KINGSPORT — There are many reasons Dobyns-Bennett’s Mike Ritz has become the state’s all-time winningest high school baseball coach.
Longevity, of course, is always key to amassing victories. Ritz has been signaling batters and directing runners from the third-base box for 40 years.
“I still love the game,’’ he said.
His jolly demeanor puts players and everyone else around him at ease. Motivation is a big thing and his pat-on-the-back style continues to get results.
Ritz knows hitting so well that he can take an ordinary player and shape him into a top-notch performer at the plate. It’s been said that he selects his nine best hitters and then finds a place for them to play defense.
The 62-year-old coach will be stepping down at the end of the 2010 season. With a number of high-profile coaches already gone, it will create another void in the local sports scene.
D-B officials will honor him Monday at J. Fred Johnson Stadium with “Mike Ritz Night’’ when the Indians face Sullivan South at 6.
Cary Daniels, the athletic director, said he expects players from schools where Ritz has coached to be on hand for the tribute. The special promotion will offer lots of trivia related to his achievements as a player and coach, enabling spectators to reminisce.
Ritz has seen hundreds of players come and go and witnessed wholesale changes in the game itself.
“The athletes are better now than they were when I started,’’ he said, “but the fundamentals were better back then.
“To be successful in coaching, you can’t afford to dwell on things. You must have a short memory. If you do things fundamentally right, the winning will take care of itself.’’
Ritz’s overall win-loss record is 894-364. This includes coaching assignments at Ketron, Sullivan North and D-B.
He changed the landscape of Ketron’s program, guided North to two Class AAA state championships in three years and raised the level of play considerably at D-B. In his 25 years with the Indians, their record is 641-227.
Ritz isn’t leaving the cupboard bare. Practically the entire starting lineup will return next spring.
Daniels offered no clear explanation as to the process D-B will apply in finding his replacement.
“We have people on the staff capable of taking it over,’’ he said. “We will be posting the job.’’
Ritz’s most bitter pill to swallow was a 3-2, eight-inning loss to Germantown Houston in the 1996 state title game after D-B enjoyed a two-game lead entering the final round.
His most memorable win was capturing the 1983 state championship for North against Mount Juliet with a lineup of players he dubbed “Smurfs.’’ Most of them were too young to even have a driver’s license.
Ritz’s teams have won 18 conference championships, 15 district titles and 15 region crowns, and qualified for state competition 17 times — reaching the TSSAA Final Eight in 11 of these appearances.