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For Mike Fields, it’s always about the kids

Posted on Friday, June 13, 2014 at 4:10 pm

The Mike Fields coaching era: 1973-2014
By Rick Pedone
Sports Editor
You can debate about who belongs on Osceola County’s Mount Rushmore of high school coaches, but if Mike Fields isn’t one of them, then you might as well knock the darn
thing down.
Over the century that high school sports have been played here, few coaches have experienced the success he has. And, few individuals have made an impact on the lives of their players, and on their fellow coaches, like Fields.
After 41 years in the coaching business, Fields retired as Harmony High’s baseball coach in April after compiling a 610-428 career record at Harmony, at St. Cloud High and at Eastern Hancock High in Indiana, where he started his career as the tennis coach.
“I helped with some other stuff, and then when the baseball guy left they stuck me in there,” he said.
On March 3rd, he became only the 14th high school baseball coach in Florida to win 600 games.
Fields’ good friend, Steve Landram, who retired from Harmony last year, said that the best thing he ever did for Osceola County was to tell Fields about the coaching vacancy at St. Cloud.
“I guess the one ability I have is to be able to recognize great talent. Mike was already a coach (at Eastern Hancock) when I was the athletic director there, and the one smart thing I did was not run him off,” Landram said.
How influential has Fields been since moving to St. Cloud in 1979?
Well, Hall of Fame Osceola High Softball Coach George Coffey walked up to Fields after Harmony’s last game, at OHS in April, and said to him, “I just wanted to tell you that your program is what I tried to emulate when I took this job.”
How many have a public facility named in their honor? Fields has two: Harmony High’s Mike Fields Baseball Complex and, at St. Cloud High, the Mike Fields Clubhouse.
His uniform No. 20 has been retired at St. Cloud and Harmony.
Fields, through his own sweat and imagination, created showplace baseball complexes at St. Cloud and Harmony. He founded the Harmony baseball program in 2004 and won 171 games there.
Osceola County honored him by proclaiming May 30 as “Mike Fields Day.”
After announcing his retirement from coaching in January, he was invited to throw out the first pitch of the game at a Houston Astros spring training contest in March, and he was honored by rival Osceola High baseball coach Scott Birchler in February with a ceremony before their regular season game.
“I coached a lot of games at that field, probably more bad ones than good, but what a class move by Scotty. I really appreciated that,” Fields, 62, said.
That didn’t stop Fields from coaching his team past the Kowboys, 3-2, in extra innings in a game that decided the Orange Belt Conference championship.
“Well, Mike certainly deserved it, but I guess the game could have turned out a little better for us,” Birchler said.
Fields was honored at a retirement dinner Friday at the Royal St. Cloud
Golf Links.
Over five decades, Fields, a Terre Haute, Ind. native who served in the Air Force, taught his players about the mechanics of baseball, but he didn’t stop there.
“Character is the first thing he preaches to the players,” Troy Girdner, who played for Fields on St. Cloud’s 1985 state tournament team, said.
“He tells you, ‘Character is what you do when nobody is watching. When you are here, I can watch you. But what are you doing when you aren’t here? How are you going to represent the Bulldogs, or, now, Harmony?’”
Fields’ assistant coach at Harmony for the past two seasons, Mike Clark, said that Fields’ involvement with his athletes is unique.
“I’ve never coached with anyone, or have I ever seen a coach, who cares more about his players than Mike,” Clark said. “Everything he does is about learning life lessons. About always doing the right thing, and conducting their business with class, on and off the field. They know his expectations.”
Fields, the county’s 1994 Coach of the Year, said he is most proud of the success his players experienced after they graduated.
“We’ve sent many to college and have had a few sign professional contracts. I’ve watched my players become lawyers, Army Rangers, fighter pilots, pastors, successful businessmen … and great fathers to their children,” he said. “Hopefully I have taught them something they can use in their everyday lives and they will pay it forward to their children and acquaintances in their daily lives.”
Fields stressed academics and, fittingly, Harmony’s baseball team was tops in Osceola County and No. 6 in Class 7A with a cumulative 3.298 GPA.
His players knew how to get after it on the field, too.
Fields teams won three sectional (now, regional) championships and made three state tournament appearances (1980, 1984, 1985) at St. Cloud.
At Harmony he won three district championships and reached the regional finals in 2013, one step from the Class 7A state tournament.
But, above all else, he made sure that the teams he hosted at his complex were treated with respect.
When he was the athletic director at St. Cloud High for two decades, the school earned a sparkling reputation for good sportsmanship that was officially recognized by the Florida High School Athletic Association in 1996 and 1997, when St. Cloud earned back-to-back FHSAA Sportsmanship Awards.
John Wallauer, a player and a coach for the Bulldogs for 30 years, said Fields fit in with the St. Cloud High coaching staff immediately.
“He had the same work ethic and goals that we did,” Wallauer said. “Looking on it from the perspective of someone who coached for a long time and has been out of it now for 10 years, I’d have to say that Mike did it longer than any of us, and did it better than any of us.”
Vic Lorenzano, who took over as the Bulldogs athletic director when Fields resigned in 1997, said that Fields helped countless students behind the scenes.
Lorenzano remembered when his Bulldog wrestling team won the 2002 state championship.
“Mike was one of the first people I called that night driving home. Early the next morning, I was just getting ready for church when Mike knocked on my door. He wouldn’t come in, he just held up a check for $100 and said he wanted to purchase the first ring for one of the kids for the state championship team. Just class,” Lorenzano said. “He is just a wonderful guy, a great coach, and a class act. God broke the mold when Mike was born.”
Troy Girdner, whose son, Doug, pitched for Fields at Harmony, knows all about the behind the scenes efforts Fields makes on behalf of local students. He was on Fields’ Harmony coaching staff for
several years.
“Yeah, now he’s busy helping someone get into Valencia,” Girdner said.
Harmony Athletic Director Chuck Hitt said Fields’ example set the tone for the entire Longhorns’ coaching staff.
“He was the one behind the food donations at Make a Difference Day, he got that started,” Hitt said. “With Mike, you just don’t worry about things because you know he’s going to do it the right way. You know the (baseball) field is going to be spotless, because he’s the one out there doing it most of the time.”
Shortly after moving to Harmony, Fields recruited coaches from Harmony and St. Cloud to have their teams run food donation drives at several St. Cloud area supermarkets in late October. Over the past several years the students have gathered and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of food to the local food bank, just in time for the holidays.
Fields established a relationship with officials at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., an elite prep school attended by national leaders and their children. For many years, Fields took his baseball teams to Washington D.C. to play baseball against St. Albans, but more importantly, to give his students a tour of
the nation’s capital.
“What an experience for those kids,” Lorenzano said.
His players sang Christmas carols at nursing homes, learning how to give back
to the community.
“The parents, a lot of times, see Mike as this tough old guy and some of them don’t like him,” Girdner said. “But, the players, they always know what it’s about. They see the things that Mike does that he keeps quiet about.”
Steve Edwards played four seasons in Fields’ program and he was around the team even longer because his older brother, Scott, was a pitcher for Fields’ first team at St. Cloud in 1980, which advanced to states.
Edwards, who played on the 1984-85 St. Cloud state tournament teams as a shortstop and pitcher, said that he knows why Fields was a successful coach.
“Organization, discipline and hard work,” he said. “He was so organized, he had a schedule for practice every day for 38 years. We were ready for anything.”
Fields’ children – daughters Steffanie and Mika, and sons Trent and Chase – all were high school athletes. He has five grandchildren: Bailey, Braxton and Brody by Steffanie, and Gavin and Gracey by Mika.
Steffanie Ansbaugh said she always felt like she had a lot of brothers when she attended St Cloud High.
“Dad always treated his players like family and not only taught them about the game of baseball but about the game of life,” she said. “For many of the players, he was the father figure in their life. The spring trips he would take them on, for some of those boys, if was the first time they left the state.”
St. Cloud girls basketball coach Chad Ansbaugh, Steffanie’s husband, was an athlete at St. Cloud High when Fields coached there.
“Mike has been the first guy that I’ve called so many times when I had a decision to make. He always has been supportive of me and he’s a great guy to model myself after,” Ansbaugh said.
Mika Arthur said, “I consider myself lucky for being able to have him as my dad, mentor, friend and coach. Even though I didn’t play baseball, he taught me more than I could ever ask,” she said. “He dedicated his time not only to St. Cloud and Harmony high schools, but he was a friend to many in our town while raising a family with great morals.”
Fields credits his parents, Bill and Evelyn Fields, for molding his generous and humble personality.
“They were great role models, and I always tried to treat my own children and my players like my parents treated me,” he said. “I have to thank my family, Leigh (his wife) and Steff, Mika, Trent and Chase, because without their support there is no way I would have stayed in coaching all these years. It takes teamwork. And, thanks to my many assistant coaches who did most of the work. I just got my name attached to the wins.”
Fields said that Steve Landram, who gave Fields his first head coaching job, is a special person.
“I have to thank Coach Landram for believing in me in 1974 and hiring me as the head coach at Eastern,” Fields said. “I have been around many, many coaches, but he is undoubtedly the best I have ever seen.”
Steve Landram probably speaks for thousands who know Fields: “There’s not a more respected coach anywhere. He is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.”