Sarasota High Coach Clyde Metcalf walks off the field after giving Sailors senior pitcher Conner Stewart some advice. Metcalf, the program's coach since 1982, said he is still having fun every night with the team.

Prose and Kohn: Sarasota High's Clyde Metcalf still has fun on the diamond

The high school baseball legend remains a source of unmatched insight — and unmatched ebullience.
By: 
Apr. 28, 2022

For a few innings, I was worried the well of Clyde Metcalf-isms had run dry. 

Over the course of six baseball seasons, I have made it an occasional habit to attend a Sarasota Sailors game and focus as much on the team's coach as I do what is happening on the field. It has been enlightening. In 2019, I heard Metcalf — the program's bench boss since 1982 — tell his team to "swallow (its) pride" and choke up their hands on the bat to start getting hits against Venice High.

The team trailed 1-0 entering the sixth inning and won 3-1 because it finally took his advice. Last season, after another rough offensive start against Lakewood Ranch High, Metcalf told his team to keep the ball on the ground instead of trying to hit a home run with every swing. If they didn't, he said, they might get no-hit. He was right, again. The team trailed 1-0 entering the fifth inning and won 2-1 in extras by hitting sharp grounders past the Mustangs' infielders. 
Sarasota High senior Mario Trivella makes a crane pose after doubling against Braden River High.

To continue the tradition, I went to the Sailors' game against Braden River High on Tuesday. I was excited to see how Metcalf would motivate his 2022 team, especially when the team gave up a first-inning run. But senior shortstop Mario Trivella immediately answered with a home run to lead off the bottom of the first and junior Matthew Page would add another run on a wild pitch. Metcalf was quiet. There wasn't much to critique — yet. 

The game went back and forth for a while. The Sailors led 4-2 after two innings but a series of mistakes in the third inning allowed three Braden River runs to score. The Pirates led 5-4. Sarasota had made five errors in three defensive innings and in the bottom of the third, with a chance for the offense to make up for it, the team's bats went cold. After what Metcalf deemed a particularly bad swing on a pitch high out of the strike zone, he couldn't contain himself any longer. 

"My goodness," Metcalf said, shaking his head and turning to his coaching staff. "Talk about a little momentum change, huh?"

Metcalf has this signature wry way of speaking. Even when he's talking about his own team's failures, he's doing it with a bit of joy and humor. That's because he loves high school baseball with his whole being, the ups and the downs, especially ups that come after downs. The Sailors are never out of a game, no matter the score or how cold their momentum may be, when he's the one giving them advice. 

Eventually, Metcalf gathered his team and instructed them to take a breath. They were going way too fast and trying to do too much, he said. If they centered themselves and took their time, they would be fine. He would, of course, be proven right. The team scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth and another in the sixth for a 9-5 win. But there were teaching moments along the way, like when a Sailors batter attempted a sacrifice bunt in the sixth inning and whiffed. 

"The best laid plans …" Metcalf said. He didn't need to finish his sentence. If I was a betting man, I'd bet a lot that the Sailors will be working on bunting in practice soon. But the coach's coup de grâce, perhaps the most Metcalf-ian moment I've ever witnessed, came not when the Sailors were hitting, but pitching.

In the fourth inning, the Pirates had runners on first and second with no outs. The next batter popped up to second base, but no one caught it. The runner on second didn't move, but the runner on first took off. He had nowhere to go. He ran towards second as Clyde screamed for his team to go for a tag. They didn't get one; the runner reached second as the runner previously on second finally went to third, then, for some reason, the Sailors threw back to first. At this point, it was clear both teams were confused — as were the umpires, who had called nothing the entire time. 

Sarasota junior Tyler Maszak points to the team's dugout after sliding into second base against Braden River High.

Can you baseball fans grasp what should have happened? If not, don't worry; Metcalf will explain it to you.

"Come on, that's an infield fly!" Metcalf said, running onto the field. "Let's go back to the classroom. Wow." 

I'm pretty sure he was talking to everyone at the stadium. His confidence in this ruling is why he wanted his team to go for the tag; with an infield fly in effect, there was no force on the runners to advance, so they could not just throw to second. After being admonished, the second base umpire finally nodded and gave an out signal for the batter. The runners went back to their original bases. The Pirates would not score. 

Sarasota is now 16-6 and has won five games in a row. The Sailors look to be playing their best baseball at the most important time of the year; the playoffs start May 3. Under Metcalf, they have a shot at a deep run once again.

After the Braden River game, I asked Metcalf if he was indeed having as great a time as I suspected. He raised his eyebrows and gave a wide grin. 

"I am having fun," Metcalf said. "I have a great job. I enjoy being out here with the kids and I have on my coaching staff a lot of good friends. When I quit having fun, that's when I'll quit doing this because it should be fun."

The best thing about Metcalf retaining his youthful exuberance? His players feed off it. In the second inning, a fairly hard-hit grounder bounced foul down the third base line. Metcalf snagged it out of the air with one bare hand like it was nothing. The team's dugout loved it.

"He's still got it!" said an Sailors player. 

Metcalf turned back toward the field and smirked, this time saying nothing.