MIKE NIETO: Baseball community says good-bye to Frank Eccles

2011-10-20T21:45:00Z 2013-03-15T21:31:18Z MIKE NIETO: Baseball community says good-bye to Frank EcclesBy Mike Nieto Prep Beat nwitimes.com
October 20, 2011 9:45 pm  • 

His full name was Franklin Spray Eccles, but everyone knew him as "Coach."

Frank Eccles died Saturday at 73 and anyone who knew him, knew of his love for the Great American Pastime.

He won more than 800 games and coached Thornton to the 1974 Illinois High School Association final four -- back when it was still a one-class tourney. He spent 31-plus years in the classroom and in his classroom on the diamond. He was a pioneer in the sport in that he started coaching clinics. Coach your coaches to coach your players.

"He was way before his time," said Baltimore Orioles scout Bob Szymkowski, who was on the 1974 team. "He started those Illinois Coaches Association clinics and I think that really raised the level of play in high school baseball in Illinois. He organized and ran those.

"He made sure the wealth of knowledge was spread around -- to all programs around the state."

Eccles is in the Illinois Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and received the "Les Miller" Man of the Year Award in 1983 and 2003. He also received the President's Award in 1997. The National High School Baseball Coaches Association also recognized him for his more than 50 years of coaching.

It was his way of coaching and relating to the kids that made him and his program successful.

Doug Mathey was a junior pitcher on the 1974 Wildcats team and he remembers how Eccles didn't micro-manage.

"We came from the Harvey Little League and Riverdale Little League, so we had good coaching," said Mathey, who lives in Bakersfield, Calif. "He let us play and sat back. He knew he had a good team and he knew what our strengths were."

Mathey said he recalls playing West Aurora in the tournament and how Eccles got him fired up as he was to pitch against them.

"He told us, 'East Aurora's got all the talent and they said we don't have any pitching,'" Mathey said. "Well, we beat them and he said to me after the game, 'Doug, do you think we showed 'em that we have some pitching?' That was Coach."

Times Business Development Manager Roger Wexelberg spent most of his life in baseball and was president of the RailCats, said Eccles had a great influence on him. He remembers playing against T.F. South.

"I was in a slump and he had me come up and pinch-hit," Wexelberg said. "I hit a home run and that just made me feel good that he had that confidence in me. He was such a great guy the way he pushed you to be better in anything."

This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at mike.nieto@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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