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Sunday Morning Chat: Wellington Manager Scott Riddle

Wellington Manager Scott Riddle has spent a long time coaching in Palm Beach. This week he sat down with HSBN to chat about baseball.

After graduating from Columbus State University in Georgia, Riddle returned to South Florida and coached at Jupiter in 1988 and 1989. After some time away from the field, Riddle returned to teaching and coaching in 2001 as an assistant under Ed Bloom. In 2003 Riddle took the reigns at Wellington, and has been the manager since. Here is my interview with Coach Riddle. Enjoy…

Anthony: Being involved in high school baseball in Palm Beach, you know for over a decade now, what ways have you seen the game change from when you started to now?

Coach Riddle: Well, one of the biggest changes is the fact that there are so many more schools opening. I think that the, I guess, the era of the two or three teams, powerhouse teams basically running a county for a decade straight is not going to happen anymore. There’s too many good players around right now. You can only play nine at a time. So if a good player sees an opportunity at another school to get some innings they’re gonna find a way to get into that school. Like if they’re in magnet program possibly. You know they’re going to stay in their area instead of transferring. Now back when I started coaching back in the late ‘80s there was no transferring. If you were a Forest Hill kid, you went to Forest Hill, great program. If you were a Lake Worth kid, everybody wanted to play for Lake Worth and Coach Marcum there, great program. John I. Leonard was very strong. Those were the big teams. Jupiter, where I went to high school, Jupiter High School, we were just OK. Boca was just OK. You know, really there was no in between. There was Gardens, Gardens was here but there weren’t a ton of schools.

Really all that changed is, the county has grown. The amount of quality players has grown but the amount of quality teams has gone up where if you’re having to count on just the people who live in your area to put together a team, you’re not going to keep a powerhouse for several years straight. It’s amazing what some of the other coaches have done in the area. Coach Benedict at Central has been a 20-win guy every year since he’s been coaching, which is amazing in my estimation. It’s a talent level that Jupiter keeps them strong every year and keeps two or three teams strong every year. The north end of the county has got a lot of talent. The Boca area has got a ton of talent. The central part of the county has got a lot of talent. Really you can never tell what class or what school a champion is gonna come from. Classic example: last year Palm Beach Gardens, fourth place in our district, ends up in the state finals. So, you just don’t know anymore.

Anthony: How about the game itself? Along those lines, have you seen much change in the way the game is played in that time?

Coach Riddle: Not really. Baseball hasn’t changed in 100 years. It’s still, if you can catch a ground ball, if you can play catch, if you can put the ball in play, if you’ve got pitchers that throw strikes, you’re go to gonna have a good team. Fundamentally sound teams are always going to be successful and have a chance to win. No, in my opinion, the kids are stronger, the kids are faster. Everybody has a kid that throws 88 to 90 now. When I was playing high school ball, we had one kid from North Shore High School, where Coach Benedict went to school, that was a 90s guy, and it was the most amazing thing we had ever seen in our lives. Now, 88, 87, 88, 90 a few years ago we had five, six guys in the county that were over 90. You know, a couple of them mid 90s. And it really isn’t that big of a deal anymore. So they’re stronger but the athleticism of the hitters and defenders has gone up with it. But the game itself has not changed, not a bit.

Anthony: Give me your favorite individual memory in your coaching career.

Coach Riddle: Individual memory…I have to think back, um…maybe in the district tournament four or five years back at Jupiter High School. We’re playing Palm Beach Central. Palm Beach Central had never not advanced to a regional. We had a young man on the mound that was a pretty good pitcher. [He] had beaten Central earlier in the year. But we were very tight. We had a very nervous group. The year before, we were actually up on Central 5- or 6-0 in the fifth inning in the district semis and they actually came back and beat us. So we got a little bit of a lead on ‘em early. A young man named Lee Rumit who is studying at the University of Florida now, hit a home run to put us up early and it was just a nice feeling to get a lead on them with the pitcher we had going. We kinda really felt good about moving on. We beat Central, and we played Park Vista in probably the best high school game I had ever been associated with. Park Vista beat us, I believe it was 2-1, or 1-0 on a couple of great pitchers for Park Vista. We had a real great pitcher going that day. But they beat us to go, basically to go to the regionals and they ended up going to the state tournament, losing in the finals, but they were 35- or 36-2 that year including the loss, we had given them their only loss earlier in the year. That was as big a high school game I had ever been involved with.

Just with the intensities of the scrutiny of the pitchers, they were so dominant. Just the quality of the game. I just remember being on the edge of my seat for the entire game and really not being involved in the game one bit. I don’t recall actually making a move, a bunt, a sacrifice, a steal, nothing. I remember watching the game like everybody else in the stands was watching the game. I was just watching the game from the third-base box going, “This is really cool!” Hoping we could find a way to get a couple of runs but the big lefty they had on the mound wasn’t really interested in giving ‘em up [laughing]. That Central game that we ended up putting them out of districts and then the Park Vista game that came after that is as cool as an experience as I’ve been around in high school baseball.

Anthony: Coaches are always watching how other coaches run their programs and they are always observing other coaches out on the field. Gimmie the one thing that other coaches do that you say to yourself, “That doesn’t seem like something that’s effective.” In other words, what is your one pet-peeve that you see in other coaching styles.

Coach Riddle: Uh, things that bother me about other coaching styles. Frankly, I have none. I know how hard it is for a coach to motivate a team. I know how hard it is for a coach to run a team. I know how hard it is for a coach to organize everything, to do the paperwork. And I’m envious of really, the way a lot of the coaches do things and they get their players to buy into things. But there’s nothing that I can think of that I would say, kinda gets under my skin or bothers me. I’ll give you an example, something I was thinking of the other night. When Coach Wible took over the Royal Palm program at the beginning of the year short notice, frankly I didn’t know what was gonna happen with that group. They were a group of guys that were close to Coach Joros. And I was extremely impressed about how hard they played and I was impressed with their commitment to playing a real good, sound, fundamental team baseball. They were enthusiastic, they were respectful, everything you want your team to be. I was very impress with how Coach Wible and Coach Gummersal kept that team together and really, they’re gonna be a heck of a team this year. If they can get few hits and get some good pitching. There’s a lot of things I’m impressed with other coaches. Coach Benedict, I liked how hard his kids played.

At Gardens, Coach Russo, I love watching how fundamental his infielders are and how fundamental his team is. With just their actions on the field, they look like a, they’re just a bunch of kids like our kids, but they present themselves as a very well-coached group. So I like watching his team play, I like watching them practice. I like watching them prepare for a game. I like the way that John I. Leonard’s kids come out and just swing the bat. You know, that’s what they do. If you’re gonna throw it in there they’re gonna try to knock the heck out of it. I love that approach. So really I try and pick up as much as I can from other coaches. I would say that there’s nothing about a coaches style…here’s the thing most of the coaches in our county are friends. We’ve known each other, most of the guys I’m coaching with are again, I’ve known since I were in high school or college. So we know a lot about each other, we know how the other teams play. So I don’t really get caught up in what another coach is doing as far as managing his team or managing the game. I just don’t think about it.

Anthony: People know Coach Riddle on the field, but give me some insight to Scott Riddle off the field.

Coach Riddle: Off the field….Well, I don’t take myself nearly as seriously as some people think I do. You know, at one point in my life I was the guy that was the goof ball. You know, I was the guy was, some of my younger guys now. That’s why when these kids come out so full of energy and they just want to play an goof around, you know I get mad at times but then I sit back and I think, “Man, that’s me. You know, that’s me when I was their age.” So really, I’m still a kid. I catch myself doing, saying, thinking you know, things like…you know like I’m still 17, 18 years old. I don’t, like I said, I don’t necessarily concern myself with what people think of me. You know, in the summer I dress like I’m going to the beach when I’m coaching the team. Half of it’s just because I don’t feel like putting on shoes. The other half is because I know it kinda irritates people and you know, I’m OK with that.

Anthony: One of the things that I’ve seemed to learned since we’ve being doing this High School Baseball Network, is that when I was a Coach I had a lot of animosity towards a lot of other coaches and the rivalries and everything else and then now, seeing the other side of them, I see that most of these guys are really good guys. It was just the heat of the competition, you know. So I guess my question is, why are the coaches personalities so different on the field in the line of competition and then off the field just completely different?

Coach Riddle: Because we want to win, most of the time more than the kids do. We take it very, very personally when our kids don’t perform. We take it very, very personally when we feel like we’re not prepared. We want to be able to go to that coaches meeting and say, “Hey, I kicked your ass last year.” And it’s a nice feeling. There’s coaches that look at me every year that look at me and go, “Hey, we’re gonna kick your butt again.” And sometimes they do but, you know every year we show up. We’ve got the right team, so. I would say off the field we’re friends all the time but on the field, you know, we want to kill each other and probably more than the kids want to kill each other. Because it’s…coaches are graded and coaches are basically judged by whether they win or lose. You know, everybody has a down year, Gardens had a down year a couple years ago. I had one last year, hoping to knock it off and have a good one this year. Boca is up and down, Jupiter is usually strong but haven’t really done much in the postseason so they’re looking to get through that. So yeah, when someone like Coach Mook takes over and says, “Hey, I’m gonna be the guy that gets us over this hump. That gets us to a state tournament.” He and his assistant coaches are very serious about doing it. They know what they’ve got there. I know what I’ve got here. I’ve got a really talented group.

So you know, I take it very personally and when we don’t do well but more than that I just like to look across the diamond and shake his hand after kicked his butt and, “Hey, well see you next time.” ‘Cause like I said, they’re friends of mine and we’re over it but nobody is…for a coach to say that he is in this just for the kids and it’s not personal and it’s not really about competition, I think he’s being a little misleading. Every coach, if it’s just about the kids, that’s fine but every coach wants to kick the other guy’s butt. And every coach enjoys the feeling of being part of something that’s pretty cool and I don’t believe, I’m sure there are guys that do it in the summer for the kids etc, but, I just think, in high school baseball, when you’re judged by wins and losses that you want to go out there and you want to kick the other guys butt. You know, it’s about you too whether the guys will admit it or not.

Anthony: What’s the biggest change you’ve made in your coaching style from your younger days until now?

Coach Riddle: I don’t get worked up over the little things anymore. Things that don’t effect the kids preparation, I don’t worry about anymore. Um, and this is something probably as a young coach that maybe should not have been doing but I encourage kids now to encourage kids to get the tutoring. To take time to go to the math lab if they have to go to math lab. To go to reading lab if they have to go to reading lab. I used to really get bothered when kids weren’t at practice because they were taking the SATs for instance. “Oh gosh, I wish they were here!” That’s a very immature way of looking at things. Most of these kids will never play baseball past high school. So if you’re taking away an opportunity for them to better their education, not taking it away, I’m not going to say they couldn’t do it but if you’re discouraging things like extra help in the class room and which I believe I did a little bit as a younger coach. I wanted everybody there at every practice and there were consequences if they weren’t there. Well if a kid knows that he misses a practice he’s going to have to run, he’s gonna skip math lab. He’s gonna skip reading lab.

So, what I do now is, look the kids that are there, we work with and we try and make them better when they’re there. But if they can’t be there, they can’t be there. Family issues, everybody has them. You know recently, my perspective changed on family you know, with the passing of my father and if someone says hey, I want to go do something with family, hey, knock yourself out. Have a great time. Look, the realization is always there, hopefully with the kids that if they’re not there, their position could be taken. OK, that’s the reality of it. But hey, if you’ve got to do stuff with your family, if it’s your birthday, go have a great time with your family. With your mom or dad, whatever. And that’s really the way that I’ve changed the most. I really try to encourage a more-rounded kid. Academically, socially, athletically. I really want them to have a full high school experience. If they want to run a dodge ball tournament, go run the dodge ball tournament. OK, if you’re on the homecoming court and you’ve got to miss a practice, you’re only in high school once. So, knock yourself out. Have a good time. Just know, that if a kid’s better than you, you’re not play. That’s fair.

Anthony: I’ve talked to you in the past and I’ve talked to some other coaches about some of the negativity in some of the forums here in Palm Beach in specific that don’t really happen in Broward or Miami, where parents and fans are slamming programs and coaches and the players themselves. What’s your take on this type of exposure and do you think the people on these forums even understand the magnitude of the long term effects these comments have on, what are basically children?

Coach Riddle: Most of the time — well, I don’t know if it’s most of the time — but my assumption is a lot of the time it’s adults. Frustrated for whatever reason, unhappy adults, OK. For an adult to do it to me it’s a little bit baffling. And those people in their professional lives are very successful. You know but for some reason, well look, I do understand it. Parents are tied to the emotions of their children. If their children aren’t happy, the parents aren’t going to be happy. And that hasn’t changed by the way since my first coaching job in the late 80’s. If a kid came home unhappy, the only difference is, they’d catch me at the gate on the way out and let me have it for 20 minutes on the way to the car. Now, I don’t know if it has any effect on the kids. I don’t know if it has any effect on the players. I don’t know. We don’t discuss it. I don’t discuss it. It’s not something that I want to frankly, to even be a part of. Because there’s no point to me jumping in the middle of something that I have absolutely no control over.

If I say don’t do it, a thousand people gonna start doing it, OK. And that’s just, they’re just like kids. You tell them don’t do something, they’re darn sure gonna do it. And I understand why parent by the way are frustrated at times. They’ve got four years of high school for their kid to be as good at baseball that they could possibly be. If they’re not playing they’re really not getting much better. I understand the frustration. I don’t necessarily understand an adult, going on a website and talking about a young man. And I know a lot of times it’s kids. And kids are gonna do what kids are gonna do and you can’t stop them, and that’s fine. The fact that it is adults many of the times and the fact like I said, they’re mature successful people. I don’t really understand that mentality. But I guess if that’s the way they get their frustration out, it’s better that then stopping me from seeing my family at the end of the day.

Anthony: What’s the one thing you hope that every player that comes through the system learns?

Coach Riddle: That baseball is fun. That baseball is not a career for most people. There is more things you can learn from baseball than just catching and throwing. That you can learn teamwork. That you can learn camaraderie, that you can make friendships that are gonna last forever. That you don’t always have to be the best player on the team to be an important part of the team. And that teams are important, that friends are important. That adults helping you get through things are important. But I just want them to love baseball. And I know it’s hard for some of them to love baseball if they’re not playing but most of the parents that I know were just OK athletes like myself. And we just, my wife would tell you it’s my life and my family is secondary. And anybody that knows me would probably say the same thing.

Anthony: We’re going to finish with a few open-ended questions. You just complete the sentence.

Coach Riddle: Alright.

Anthony: My favorite baseball movie is…

Coach Riddle: “The Bad News Bears” the original.

Anthony: The team I enjoy beating the most…

Coach Riddle: There’s only one. It’s Palm Beach Central and it doesn’t happen very often and I don’t coach to beat Joe Russo. I don’t coach to beat Bill Harvey. I don’t coach to beat Doug Ferguson. I don’t coach to beat Frank Torre or Trent Pendergast. If I beat Palm Beach Central, I beat a prepared baseball team. And that’s as good a feeling as there is.

Anthony: The district my Wellington team plays in is…

Coach Riddle: It’s a grind. It’s a grind. There’s no weak links. You show up ready to play or you get your butt handed to you.

Anthony: A perfect day out on the baseball field would be…

Coach Riddle: Ahhh, are kids there or are kids not there?

Anthony: Either one.

Coach Riddle: I don’t know. I enjoy believe it or not, I don’t really have many other hobbies so I enjoy actually doing the work on the field when the kids aren’t there. The perfect day would be work on the field for a couple of hours, show up, good pre game, beat Palm Beach Central 1-0.

Anthony: Outside of baseball the activity I enjoy the most is…

Coach Riddle: Activity I would say is probably golf. I would say probably golf and a close second if you’re looking for activities would be fishing.

Anthony: Alright, last two. In 20 years, I see myself…

Coach Riddle: Oh…with my walker, getting walked out to third base. Hopefully still teaching and um, hopefully my grandkids would come watch me coach.

Anthony: And I will consider my time at Wellington a success if…

Coach Riddle: If looking back I can say I helped keep Palm Beach high school baseball at a high level. I think that we’re at a very high level right now. We have been. I would say, guys like Bill Harvey, guys like Doug Ferguson, guys like Scott Benedict, like Trent Pendergast have done a great job in the past ten years of keeping baseball at a high level. So looking back if the opinion is of me, that I helped keep Palm Beach baseball a very highly and really successful area to play in and to coach in I’ll consider my time here a success.

Anthony: Alright, thank you.

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