Loeffler's Link

Feb. 6, 2018

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. --- His glare would make Big Foot go the other way, his stare enough to make the Grinch think twice about it --- and that's before the Grinch's heart grew three sizes that day.

He's the high school version of Billy Martin. If you don't know who Billy Martin is, Google him.

Like Martin, Chris Wyrick is a winner. And now, they have something else in common --- both are part of a baseball Hall of Fame.

The fiery, longtime Helias coach was recently inducted into the Missouri Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame during ceremonies at Capitol Plaza, an honor that's certainly been earned, that's certainly deserved --- and that was certainly a surprise.

"I was really caught off guard," Wyrick said. "I didn't think it would happen --- it was a shock when I got the call. But it's a great honor that guys you go against and compete against think enough of you and what you're doing with your program.

"It's pretty special."

Wyrick, 46, has been special in everything he's done in baseball. First as a player, when he was a driving force in three Helias state championships in the late 1980's; then as a head coach --- two state championships and a sparkling record of 336-120 in 19 seasons, the last 18 at Helias after one season at St. Elizabeth.

Besides winner, two other words best describe him --- intense passion.

"I'm passionate about teaching the game the right way, Wyrick said, "doing the right things, respecting the game, respecting your opponent. But also, you're playing for more than just yourself, you're playing for your teammates, you're playing for everybody who played before you, and you're playing for those kids who are there watching you.

"You have to have players to win championships, but we've always stressed that team always beats talent. Outside of a guy who's throwing 93 or 94 in high school, a team will always beat one or two really talented kids.

"But I've been blessed with good kids every year I've been here."

Certainly, Wyrick has had guys like Sam LeCure, Phil Pitts and Kelly Fick who have made his job easier. But it's those other players who are the foundation of the program's success.

"It always feels good when you get a kid who can't do something when you get him, but after some work and some time, they finally get it," Wyrick said. "To see them react to it and the team react to it, that's pretty neat.

"It's always great to see that kid who may not be the star or in the limelight get something done towards the end of his career."

Wyrick, of course, was a fabulous player in his own right, playing for Mizzou and spending some time in professional baseball. He made it look easy, but it wasn't.

"The game of baseball was never easy for me," he said. "Everybody gets in zones when you can go up there and hit anything out and play with your eyes closed. But I had to work my  butt off to get what I got."

The game has changed in the last 20-30 years --- not in how it's played, but how much it's played as a kid is growing up. Those summers of playing two or three dozen games have been replaced by 60- to 80-game summers.

"A lot of times when they get to us," Wyrick said, "the love of the game is out of it for them, it feels like more of a job. 'My dad and my mom have spent so much money over the years, I feel like I have to play.' And a lot of times, those kids have super potential."

Without question, there's a point of diminishing return.

"You don't want them to burn out," Wyrick said. "A lot of these guys are going to Atlanta, they're going to Florida, Texas, Colorado, so what's a trip to Kirksville for them? That's another thing that hurts the high school game."

Has all this playing experience made the game better? The difference isn't significant.

"The top-end teams --- probably the top 20 teams in each class --- are equal to what they were when I was playing" Wyrick said. "But I think there are probably more good teams, overall."

These days, Wyrick still wants to win as much as ever, but he's become "a little more laid back" in his approach.

"I've gotten better. because at the end of the day, it's just a game," he said. "You try to teach them baseball, but also life situations and how to overcome adversity. I've finally figured out, the sun's going to come out tomorrow."

Fire and ice.

"I've said it many times," he continued, "that sometimes I think I love the school and Helias baseball too much. It kind of gets me riled up when we're not doing things the right way in order to be successful, when we're wearing the Helias uniform. If I see we're not living up to that, as far as keeping the tradition going, it upsets me.

"I want them to be a part of something that's successful, not an experience that's not."

Spoken like a true Hall of Famer.

Helias baseball coach Chris Wyrick addresses the crowd during his induction ceremony into the Missouri Baseball Coaches Association on Jan. 21 at Capitol Plaza.

An intense and passionate winner:

Now, Wyrick is a Hall of Famer‚Äč