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Hartman's style never gets old

| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
California baseball coach Don Hartman answers questions after Tuesday's tough 2-1 loss to OLSH in the WPIAL Class A semifinals.

As I held a recorder in Don Hartman's face immediately after his California baseball team lost a tough 2-1 verdict to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in the semifinals of the WPIAL Class A playoffs Tuesday, I was reminded again why I like the guy so much.

He is not afraid to show his emotions, regardless of how high or how low they may be.

When I walked up to Hartman after the two teams finished the traditional post-game handshake, he smiled.

Then when I asked him the first question about how tough it was to lose a game like that, his smile disappeared and his lip began to quiver.

He paused and looked out into the blue sky.

And then he broke into a story about what he always tells his kids at the beginning of the season about paying attention to the little things. As he told that story his voice was shaking.

Hartman was holding back tears with all the inner strength he could muster.

Some people who watch him from the sidelines — and see how demonstrative and intense he can be as a coach — probably wouldn't believe Don Hartman could cry.

But the guy — the old catcher — who works his kids hard, disciplines his players, yells at them for their mistakes and challenges them to be successful every single day genuinely hurts for them when they lose.

It's hard to not like a guy like that.

The guy knows baseball. His resume shows as much. And he knows how to get his message across. His record of success at California shows that.

Whatever he does, the teaching, the thinking, the ranting, the commitment he demands ... it all works.

And when he talks about the pride there is in California baseball, you better believe he lives it.

You don't last 23 years at a school and have teams so consistently good without not only believing in your program, but also getting the kids who pull that uniform on every year to do so as well.

It takes a special kind of guy to do that.

Don Hartman is all of that. Smart. Rough. Demanding. Confident.

And he also has a heart.

I've often heard people say that there is no crying in sports. To some, there isn't.

But it tells me a lot about a coach's character when he can be so intense during the game, but moved to tears because of the pain he knows his players are feeling afterward.

I've come across a few good coaches in my time who are like that. Those are the coaches I remember most.

Not the ones who are forever stoic. Not the ones who whine (there is a difference between whining and shedding a tear for your kids).

Don Hartman is one of the coaches I will remember. A great leader who is not afraid to put the hammer down, yet also is not afraid to show that it hurts when that hammer hits him in the gut.

It's easy to be a winner. It's easy to love a winner.

But Tuesday, in the disappointment of defeat, I was reminded just why I have liked Don Hartman all these years.

Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or joliver@tribweb.com.

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