Over the last few days, Chattanooga has been dealing with a brutally cold weather system that struck like a frigid shockwave from the northwest.
Throw in yet several more rounds of rain nearing the cusp of sleet or snow and high school basketball teams heading down the backstretch of the 2018-19 regular season and it made Tuesday an odd time for baseball talk.
Yet, Jon Massey, the longtime prep coach who left a stunningly successful softball job at Ooltewah to start anew as the new diamond coach at Silverdale Baptist Academy, did just that.
Massey, who spent the previous 17 years at Ooltewah serving as coach for the freshman football and baseball teams and five years as the head guy of a highly successful softball program, scheduled a “press briefing” about his new assignment with the Seahawks to talk baseball and introduce his high school and middle school coaching lineup.
“This is a fresh start,” said Massey, who went 180-46 with three state softball tournament appearances that included a third-place finish in 2015. “I enjoyed those years at Ooltewah and had a blast coaching softball. I’m having a blast at Silverdale too.
“The administrators, leadership and faculty are great to be around and they want the very best for our athletes in all sports. Not that Ooltewah didn’t want that too.”
Massey used the nearly hour-long session to introduce his high school assistants – Taylor Hasty (he’s also the athletic director), Rod Bolton and Kevin Burke. The middle school staff includes head coach Tim Daniell, Gary Meadows and Collin Daniell, Tim’s son who was a freshman on Silverdale’s 2013 team that finished runner-up to Friendship Christian in the TSSAA Class A state tournament, and Tim Thompson, SBA’s middle school athletic director.
Bolton should be a familiar name to anyone in local baseball circles.
The former Ooltewah standout was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 1993 summer draft and signed a contract the next day. He spent part of the 1993 and 1995 seasons in the big leagues and eight of his 10 minor league seasons in Triple A where he was 75-52. Bolton was 113-83 over his entire 12-year professional baseball career. His best year was with Nashville in 1993, going 10-1 with a 2.88 ERA.
“I don’t think the program is coming from a bad place, but there is a new excitement at Silverdale,” said Bolton, whose minor league career included Triple A stops at Birmingham, Vancouver, Indianapolis Camden in addition to Nashville. “I think in the overall process we’re going to build on what already is a solid foundation and take it to the next level.”
Bolton, who has two daughters enrolled at SBA, spent the last two years working with the middle school baseballers.
“Coach Massey called me when he got the varsity job,” Bolton said. “I was reluctant at first to take the high school job because I really like working with the middle school kids. Jon thought he needed some help and I’m more than willing to help. I love the school, the athletic program and the coaches. The ADs are amazing and there is a lot of support here.”
The Seahawks have done 118-54 dating to the highly successful 2013 season with only one losing campaign (12-15 in 2015). There are three 20-plus win seasons, including the last two, in the SBA b baseball resume.
Tim Daniell has been around Silverdale for years and likes the idea of Massey combining the high school and middle schools in terms of baseball instruction and philosophy.
“My son played here all the way through and it was always a little bit different,” he said. “When I heard they were going to bring the high school and middle schools together, I thought, ‘Well, it’s about time.' I coached with the high school team the past two years and was all about what the process should be. I’m all for this new idea.”
Daniell did not coach baseball during Tim’s playing days and fondly recalls the “special” 2013 season when Friendship Christian posted a 4-0 win for the state title at Middle Tennessee State University.
“The caliber of talent on that team, especially the pitchers, was amazing and we haven’t quite had that level of player since,” he said. “We had a good team two years ago, but we didn’t have the pitching like 2013. We played small-ball, didn’t have the pitching and really overachieved. We had to use a ninth-grader in our last game. So, with Jon and Taylor and Tim having the same vision for our baseball program, I think, is really going well.”
Reid Clements, Spencer Mossburg, Joey Szollosi and Colton Rogers were the top four pitchers on that memorable staff in 2013.
Massey is cognizant of the relationship between having talent and winning big. Back-to-back 40-win seasons and a five-year mark of 53-11 in District 5-3A softball, don’t just happen. It takes talent and Massey was blessed with a ton of it throughout his five-year tenure with the Lady Owls.
“We had girls that could really play,” he said. “We had cats that could go. They could hit it, pitch it, field it and catch it. They were very talented and my main job was not to screw them up. Let players be athletes. There are slight differences between baseball and softball, but the approach to talent is the same.”
It’s clearly hard for Thompson to restrain his enthusiasm for what’s going on with the baseballers.
“We’re very excited,” he said. “Jon has won in different sports over the years. Even more than the Xs and Os, Jon brings us somebody that cares about young men and is willing to build young men. From top to bottom, he’s interested in the high school kids and the middle school kids. He is already taking time with them, giving them instruction and that’s what we’re looking for at Silverdale – coaches willing to build our young men.”
There is, however, a smidge of reality to Thompson’s gung-ho attitude.
“We can’t look into a crystal ball and see a championship down the road,” he said. “It’s going to come in steps and stages. Moving to Division II last year was a big change for us. When we made that decision, we needed to put people in place that will help us face those challenges. This is where Jon comes in, helping us move in that direction.”
There is a point on the athletic calendar that Massey eagerly awaits. It’s Feb. 11. It’s around that time when Massey will get eight baseball players from the basketball team and start whipping them into shape for diamond play.
“When you’ve got 20 kids and eight of them play basketball, you have to have patience for them to finish with basketball,” he said. “I’m not sure when the region tournaments start, but we need those guys with the baseball team as soon as possible.
“We’re not starting over here. They’ve won a lot of ballgames in the past and it’s not like we have to rebuild. We’re just trying to get ready for 2019.”
Silverdale’s opening baseball game is March 11 at Grace at 6 p.m. The teams will play again on March 12 at the same time. Yep, Silverdale’s ballfield now has lights and night games, especially postseason contests, will be a welcome addition to the baseball program.
“We’re going to play as many games as we can and teach them the fundamentals of baseball,” Massey said. “For the most part, we’re going to teach the middle school guys just like the high school kids. A few things will be different, but the philosophy is going to be the same. We’ll expect the middle school players to know the ropes when they get to high school. Taylor, Kevin and I are going to be teaching seeing the ball and hitting it hard. We have a small field and for the guys that have power, if they can launch a few balls, that’s great. I think we can hit a lot of doubles and home runs.
“I love that kind of baseball. That’s how I grew up in the game. The best play in baseball is a three-run home run.”
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)