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Gone Like Flint

Irvine Baseball Coach Retires to Take Act on Road

May 23, 2000|BEN BOLCH

After addressing his team for the final time, Irvine Coach Bob Flint took a long, soulful walk alone in center field of the ballpark he helped construct with his own hands.

Flint's 21-year stay at one school touched so many so deeply that his recent retirement announcement touched off a funereal atmosphere. As he made his way toward the infield Friday, his wraparound sunglasses couldn't begin to conceal his emotions. Exhausted. Relieved. But also a bit sad that there was no more baseball to be played.

"I'm spent. I'm done," Flint said. "If we had another game tomorrow, I'd tell the kids, 'Let's go. We've got to go to war.' But the war is done."

The last two decades brought their share of joy and victories. They also took their toll. There were endless fund-raising drives to pay for equipment and facility improvements. There were thousands of hours spent weeding the field. And then there were the countless phone calls from parents angry about their son's lack of playing time.

Flint conceded that he is overwhelmed by it all. "It's time for something different."

So, for the next year or so, he is going to take it easy.

The veteran U.S. history teacher plans to visit some of the more celebrated places he has been telling his students about, such as Yorktown, Gettysburg and the beaches of Normandy.

Still, the question lingers: Is Flint gone for good?

After all, it's not going to be easy to say goodbye to all the players and the memories and the highlights.

Like the time Flint's team made it all the way to the Southern Section finals in 1992. Or the time his son, Jared, pitched a complete game against North Riverside to notch dad's 300th victory. Or the season soon-to-be major leaguer Bob Hamelin hit those mammoth home runs.

"I'm sure he's going to coach again somewhere," said Fountain Valley Coach Ron LaRuffa, whose Barons knocked Irvine out of the playoffs in the first round. "He's just meant so much to Orange County baseball."

Flint, who has a reputation as a straight shooter, said that maybe he'll come back in a couple of years as a Vaqueros assistant. Maybe not.

But it seems evident that baseball is going to remain a constant in his life.

Flint, 55, has already volunteered to serve as an assistant coach this summer for a team of 16- to 20-year-olds in the Czech Republic. He doesn't know many details, including the skill level of the players he'll be teaching. And it doesn't matter. He just wants to travel, have a good time and make new friends.

Friendship is a theme that has prevailed throughout his career. It's not the 361-231 record or the eight Sea View League titles that matter, it's the fun he had building relationships with his players and coaches. Just the other day, Flint went out to lunch with players from the 1980 team, the first he coached at Irvine.

"That's the neat part. That's the real excitement," said Flint, a Western alum who coached at his alma mater for two years before coming to Irvine. "The wins and losses, they always go away. But friends always stay. It's been a 21-year relationship with people. I've just really enjoyed the players as they grow up."

Flint spent much of his final day as coach shaking hands with former players who showed up to see their mentor in action one last time. His teachings are still fresh in their minds.

"There's things I take from him now," said Nick Nikolenko, a former player who coaches junior varsity baseball at Santa Margarita. "You have to play baseball on one level: steady."

Flint was known for staying on an even keel--he was never thrown out of a game--and getting the most out of his players.

But he's most proud of his longevity.

"Principals and athletic directors need to do their best to hire someone who's going to be there and provide a consistent environment for the kids," he said. "We've done that. The kids know exactly what to expect.

"That's the most important thing because we couldn't control the talent we got. We couldn't control the umpires. We couldn't control who's pitching against us. But we could control ourselves.

"I'm really thrilled more than proud that I got to [coach so long at one place] because this is what I wanted to do."

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If you have an item or idea for the prep baseball report, you can fax us at (714) 966-5663 or e-mail us at ben.bolch@latimes.com

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