Palm Beach High School Baseball
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Sunday Morning Chat Exclusive: Todd Fitz-Gerald and Ray Evans

In the aftermath of one of the worst school shooting tragedies in US history, at Marjory Stomeman Douglas, the South Florida community came together to help the healing process.

HSBN’s Anthony Uttariello sat down with Douglas Baseball Manager Todd Fitz-Gerald, and Flanagan Manager Ray Evans, to discuss the shooting, the tears, the demonstrations, the healing, and what comes next, in this one-of-a kind Sunday Morning Chat.

Anthony: Hey guys, welcome. I’ve done several of these through the years with each of you guys. But none come with what we’re dealing with today, obviously. Fitz let’s start with you because you’ve been the most affected with the tragedy in the past week. Tell me how you and the Douglas family have been holding up.

Coach Fitz-Gerald: I think that getting back out on the field for our guys is important. Just getting out to being able to get back to some sort of routine or sense of normalcy through all this. You know we met the very next day. I had them all together. We brought them all together and we talked. We got some things out, we cried, we just had a good time being with each other that day.

I just asked them, I said “I think the number one thing we need to do is just, we have to move forward. We can’t take back what happened, but we can surely move forward and be a stronghold for the rest of the school and the student body and show them that we are not going to allow to this keep us down. We have to go back. We have a responsibility to the school to give them something positive to look forward to.

Anthony: Ray, obviously what we have here in South Florida is a baseball family and this tragedy has affected many players, coaches, parents, administrators, pretty much everybody knows somebody related to this. Tell me a little bit of what you guys are doing to help out your good friend Fitz and his Douglas school through this.

Coach Evans: Well, obviously there are a lot of things going on throughout the whole country; with the money being raised for all the scholarship funds from his former players. We have major league players, we have the scouting bureau that are going to be doing some things for him. All the coaches in the county, there’s coaches in the national organization that want to go ahead and do something, they were really worried about him at the time as well, as they are still.

We are all putting together as much as we can to donate to Chris Hixon’s Scholarship Fund, for the three funds he’s put together for the three school’s he’s worked at Ely, South Broward and Douglas. It affected everybody, but nothing like it affected the Douglas family. I was listening to some things today from the students that were very well spoken in Tallahassee, speaking about their community and what it was like before this has happened. That they don’t want it to change. But that right now everybody sees them like another Columbine or another place that some tragedy has happened instead of the beautiful place it was.

So, we are trying to sit there and we are trying to do what Fitz is doing. We’re trying to get the kids back to some type of normalcy. We’re trying to do anything and everything in our power to help them heal in this process.

Anthony: So as I watch some of the demonstrations today in South Florida, I couldn’t help but feel pride with what these students are accomplishing with their peaceful protests, marches, and gatherings. You two guys are both teachers. How much pride do you take as educators as to what you were seeing from some of your students, not only today but since this tragedy has occurred?

Coach Fitz-Gerald: Well for me it’s a sense of pride obviously, that our students are strong enough to press on and move forward. To go ahead and make a stand and a statement especially on the gun laws. I couldn’t say more about them and the way that they are representing our school in a positive manner. It goes a long way, trust me. Our community is so strong. Parkland is a very, very tight community. When they want something done they’re going to do everything they can to make sure that it gets done. I can assure you that it’s not going to rest until something is done. I’ll venture to say that something will happen in a positive [way] for our community, for sure.

Anthony: And Ray, how about you as an educator, from what you’ve seen this week?

Coach Evans: Well, I don’t think some of the kids at the other schools really understand what the kids at Parkland are going through. I think some of them do. But seeing what’s happening on TV, the walkouts, and that they understand why they’re walking out, that they want change, then they’ll get it as they get older.

Right now, the Parkland community is the first and foremost on everybody’s mind and watching what went on today, I agree with Todd that it’s not going to rest until something is done. The kids that were speaking today, they could be the leaders of tomorrow. The way they’re going about things is phenomenal. I was so impressed with just listening to what they were saying and I was glued to the TV and I’m just so proud of the young people that were representing our community.

Anthony: Hitting a little bit on what you said Fitz, about the community itself. Obviously we have both lived in that community for most of our lives, growing up in Coral Springs. I was just saying to someone today, that sometimes, you don’t want to say that things happen for a reason, this is a terrible tragedy, but this community in particular has the resources, has people high up, that can push the envelope, that can get things done. How hopeful are you that they will do that?

Coach Fitz-Gerald: I’m almost 100% certain that something will get done. Again, being a long-time resident of Coral Springs, since 1979 I think, I’ve seen this city grow immensely. I can’t even put into words exactly what the school community is all about. And our school principal, Mr. Thompson, he’s one of the strongest men I’ve ever been around and he loves those kids to death. He’ll do anything in his power he can to make sure that something is done. I can assure you of that.

Our administrative staff is awesome. It’s just a great place to be and a great place to work at and I’m anxious just to get back to school. We need to get back to school. We can’t allow the acts of one selfish, cowardly individual to define who we are. We’re not the type of people who would put our heads between our legs and go away easy. We’re going to raise our heads up, and we’re going to stand strong and we’re going to fight for what we believe in.

Anthony: That leads me to my next question, actually for you, Fitz. You guys are going back to school on Tuesday. You have kids that are coming back that are afraid to walk the halls, that are going to be jumpy at every noise they hear. How do you. . . what’s your plan? I mean, nobody has the answers. But what’s the plan on how to help these students through this?

Coach Fitz-Gerald: My first plan is to show strength for them and let them know that they’re safe, and that they’re in good hands, and that we’re going to do everything we can in our power to protect them, whatever it may be. Forget the teaching part of it. Now this is the healing process, so if we’ve got to spend the next two weeks talking and hugging and loving each other, whatever. . .

Whatever we’ve got to do to make these kids feel that they want to be back at that school every single day, is our first and foremost important thing that we need to do. You know, you can’t ever prepare for it, you never expect it, especially in this community. Unfortunately, it does happen and it has happened, but at the end of the day, again, it doesn’t define who we are. We’re going to be back stronger than ever.

Anthony: Ray, I’ve talked to a bunch of coaches since the tragedy. To a man, it seems as though this past week has changed their perspective on baseball, life, competition, pretty much everything. Everyone is looking inwards and changing some things. How has your perspective changed during this time?

Coach Evans: Something like this changes perspective on life. When I was listening to one of the students today speak, one of her highlights of her four-year career at that school, and she’s a senior, was, that they took pride in the baseball team, and the team winning a couple years ago. And how the pride that the school has in anything and everything they do.

I think as coaches, a majority, if not all of us, try to always bring out the best in the kids. Not only on a baseball field, because it’s minute when you look at the big scheme of things. It’s really the type of person that you’d like them to be and the life you’d like them to lead. I’d rather see kids grow up to be lawyers and doctors and accountants and be very successful in whatever endeavor they choose to be in and if baseball happens to be a part of it, that’s great.

This game that we play, that we coach, teaches kids how to bounce back very quickly. You get knocked down, you get back up. You could strike out three times, you get up the fourth time and you get a hit, you win the game. It teaches them a lot about life. The coaches I’m sure have put everything into perspective very quickly because of what’s happened and have bonded in a different way than we ever have before. We all have really, really thought about things a lot more deeper than we ever have. And really our love has come out for not only Parkland, but definitely for Fitz and his kids and what they’re going through right now.

Anthony: I have a similar question for you Todd. Your team hasn’t even stepped back on the field yet to play a game this year. You are one of the squads that the school’s going to look to, to rally around. Number one, what’s your message going to be to them before that first game? And secondly, how much has your coaching style, obviously as adults we have a hard time focusing after this tragedy, and what you’re going to have to deal with the players focusing is going to be much different that you ever have. So how much leeway is there going to be there?

Coach Fitz-Gerald: Um. . . [hesitant laugh] There will be some leeway, as I laugh. Not a whole lot. But some. Seventeen Strong, that’s it. Seventeen Strong is our motto.

I’ve had to deal with a lot of unforeseen tragedies for myself in a personal [way] as of late. My mom passing early in September, my Aunt passing last week, and now this. For me, I need these guys, and I’m going to do everything I can to lean on them as I want them to lean on us as coaches. Forget the wins and losses. We want to go out, we want to compete, we want to play hard and we want to play for the fallen victims.

And like I said, at the end of the day we want to give the school something to be proud about. And I can assure you that we are going to do that. It may take a little bit of time but we are definitely going to do that. Come down the stretch at the end of the season we should be firing on all cylinders. At the end of the day, like I said, we just want to give them something to be proud about. And me as a teacher and a coach in the school, I know a lot of the kids. I probably know about 90% of the kids by name.

I have a lot of kids that look up to me and talk to me and lean on me for certain things, whatever it is in their lives. But the kids know that we care about them. The kids know that we love them and the kids know that we’re not going to bat an eye. We’re always going to be there. That’s my responsibility as a leader.

Anthony: So as hard as it is, I’m going to try to shift a little bit back towards baseball in the hopes of giving our readers something uplifting. When I first started HSBN, I did an interview with Coaches McQuaid and Hofman, two legendary coaches here in South Florida. Fast forward ten years and now I’m sitting here with you two, considered the elder statesmen coaches now. How crazy does that seem?

Coach Fitz-Gerald: Right.

Anthony: What is that transformation, from young coach to where you guys are now, feel like? Ray, I’ll start with you.

Coach Evans: It’s funny you say that, because I haven’t even really been able to [think] about the baseball aspect of this, since this has happened. I mean, I’ve been thinking about Fitzy a lot, staying in touch with him. I was on the phone and texting with him back and forth when all of this was going on. But when you say something like that, I remember when I first started, I was the youngest coach in Dade County when I started.

And here I am now, in the latter stages of my career, and I’m lucky to have a very close and dear friend, that I call my best friend, in Todd. We’ve been around a long time. He’s coached major leaguers, he probably has some more coming up. I’ve been lucky enough to coach some really talented and young individuals that I can say I’d like to have them as my sons. You know, being around this amount of time shows that we’ve been doing the right thing. I’d like to say that our players have become good people, good citizens.

The baseball players that we have right now they’re always going to go out there and just compete for me and compete for the program and the team and the school and do the best they possibly can. It’s been a long road. I’ve been doing this now, this is my 30th year and 29th as a head coach. And like you said, we’re the elder statesmen and it’s sort of funny to say that.

We’re still young, but we look at all the new faces coaching all the time and hopefully they learn what it’s really about and what’s really important, instead of the Ws and Ls. It’s not always about that. In the beginning it probably is for a lot of them, but down the line, it’s not as important as you think when you first start.

Anthony: Fitz, for you?

Coach Fitz-Gerald: Yeah, I have to echo Ray right there a little bit. And for me it’s always been, I’ve always wanted to coach my son at the high school level. I have that opportunity, (pausing), thank God, that he was ok. Obviously, you know he’s a student there. You know for me, that’s more gratifying than anything. I think me and Ray, we’re young, but we are the statesmen, the elder statesmen I guess as far as coaches go in the county, but, we’re old school guys.

For us it’s about discipline and respect from our players. It’s so hard now-a-days for young people to come in, they say they want to coach and they want to be head coaches and they make it one or two years and they get out. I’ve got to tell you, the way our culture and society is now, thank God that Ray and I have resumes to where we have credibility. You have instant credibility in what you’re doing. So, nobody can say anything. Nobody can take that away from you. What we’ve done over the courses of our careers, we’ve been successful at. We want to give the kids the best opportunity they can to be successful, not only in the game of baseball, but in the game of life.

And Ray hit the nail right on the head. It’s perseverance. It’s work ethic. It’s discipline. It’s committing to something and staying with it. It’s playing for the name on the front of your jersey instead of the name on your back. A lot of times now-a-days, kids play for the name on their back because of the summer showcase circuit. It just puts kids in a different mindset.

When you get them back to high school you have to reprogram them to get them back to your own beliefs and your own way of doing things. And you still have to fight everyday with those guys to get them understand, listen, what we’re telling you is right. His system and my system are not the only systems that are set in stone, but they work for what we do. So you need to buy into our system or unfortunately, you’re not going to be on the playing field because you have to do what we ask you to do. It’s not personal, it’s just getting them to understand that there’s a certain way to do things and not to do things and we want you to do things right all the time.

Anthony: You talked a little bit in there about respect, and Ray, you talked a little bit about the friendship you guys have developed. Obviously in a day and age where respect is futile, from the kids pretty much all the way up, even among coaches, there is very little respect shown between rivalry programs. Explain how you guys keep the balance because there probably is no bigger rivalry in 9A right now than your two teams. So how do you keep that balance and keep the off-field stuff friendly, even though the on-field is so heated?

Coach Fitz-Gerald: Well first of all, me and Ray we probably stay up every night until midnight, we play Words With Friends on the iPhone. So, we talk smack back and forth to each other via that game [laughing]. But honestly no, listen, we know each other well. I know what his team is going to do. He knows what my team is going to do. At the end of the day, it’s a very competitive game. Win, lose or draw, you’ll see when we shake hands at the end of the game. I’ll give him a hug if he beats me, He’ll give me a hug if I beat him, you know, and we’ll wish each other the best.

We went to the State Championship in 2016. He was the first guy there. He sat with me. We scouted together and ultimately, we won it. No friend would do that for somebody if they really didn’t care about him. And I’m glad to say he is one of my best friends in the world. A lot of people misconstrued us early on in our careers that we didn’t like each other but we didn’t know each other. And then we sat down at one conference, where was that Ray?

Coach Evans: Oh jeez. . .

Coach Fitz-Gerald: Where was that, Nashville?

Coach Evans: Yes, it was.

Coach Fitz-Gerald: It was in Nashville, Tennessee. And we just sat, man. And we’ve been going at it ever since and hanging out ever since. We went to the conference this year, we stayed together. That’s just who we are as people. And like you said, there hasn’t been a day goes by that he hasn’t called since this has happened and talked to me on the phone. For him doing what he’s doing here just shows a tremendous amount of love and respect that he has for me and our program and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.

Coach Evans: I think of the football movie, Remember the Titans, the racial tension that they had. When the linebacker went down in the accident and he was in the hospital and he said, something to the affect of, I was scared of my brother, I didn’t know he was you, I was just scared of my brother.

In the beginning we were just competitors. We competed for kids, we competed on the field. Private school, public school, type of atmosphere. We didn’t really know each other. We hardly even had met and yet people took it as if the competition between the schools, or whatever, public or private, that we had some type of animosity between each other. And that happened until we actually sat down, had some beers and talked about each other and our programs and our families and before you knew it we became instant friends.

We became best friends. I can’t say that I’ve gone through anything that he’s gone through, at all. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. But, I’ve tried to see if I can go though it with him, so I can try and help him heal. And when he breaks down or he starts dazing, I know why. I love him like a brother. I love his family. He’s got a great family. It’s almost like we’re almost identical when you look at the two families. We’ve both got a wife, two kids. And his son and hopefully his son is going where my son is going in a few years. I think that we’re so alike in so many ways, on and off the field that we were able to bond instantly. I think it was instantaneous that as soon as we knew each other, that there was a friendship.

Anthony: I was going to end it with that, but you hit on something that especially in today’s day and age is important. From the beginning, what I do has changed me. As far as getting to know coaches that I had certain ideas about, certain pre-dispositions to who they were. Doing what I do has changed me, and I see that with you both, also.

In today’s day and age, how important is it, we talk a lot about left and right and right and wrong, and who’s right and who’s wrong. And really, what you guys are explaining to me is that you guys came to a mutual understanding simply by sitting down and having a conversation outside the lines and getting to know one another. How important is that communication in what we’re trying to, on a bigger scale, what we’re trying to accomplish here.

Coach Fitz-Gerald: It’s unbelievable, you just look at some of these guys that are coaching programs or other high school programs around, what they want to do, what is the saying? ‘You throw rocks at glass houses. . .’ or whatever. Because when you win, nobody likes a winner. Right?

Anthony: They knock you off your perch.

Coach Fitz-Gerald: They want to be like you, but they can’t, so they get frustrated. They have to say bad things about you and try and hurt you in that way. I’m strong enough in my character and the person that I am and Ray’s strong enough in his character and the person that he is. We could care less what people think about us, because we know what we’re doing. We’re doing it right. And I can put my head down on the pillow every night and go to bed and know that we’re doing everything the right way. He can put his head down on the pillow and he knows he’s doing everything the right way.

Now, between the white lines, nobody is as competitive as him and I. I could tell you that. And I think that’s why he has success in his program and I have success in my program. Because kids feed off of the coach. When you’re happy, when you’re intense and when you’re into it, those kids are going to be into it. So it’s my responsibility now during this very, very, very tough time that I’ve got to show that enthusiasm. I’ve got to show that excitement. I’ve got to show that intensity. I’ve got to show them that I’m going to be out there and I want to lead them and make sure they have a great year. A positive year to end it.

Coach Evans: I think right now, it’s like taking medicine to get better for those kids. And the sooner they get back to their sense of normalcy and doing something that they truly love, with somebody that they truly love, then they’re going to start their healing process. You know Fitz is one of those guys like me where, we are intense. We want kids to do things the right way. We don’t want them to throw things. We want them to accept it, get a drink of water, get back on that wall and go ahead and cheer for your teammates.

We don’t want to accept kids that bring the travel ball mentality, with the name on their back and playing for that. Doing whatever they want to do, when they want to do it. And the parents that sometimes will accept things like that. We tell them that it’s not that way with us. We’re so similar in every facet of what we do professionally and off the field as well.

And I think that those kids are lucky have someone like him. He is strong. He is very strong. He’s going to show that strength with those kids. When you’re talking about other programs and people wanting to knock you off your perch, it happens all the time. Whether they go after kids or take kids because the kid doesn’t want go ahead and put in the time and grind like we want them to, and they can go over there and go ahead do what they want and walk around, and toss their stuff. And be the pre-Madonna that we don’t put up with.

They’ll leave and they’ll go to those programs because they won’t want to go ahead and grind it out with us. But the guys that grind it out with us, those are the kids that are successful in life. They are very successful in life. They are successful in whatever endeavor they choose to be. I know that things are going to be ok over there in Parkland because of people like Fitz and Mr. Thompson and everybody else that they have over there, but I know for sure at the end of this year that they are still going to be in the thick of things; they’re going to be the team to beat. There’s no doubt in my mind.

Anthony: Alright, I just want to finish with this, basically you guys both do do things the right way and I want to tell you from HSBN and the community, thank you for the way you guys have lead by example at this very difficult time. Todd I’m going to give you the last word here. Give a message to the baseball community. An uplifting message, something to let them know the Douglas family is going to be ok.

Coach Fitz-Gerald: Well. . . All I can say is 17 Strong. We appreciate everything everybody is doing for us. The tremendous amount of gratitude that’s been shown all throughout the county and the country. We are going to get back on our feet. We are going to be considered, as we always have been one of the top schools in the United States, and we’re going to represent the Parkland community, Broward County school system, and the state of Florida in the best possible manner that we can.

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