The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 22, 2013

End of an era

Joe Goddard, only baseball coach ever at Independence, retires after 36 seasons

When Joe Goddard retired last spring, it was from teaching only. As a 62-year-old who has worn a baseball uniform every year since he played Little League, he had no plans to give up the game just yet.

Then, one day in the fall, Goddard got to thinking. He remembered a conversation he had on a chilly spring day during a field dedication in 2004. Someone asked him about his coaching career, which at that time was in its 28th season.

“I said that, once I got out of professional ball, this is the place I wanted to teach and coach until I retire,” Goddard said.

And then, it hit him.

All the victories. All the championships, including a state title. All the friends he made along the way. All the memories.

It’s time.

After 36 seasons as the head baseball coach at Independence — the only head baseball coach the school has ever known — Goddard has retired completely. And while it might have been an emotional decision to make, he has no regrets.

“I enjoy being retired,” Goddard said. “I enjoy golfing and fishing and things like that. ... I’m just retired.”

A man who has done as much as Goddard doesn’t just retire.

Goddard graduated from Sophia High in 1968 and went on to play baseball at Marshall University. After his career with the Thundering Herd, his playing days were far from over.

He was an eighth-round draft choice of the San Diego Padres in 1971. He played at every level in the Padres’ minor league system, but that was all sandwiched around his call-up to the big league team in 1972.

Rubbing elbows with the likes of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and playing in the Houston Astrodome — then considered state of the art — Goddard played 12 games for the Padres. He was a lifetime .200 hitter (7 for 35) with two doubles and two runs batted in.

“Dream come true,” Goddard said. “When I grew up playing ball, the only games on TV were on Saturday.

“I wanted to be a professional ballplayer, but first I wanted to be good enough to be a college player. I got that opportunity at Marshall with coach (Jack) Cook.”

After his playing days were complete, Goddard returned to Raleigh County, nowhere near ready for his life in baseball to come to an end. The only avenue for it to continue was coaching — which was good, because that’s what he wanted to do, anyway.

He stayed in close contact with the coaches who mentored him along the way.

“I really looked up to the coaches I had in high school,” Goddard said. “I played golf with my football and baseball coach, coach (Jess) Lacy, and I went fishing with coach (Robert) Douglas. Sports has just always been a big part of my life.”

In 1976, Goddard’s alma mater of Sophia consolidated with Stoco High School to form Independence. The new school would need a baseball coach that spring. Who better than Goddard — an enthusiastic former pro baseball player with immediate ties to the school — to bring in a new era in county baseball circles?

And who could have known that by the time Goddard called it a career, the country would see six more presidents and $3 for a gallon of gas is almost viewed as a steal?

Goddard, that’s who.

“I think, when I started coaching, that I thought it would last this long,” he said. “I never wanted to do anything else. I just enjoy coaching.”

Whoever said to do one thing and do it well, must have had Goddard in mind.

Ask Goddard if he knows his career record and he’ll tell you no.

“We kept stats for the players, but we never really kept track of wins and losses,” he said.

What he can tell you is that the Patriots have won 11 sectional championships and six regional titles. They were also regional runners-up twice. In 1989, Independence was the Class AA state runner-up, falling 8-2 to Magnolia.

Finally, in 1990, Goddard led Independence to the top of the mountain. The Patriots beat Sherman 7-4 to win their only state title.

“It was great,” Goddard said. “We played down at Watt Powell Park (which was torn down in 2005), which was special because when I was 15 we won the Senior League state championship there. I was the catcher. It was always special to take a team to Watt Powell Park and play.

“The state tournament is special for the coaches and the community and the players. Some people coach for a long time and never get the opportunity.”

Goddard not only coached baseball, but also football and girls and boys basketball. One of his proudest achievements had nothing to with championships or even winning at all. No, it was getting the chance to coach his children, Ashley and Matt.

Goddard’s imprint will forever be seen on the Independence program. That field dedication nearly nine years ago? It was a ceremony honoring him, where the field was renamed Joseph H. Goddard Field.

The 1990 state title was the first ever for this area, and there had not been another until Princeton and Wyoming East won championships last June.

Goddard started an annual wooden bat tournament which was renamed the Jeff Treadway Memorial Wooden Bat Tournament, for former player Jeff Treadway who was killed in the Little General explosion in Ghent in 2007.

Goddard says he has always been fortunate because he has been able to wear a uniform every year since he was 9. His tenure at Independence is over, but he can still be seen in a dugout in full baseball regalia this summer, as an assistant with the West Virginia Miners.

Baseball, it seems, will always be a part of Goddard’s life.

“I have been lucky and I have been blessed,” Goddard said. “I have always had good players with good parents, and the support of family and friends and the community, and good administrators who supported whatever we have tried to do.

“I have just been real fortunate.”

— E-mail: gfauber@

register-herald.com

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