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Old coaches never die, they just keep on playing on a different plane

He actually had a baseball card of himself. I know that sounds a little too much, but he was proud of the fact that he played professional ball in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system.

He played for two years and actually got to pitch to the likes of Steve Garvey and Bill Buckner. He also got to meet the infamous Tommy Lasorda and the great Walter Alston. Of course I am talking about the first baseball coach of the Pahrump Valley Trojans, Rod Poteete.

This player/coach/friend went too soon. I was supposed to take him to the playoffs to see the Trojans win one last time, but it wasn’t to be. His body was just too weak to go. He will just have to watch from heaven next year.

Rod made the Review-Journal when an old student and player of his, Geoff Shumacher, wrote about his retirement. Shumacher wrote this about his old coach.

“Poteete built Pahrump into a widely recognized small-school baseball power in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The team reached the state finals in ‘79, ‘81 and ‘83, and made the state semifinals in two other seasons. Poteete was named Southern Nevada Small Schools Baseball Coach of the Year six times. Unfortunately, the Trojans never managed to earn Poteete a well-deserved state championship,” Shumacher wrote.

What I loved about Rod was that he was so approachable and so easy to talk to. I guess this is what made him such a great teacher. I remember the first time he called me. The office said I had this call from Poteete. I really had no idea who he was. I had just started doing sports and it was my first summer with the paper in 2011. I answered the phone and he told me who he was and just started talking to me.

“Vern, I was really helpful to Don McDermott when he was around. He used me a lot for the history of the school. I compiled all the records and I want you to have them. This could be used for the summer when things are slow,” he said.

I remember just slowly warming up to the guy. He had a gift for gab and he must have talked to me for over an hour about Pahrump, his career, and of course baseball. I told him that I had graduated from UC Berkeley and that made him and I rivals because he had graduated from Stanford University (For those who are clueless, Berkeley and Stanford are the USC and UCLA of Northern California). Despite our differences we hit it off like long lost friends. We had so many things in common. We both loved sports and we both shared a love for the Dodgers. Over the next few years he would call me during the school year on a regular basis. I lost count on the times I used him or even put him in an article. I even did a story on his baseball cards last year.

Terri, my wife, is wise and she knew how to calm me down on Tuesday when I found out the news that he was gone. I had called Rod on Tuesday because a rumor had circulated the news room here and I had to confirm it for myself. When his son, Ryne, answered the phone, I knew Rod had passed. My wife knows that I am of the age where death hits home even more. She sensed that I would need some consoling.

“I have read most of the comments online about Rod and the love his students had for him shows. They may not have talked to him every day but he touched their lives in ways that no one else has. I think you can be proud of the fact that he touched yours too. God brings people into our lives to help us see what we need to. God needed Rod in heaven. Who knows, to coach the baseball team there? Whatever the purpose he is not suffering with cancer and his body is young and wonderful once again. Find strength in God and know he has a purpose,” Terri said.

Today I am better knowing Rod is coaching up in heaven. I just wish I was around here in the eighties to see him in his true element on the baseball field — on that “field of dreams.”

The last time I saw Rod was during the fall. I picked him up at his home and we went to watch the Pahrump Valley Trojans beat Faith Lutheran for the Southern Nevada Regional title in girls soccer. He had been really excited to see his old school play. He had been their number one fan during the year and had called me weekly for the scores and any updates. He thought highly of Sydney Sladek and was just amazed at her speed and quickness. I am sure he was not too pleased when Sydney signed with the USC Trojans instead of his alma mater.

After the Trojans soundly beat Faith, Rod insisted on meeting Sydney to shake her hand and get her autograph. I then ran and grabbed her to see if she would come and meet him. She agreed and was kind and respectful to Rod. That really made his day and for the rest of the month I heard nothing but how great Sydney was. It makes me chuckle now.

After that game, I had promised to take him to see the Trojans play baseball. He told me he would enjoy that. I really didn’t think he would get sicker. Back in the fall he was recovering from the removal of some toes. That was unrelated to the cancer. It wasn’t until late fall that he told me about his cancer. He said it was a little spot in his abdomen, but he reassured me it wasn’t spreading. I drank his Kool-aid because I really didn’t want to think otherwise. Spring came and we never got to see the Trojans play ball. He was just too sick and couldn’t even go outside. I kept telling myself to go see him, but he kept telling me he was fine.

He wasn’t fine. I would learn later from Ryne that he was in hospice care for the past few months.

Yesterday I wish I could go back into time and just hear Rod speak.

In my own way, I was able to do that. I had saved his last conversation with me. I went through my tapes and found it and switched it on. I didn’t tape all of Rod’s conversations but this one I did for I was hoping to use some of his comments in an article I was writing for the paper. We were talking about youth sports and how expensive they had become. I can hear him straining to talk. In my mind, I knew this was not good, but also I didn’t want to face the fact that my friend was in a lot of pain. The zip had gone from his voice and he strained hard to hide his illness. I knew he was struggling.

He told me he was bedridden.

“What can you do? I watch a lot of television and sports. On the weekends I watch with my wife. She is teaching summer school during the week,” Rod told me. I then asked him if he read much and if he had enough reading material.

He replied in the usual Rod way, “I don’t read much. I don’t like to. I think it was because of all the years in college. I read too much.” His answer made me laugh and almost took me back to the times when he was a bit healthier. For some reason I kept this tape and I remembered calling him, so I dragged it out to listen to it again. I guess it was God’s way of allowing me to say goodbye to my old friend one last time, for I really needed to hear his voice one last time.

As I write this, I want this to be a tribute to a truly great player of baseball and a great teacher, friend and coach. I know deep down that he wanted to spend his last days in his adopted town. I also know this man had many friends out here in our valley that will be missing him greatly. Rest in peace my friend and save me a spot in the stands! Rod Poteete, 1947-2014.

From his obituary in the Review-Journal:

Rod is survived by his wife, of 38 years, Jean; his sons, Kemer (Barbi) and Ryne (Niki); and three grandsons, Ryne, Wriley and Camilo. Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 12, at First Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 301 S. Maryland Parkway. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Pahrump Valley High School Athletic Department and the Autism Foundation. – See more at: http://tinyurl.com/kjcvp6y

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