Goss: 900 wins only part of King’s story
April 12, 2012 6:36PM
Joliet Junior College coach Wayne King talks with his players after his 900th career win Tuesday. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 14, 2012 8:13AM
Providence baseball coach Mark Smith spent 16 years with Joliet Junior College coach Wayne King, two as a player, and 14 as the pitching coach and then associate head coach.
“Some day we will do a Wayne King roast,” he promised.
King, a former player and assistant coach at Ohio University, gained victory No. 900 in his 26-year JJC career Tuesday when the Wolves whipped Harper 12-4. The math says he is averaging more than 34 wins per season, which is impressive enough.
But more than the victories, what was celebrated on Jan. 27, when about 250 alumni of the program’s last quarter-century and their families gathered for a reunion, was what playing for King at JJC meant in their lives.
Smith was there as a speaker. Associate head coach Gregg Braun, a Providence alumnus who played college football at Butler, was master of ceremonies.
“It was a very special night,” Braun said. “But Wayne will tell you it was not about him but about 25 years of the Wolves.
“If he ever retires, then we’ll have that special night for him.”
A roast? Stay tuned.
So what is it about King, who was inducted into the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2009, that has translated to 900 victories? As Braun said, “In the last 10 or 11 years I think only one class that came through here did not go to at least one World Series.”
The NJCAA Division III World Series is played in Tyler, Texas.
“JJC is known in this area for playing good baseball, but it’s also known around the country and people everywhere know Wayne,” Braun said. “In Tyler, they know we’re the purple team. If Tyler is not in it, the whole town pulls for us.
“When we go down there, Wayne does not need a map. He knows where all the restaurants are.”
Although King says this year’s team (22-17 in midweek) “has to get a little more focused and get better in some areas” to reach the World Series, don’t bet against it.
The Wolves were national champions in 1994 and 2008. They finished second in 1995 and 2007, third in 1997 and 2006, and fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth once each.
“I’m very proud of what we have accomplished,” said King, also JJC athletic director the last 17 years. “It just shows the good coaches and good players in this area.”
That level of success is no accident, certainly not at a Division III school, where no athletic scholarships are given.
“The one thing Wayne always has had is tremendous relationships with four-year schools,” Smith said. “Over 90 percent of his players have moved on. He will go the extra mile for every kid who aspires to play college baseball.”
“Being D-III, we can’t offer athletic scholarships,” Braun said. “That’s what makes us most proud, that our sophomores move on and get money for continuing to play baseball.”
“We have done well moving kids on to four-year programs,” King said. “That’s the biggest thing I always want to have happen.
“We’ve had kids go to all the schools you can think of — the Big Ten, Lewis, St. Francis, lots of others. We put out a product here that other coaches want.”
Smith is in his sixth season at his alma mater, Providence, and said he would not have left King and JJC for any other coaching job. “I would have been perfectly content there,” he said. “Wayne and I used to joke that we would be the next Gordie Gillespie-Tony Delagado duo in the dugout.”
Now that Smith sees King from the other side of the equation, his feelings toward him are equally strong.
“Wayne’s relationships with high school coaches is tremendous,” he said. “Look up and down that roster and it’s local kids, and that alone says a lot about him. Maybe every kid was not recruited by a four-year school or wasn’t ready to go away to school. But they know they can go to JJC and there’s a great chance they will move on.”
“Four-year schools want kids from here because they know they were taught well and have been in big situations,” Braun said. “Colleges love that.”
While getting kids to four-year schools is all-important to King, the immaculate diamond where the Wolves play, Wayne L. King Jr. Field, which the coach nurtured from the start, also has played into 900 victories.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on this field,” King said. “Of course, now I teach the kids (players) to do some things so I don’t have to do quite as much.”
“That field is kind of a hidden gem for our area,” Smith said. “Having Wayne’s name on it says a lot about his legacy.
“His legacy will carry on forever.”
Strike Out for Cancer Day
The Lockport Baseball Booster Club and J. Kyle Braid Leadership Group will host five Minooka vs. Lockport baseball games Saturday at Ed Flink Field, beginning with freshmen at 10 a.m. and culminating with a varsity game at 6 p.m., to raise money for the Mark Staehely Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
All proceeds from the $5 admission charge will go to the foundation. Additionally, donations will be accepted. Each paid admission will receive a ticket for a hot dog or hamburger. The players from Minooka and Lockport will wear special shirts honoring a family member or loved one who is battling cancer or has died of cancer.
For information, contact Walter Altmann at (708) 227-0168.