckie, a sparkplug ballplayer who patrols third base for the Firefighters, persuaded his older sibling to grab a clipboard.
“My little brother asked me to coach the team and my mom told me they were down a few coaches,” Watson said. “I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.”
Born and raised in Forest Park, the soft spoken teenager remembers the positive influence his youth baseball coaches had on him. A true student of the game, Watson simply wanted to repay and relay the knowledge he gained from his mentors to the current crop of little leaguers.
“I think he’s helped me a lot this season,” said Firefighters first baseman Thomas Evitt. “I’ve improved so much from last year and that’s because he has worked with me. He’s always into the game and never sitting around. He’s really a great coach.”
According to Watson, the Firefighters’ campaign has gone as smoothly as a well turned 6-4-3 double play, save one momentary lapse of concentration.
“Our first practice, nobody was really paying attention or running the bases well,” Watson said. “We had to be a little strict and made them run that practice. Ever since then, it’s been nothing but fun and smiles. Our basic baseball skills now are through the roof.”
The players’ improvement also has drawn rave reviews beyond the dugout from an appreciative group of parents that marvel at Watson’s nurturing coaching philosophy.
“Dan carries himself so well and is very fair with all the kids,” Stephen Mathis, whose son Sean plays catcher, said. “We didn’t know he was so young. One day I was practicing with my son and he came up toward us. I thought he was Chuckie’s father. He keeps all the kids involved and lets them have fun out there.”
Reminiscent of the 1979 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, who chose “We Are Family,” as their team anthem, the Firefighters have also adopted a tight knit approach on the field. Granted, the aforementioned disco song by Sister Sledge is way before his players’ time, or even his own, but the timeless “all for one, and one for all” rallying cry resonates with Watson.
“I’m enjoying it, no regrets,” Watson said. “This team has really evolved into a nice little family. I think all the teams in our league have grown so much. Our league is ‘real’ baseball even at the (9 and 10-year-old level).”
Last week, the Firefighters earned a dramatic 9-8 win over their rival Mohr Oil thanks in part to clutch hitting from Ricky Garza and a terrific assist from outfielder Tyrone Neal to end the game.
“We tried our best and came out on top,” Garza said. “It’s fun playing for coach and my dad.” Garza’s father Henry Garza is an assistant coach for Watson.