I lost a family member yesterday. He wasn’t a family member by blood relation, but one based on years of friendship and his mentorship and coaching.
It was really kind of a fluke that we even met Mr. Bill, Bill Dryden. My daughter Cassie was a young softball player and she ( or maybe I) decided she should try pitching.
We researched instructors in the area and came across Bill. This was before he had the website, etc. I can’t even remember how we found him. I took Cassie for a lesson with him on the softball field at Delmar, hoping she would like it and would feel comfortable with him as an instructor.
It didn’t take long for both Cassie and I to realize what a cool person Bill was. While he gave her some basics to work on, he interspersed instruction with light humor. Cassie was pretty shy, but by the end of the lesson she was smiling and enjoying herself.
And, that was the beginning of a great relationship. Bill became a member our family. Lessons were a highlight. Whether Bill was cracking jokes, laughing at my husband when he cursed at having to catch Cassie’s drop ball, encouraging her when she did well, and being kindly honest when she didn’t, our Mr. Bill time was special.
As Cassie grew up, she had the good luck to be able to play on a team that Bill coached. He was such a good coach. If she had a horrible day or a great day, he was consistent and even keeled. It wasn’t like he didn’t tell her the truth, he did, but she knew that he would work with her to keep her improving.
And we had fun. The team was young and talented. We went to Oklahoma City, to Colorado, and to Florida to name a few places. One of our favorite memories was going to Estes Park with Bill and Cheryl, or to the Buckhorn Exchange in Denver for dinner with them and other team members. Wherever we went for softball, we also went to see the sites. Like I said, family.
At some point, Cassie, who wanted to play collegiate softball, realized that maybe pitching wasn’t her thing. Most college pitchers are not 5’4″ and 100 pounds. She was around 16 and it was hard for ME to deal with, but not Bill. He said to me as I continued to bring her to lessons, ” You realize her heart isn’t in it, right? Let her go be the best outfielder, lefty slap hitter she can be and play college ball. ” He didn’t mind being honest with parents either. Often times when I would bring her to lessons sick, or slightly injured, or really tired, he would kindly remind me that everyone needs a break every once in a while.
Even when she was no longer a pitching student, Bill helped her as she went through the recruiting process. He recommended her to another travel team when he retired from the one she was on. It was the team that got her recruited by Bucknell University, the college she eventually played at. Bill was critical in helping her get recruited, giving advice, talking to coaches, etc. Cassie had him at her signing ceremony. He was always there for her and us and she said she owed so much of her success to him.
Once she went to college, Bill helped me and my husband when we started coaching.
He was just that kind of guy. He cared about all of his students and even former students. You would see Bill at every level of competition to watch ” his girls,” all the way from Little League to high school. That’s how he spent his weekends in the spring and summer. He loved it and those girls!
He and his wife Cheryl would hop in that SUV he had and would drive all over. Cheryl would sit in her lawn chair covered in a blanket in cold weather or in her shorts and flip flops in the summer and talk to parents and coaches alike. She rooted for every girl Bill coached.
Bill would walk from field to field talking to college coaches, travel coaches, and, of course, to his girls. He gave those girls advice and encouragement. A girl would have the worst game of her career, and he would help her learn from it and move on from it.
If you had ever been one of his pitchers or players, you were always special to him.
I was so happy to see Bill keep coaching because his influence on so many young women was crucial to them. I was also loving the fact that his granddaughters were playing and he was getting to coach and watch them. It mean the world to him. His daughter, Ashley, who we met when she was a dominating high school pitcher, got into coaching and Bill was so proud.
He was also excited to help teams and organizations, as well as parents, with the collegiate recruiting process. Many teams benefited from his advice.
I’ll miss so much about Bill. Long talks about pitchers on my team that he worked with, dinners at Old Country Buffet after practice, bad jokes and his self deprecating humor, his cute nicknames for his students, and his advice to me, personally, as a mom and a coach. He was always there for a phone call or a message asking for help with so many softball and life issues. I always knew he was in my corner, and in the fickle softball world, that is rare.
I’ll miss you Bill in so many ways. But I look forward to following your granddaughters and Ashley as they continue your legacy!
#drydenstrong ( that means even more now.)