Here's hoping we haven't heard the last of Jeff Joyce
The irony in this story begins and ends here: The man for whom you'd want your son to play has resigned to spend more time with his sons.
My son is seven.
That means Jeff Joyce has roughly seven years to get back into high school coaching.
Because we need him.
We need such men of character, moral courage and humor to be around our children.
Joyce stepped down as the baseball coach at Fitch earlier this week. The coaching fraternity just got the equivalent of Superfly Snuka cascading from the top rope to deliver a swan dive to the sternum.
We will miss his earnestness, verve for vocabulary, spirituality and a boundless give-a-damn about his players.
Here is how Joyce departs:
"Unlike (former Fitch) coach (Ed) Harvey, I can't give myself to the program the way he did, and the way our players deserve," Joyce said. "We always ask our players to put program first. Our players deserve to have a coach who shares the same passion and commitment as they do. And I am the first to say, I'm not living up to my end of the bargain.
"I hold Fitch baseball in such high regard that, paradoxically, my love for the program is admitting I can't love it the way our players deserve. And the way I feel a head coach should. Our players deserve more than that, and I believe they will receive that with new leadership."
That's Jeff Joyce. Courageous enough to admit his fastball is elsewhere and that the kids deserve better.
The kids first.
Always the kids first with Jeff Joyce.
Joyce is the archetype for The Modern Coach. Gone are the days when high school coaches were almost affectations of themselves: Seed spitting, tobacco chewing, body part scratching, profanity spewing grumps whose forays with polysyllabic words usually begin with "mother."
My way or the highway doesn't work anymore. Coaching is about being an amorphous combination of Dr. Phil, Dr. Freud, Dr. Hawkeye Pierce, Dr. Dre and Dr. Melfi. It isn't as much about teaching the vagaries of the Tampa Two, 2-3 zones and bunt coverages. It is about interpersonal relationship expertise in a world where a few good texts suddenly define solid communication skills.
And Joyce is the masterful maestro.
"You want to win for him because he puts so much time into you as an individual," Cooper Robinson, one of the best players he ever coached, once said of him. "We want to give back to him as much as he gives to us."
Nick Helbig, who played for Joyce last year, called Joyce "a cool dude" this year during Fitch's memorable football season.
True on all counts.
Now for the personal part. Full disclosure: I shouldn't get so close to the people I cover. But I cannot and will not apologize for what's become of our friendship.
Jeff Joyce has become a brother to me.
The last 15 months of my life have been tumultuous for reasons many of my friends are aware, but reasons that are nobody else's business. Joyce has been my friend, counselor, confidante and inspiration, challenging me to read an eclectic menu of books that have changed the way I see the world.
My spirituality has never been greater, seeing things in the universe — The "U" as we call it — that I never knew existed. Joyce calls them "small moments of grace." They sustain you. And because of him, I've never been stronger and better in my life. He showed me that, yes, you eventually come out the other side. Just look at the light and keep walking to it. Slowly, steadily.
Believe me: I still have issues. But I'm better equipped to deal with them because of Jeff Joyce.
I'm sad today that a bunch of high school kids who need the lessons Joyce imparts won't get them. But I know his three boys will be better for having daddy around more. And, yes, responsibility begins at home first.
His coaching days aren't over. He has too much to give. But he will be missed. For now.
First, Juan Roman leaves New London football. Now Jeff Joyce leaves Fitch baseball. Two men who understand how humanity, spirituality and decency fit into everyday life. Two men who need to be around kids more, not less.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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