The Wright Call

By Dave Wright

When the Catholic Athletic Association (CAA) baseball coaches met on April 12 to go over the ground rules for the 2022 season, a longtime regular was noticeably missing. For the first time in over four decades, Bob Tschida was relaxing at home instead of meeting with his coaching brethren.

The man who helped pave the way for future major leaguer Jack Hannahan and several others who dreamed of going pro decided the time had come for somebody else to teach young baseball players how to bunt, pitch and turn double plays.

Connie Mack was still managing the Philadelphia A’s at age 87. Tschida is only 86, but a bout with COVID-19 that sapped his energy level a bit helped drive his decision to step away from baseball. “I think it’s time,” Tschida said. “I’m sure I’ll miss it. In fact, you’ll probably still see me at some games.” 

Tschida has been coaching youth baseball games for a long time. He coached the baseball teams at Highland Catholic School for 34 years. Before that, he was at Saint Luke’s for three years and at Immaculate Heart of Mary for six. He also coached Highland Catholic’s hockey team for 23 years. It might seem that, after a work schedule like that, a fellow might want to take some time off in the summer. For 23 years, however, Tschida also coached the North End’s American Legion baseball team.

“I know there’s probably somebody who doesn’t like me,” CAA head honcho Mark Courtney said to a writer last week. “There’s probably somebody who doesn’t like you, too. But I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t like Bob Tschida.” 

Highland Catholic athletic director Rob Petersen has been Tschida’s boss for the past 15 years. “I was 2 or 3 years old when Bob started coaching,” Petersen said. “When I got this job, I thought he was a nice guy, but I truly didn’t know he handled the kids.”

 

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“I know there’s probably somebody who doesn’t like me,” CAA head honcho Mark Courtney said. “There’s probably somebody who doesn’t like you, too. But I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t like Bob Tschida.” 

Petersen quickly found out. “The first day of practice, he showed up with a bucket of balls, then put them aside and just talked to the kids,” Petersen recalled. “He controlled the room without raising his voice. All it took was his gentle smile and he had their attention.” 

“You need to be patient and positive with eighth-graders,” Tschida said. “You need to get through to them that it’s OK to make mistakes. You just need to learn from them.”

Spring baseball in Minnesota is always tricky. A lot of the early coaching is done indoors, mostly in school gymnasiums. One year, Tschida discovered his infielders were having trouble catching a throw and then relaying the ball to first to complete a double play. To fix the problem, he found a couple of pieces of wood, a stapler and small strips of fabric . As the picture illustrates, the infielder slips the device on his glove hand to get used to trapping the ball against the wood before throwing it to first.

It may not be as slick as watching Carlos Correa turn a double play, but the Hi-C lads warmed to the idea. “Kids like something new,” Tschida said. “If it helps them get better at something, they’ll do it.”

Tschida considers himself fortunate to have coached players like Hannahan, his brother Buzz, Tony Leseman and many others who went on to have stellar high school and college baseball careers.

One of his charges who had a different career in baseball was a young Tim Tschida (no relation), who played hockey for Bob Tschida when he was in seventh grade. Tim Tschida started umpiring when he was in high school and went on to work more than 3,400 major league games before retiring a decade ago. “I used to give Tim a ride home,” Bob Tschida recalled with a chuckle.

Tim remembers Bob fondly. “You had a lot of fun with him, but he took the games seriously,” he recalled.

Another early Bob Tschida trainee was current University of Saint Thomas men’s basketball coach John Tauer, who played on the Hi-C baseball team as an eighth-grader. “He was my third head coach in three years there,” Tauer said. “We won the championship that year. It was a big deal. There were no travel teams in those days, so this was it.”

Tauer remembers Tschida’s patient approach. “He built up our confidence,” Tauer said. “He had high standards, but didn’t scream at you to reach them.”

Fast forward a few decades and Tschida worked it out so Tauer’s sons Jack and Adam, aged two years apart, played together one spring at Hi-C.

A decade ago, Petersen thought Tschida would be an excellent candidate for the CAA Hall of Fame. “When I brought it up, people thought it was an obvious choice,” he said. So in 2013, Bob Tschida joined Tim Tschida (who had been inducted in 2007) in the hall. “Some folks were surprised he wasn’t already in there,” Petersen said.

A month or so ago, Petersen had a conversation he had been dreading. The time had come to talk about the upcoming season. Bob Tschida was straightforward with his boss. “He told me he was too tired to do it,” Petersen said. “COVID had left him with not a good feeling.” 

Scott Helgeson, who had assisted Tschida in the past, has the task of succeeding a coach who, as Petersen put it, “knows the kids long before they know him. A lot of times, his players don’t get what he’s teaching them until later. It’s the end of an era.”

Not exactly. Come May, Tschida plans on being out on a softball diamond with his buddies playing in a weekly seniors league. “We’re pretty good,” he said.

Once a competitor, always a competitor.

Dave Wright can be reached at dwright53@msn.com.

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