Bob is a longtime member of the Florida sports media, having served as a reporter and copy editor for more than 30 years. His true sports passion, however, is the history of the various games, exhibited by his in-depth book reviews and hobby of collecting cards and other sports memorabilia. He blogs for TBO.com on both subjects, transferring his work for the Tampa Tribune to the realm of cyberspace.
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Disability never a handicap for ex-Clearwater HS baseball coach
Posted May 14, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo
Updated May 15, 2012 at 12:10 AM
“Don’t listen to the naysayers,” former Clearwater High School baseball coach David Vince tells youth groups these days as he travels through his native state of Louisiana. “And don’t make excuses. You’ve got two good arms and two good legs.”
Vince knows about skeptics. He was born with tibial hemomelia, a congenital bone disease that results in the shortening — or lack of — leg bones. Both of his legs were amputated above the knees when he was an infant. Even though Vince loved baseball, he was unable to play the game competitively.
That didn’t stop Vince from a carving out a 29-year career coaching baseball at the high school and college level. He won 470 games before retiring from his last job in 2010 — at Clearwater, where he had a 38-43 record in three seasons, including a 17-9 mark his first year.
Vince looks back on his career in his first book, co-written with freelancer Jeremy Harper, “When Life Throws You Curves, Keep Swinging” (LangMarc Publishing; $19.95 paperback, 120 pages). It’s a quick read and an inspirational one.
“It’s a story that can resonate with people from all walks of life,” Vince said Monday night from his home in Ragley, La. After retiring as the Tornadoes’ coach and returning to Louisiana, Vince began writing the book last August and finished it in February.
In fact, the cover of the book is from the Tornadoes’ 2010 game program, showing Vince conducting a pregame prayer with his players.
The 52-year-old describes himself as an “old school” coach (“you know, like the more you throw, the stronger your arm gets”), who drilled his players in fundamentals and peppered them with motivational phrases (“the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary. …”).
He also had to overcome his players’ reaction to having a double amputee as a coach. It wasn’t a problem at his first school, Catholic-Pointe Coupee High School in New Roads, La. The players already knew Vince because he had been an assistant on the football team earlier in the school year. It was at other jobs that players’ eyebrows may have been raised.
“I guarantee you, initially they were probably thinking the principal and athletic director were crazy,” Vince said. “But I’d had a high level of success early. As I progressed in my career, the résumé eliminated some of that.
“Then it became a non-factor.”
As a 21-year-old coach in his debut season, Vince led Catholic-Pointe Coupee to the state final. He would be named coach of the year 10 times, and 30 of his players would earn baseball scholarships. Five would be selected in the Major League Baseball amateur draft. He coached 10 district champions and led two teams to the state final. He also helped coach a squad during a European tour, and has scouted for several major-league teams, including the Rays. Vince has never lowered his intensity level. “I’ve got to outwork everybody,” he said.
“When I was younger I wouldn’t let anyone else hit fungoes or coach third base,” he said. “I wanted to prove I could do it.”
Vince writes about the pains of growing up as a double amputee, and how he was harassed by other children. He was bullied as a fourth grader, getting knocked down. That ended one day when a child charged him and Vincent swung one of his wrist crutches, hitting the kid flush in the stomach and knocking the wind out of him.
He took accounting in college but was struggling. Enter Rev. Lynn Baggett, a youth pastor at First Baptist Church West Monroe, who encouraged him to take up coaching. Vince would graduate from McNeese State in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education.
“That little nudge in the right direction took me a long way,” he writes.
It took him on a journey to 12 different schools. Along the way, Vince got married (the story about how he met his wife Susan is a nice one), and started a family. The birth of the couple’s second child, Sierra, was a jolt. In addition to being born nearly three months premature, Sierra had same leg deformities as her father. Doctors performed a DNA test and found that Vince was carrying a defective gene, and that every child the couple had would have a 50 percent chance of a similar condition.
Doctors were unable to correct Sierra’s condition, and at 18 months she had both feet amputated. Vince described it “like a tremendous punch to the gut for me” and blamed himself for his daughter’s situation. But he was able to turn something distressing into a positive.
“I was able to see the situation in a larger context and realize that I was the best role model for Sierra to see what she can accomplish because I had already experienced what she will be facing,” he writes.
Vince had concerns before Susan gave birth to Hunter, their third child, but the boy is “perfectly healthy.” His birth led to the Vince family leaving Florida to be near their families in Louisiana. Vince retired, became a stay-at-home dad, and began work on the book.
“I had time on my hands to write it,” he said.
That led to some eye-opening exposure to the world of publishing, Vince said. He wanted testimonials to go along with the book, so he sent the first two chapters out to people he believed would be interested.
Former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden was the first to respond (“read this book and be better prepared for what you will face in life …”).
As a fan of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s, Vince realized a dream as an adult when he had his picture taken with catcher Johnny Bench at the L’Auberge du Lac Casino in Lake Charles, La. Bench later had to have hip replacement surgery; Stryker Corporation’s Orthopaedics Division made the artificial ceramic hip for Bench’s right side and the mobile bearing hip on his left.
Vince tried to go through Bench’s publicist, who said the Hall of Famer didn’t do that kind of thing. Vince persisted and sent the two chapters, along with the photo he had taken with Bench. His tenacity was rewarded as Bench delivered (“Hard work and perseverance will bring success ...”).
“When I got Bench’s endorsement, I cried,” Vince said. “I was just humbled by it.”
Other testimonials were submitted by Rays manager Joe Maddon, Texas Rangers star Josh Hamilton, FSU baseball coach Mike Martin, former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri and retired LSU basketball coach Dale Brown. Diligence pays off.
The book is available on amazon.com, but Vince also established a website for orders (www.davidvince.com). He said anyone who orders through his website will get an autographed copy of the book.
Vince would like to get one more testimonial for the book’s next printing run — current Jets backup quarterback (and former Florida Gators star) Tim Tebow. No success so far, but I have a feeling Vince will find a way.
It’s right there in his book. “You don’t have to be perfect to achieve success,” Vince writes, “but you do have to be committed.”