The road to success is not straight. There is a curb called Failure, a loop called Confusion; speed bumps called Friends; red lights called Enemies; caution lights called Family. You will have flats called Jobs, but if you have a spare called Determination, an engine called Perseverance; insurance called Faith, and a driver called Jesus, you will make it to a place called Success!
[caption id="attachment_88" align="alignright" width="200" caption="When Life Throws You Curves, Keep Swinging"][/caption]
In my journey of life and coaching career I chose the road less traveled. It is certainly unusual for a double above-knee amputee since birth, one who never physically played the game of baseball, to pursue a career in athletic coaching. As the passage above indicates, it has not been a path without challenges, obstacles, or setbacks, but is has been a path of opportunity, great accomplishment and reward.
There have been many supportive individuals along my road less traveled journey that offered encouragement, assistance, guidance and direction to enable me to achieve my dream of becoming a successful baseball coach. From principals and athletic directors who took a chance by hiring a handicapped coach to assistant coaches and players who bought in to my vision and accepted me to pastors and youth ministers who taught me at an early age to have faith and trust God, and loving and supportive parents and grandparents that never allowed me to say cant but always said you never know till you try.
At an early age I discovered two Bible verses that I adopted as my life verses. Romans 8:28, which said to me God can bring good out of a bad situation. This verse eliminated any self pity early on in my life. The second was Philipians 4:13, which says: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” These verses gave me a strong belief in my own capabilities and the courage to try things others may deem impossible.
The purpose of this book is to encourage others who may be facing difficult or trying times in their lives so that they too can overcome adversity with proper attitude, perspective and determination.
In this book I will share some of the challenges I’ve faced throughout my life and how overcoming these hardships have strengthened my faith and made me the man I am today. I hope my message inspires, motivates, encourages and uplifts all who read it – just as people before inspired me.
If you take away one thing from this book, let it be this: You don’t have to be perfect to achieve success but you do have to be committed.
It was August of 1986 in Campbellsville, Kentucky, a small town in central Kentucky about 75 miles south of Louisville. I was 26 and doing what I loved the most: coaching baseball. It was the biggest game of my life up to that point. My team, a small and scrappy group at Campbellsville College , was competing for the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship. Needing a single win to clinch the title, we found ourselves down 2 to 1 in the bottom-half of the final inning. Right fielder Brad Baber was at the plate. Two men were on base. I gave Brad the bunt sign.
It was an improbable position for me to be in. I had just completed my master’s degree and a graduate assistantship year at Henderson State in Arkansas, and I was fortunate enough to land the job as the head baseball coach and a physical education instructor at Campbellsville, a small private Southern Baptist NAIA college. After only five years of experience in the coaching ranks (mostly high school) I was a college head coach – only a few years older than some of my players.
[caption id="attachment_89" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="David Vince and Johnny Bench"][/caption]My age, though certainly unusual for a college coach, wasn’t the most remarkable circumstance of my new vocation. I was I was born with Tibial Hemomelia, a congenital bone disease that results in the shortening or a lack of leg bones. Both of my legs were amputated above the knee when I was an infant and I was fitted with artificial limbs at a very young age. Although I could never play the game, I followed in my father’s coaching footsteps and learned to love the game of baseball by watching my younger brother on the field.
I was so grateful that the Athletic Director took a chance on me, the 26-year-old, shaggy-haired double amputee who had never played a single inning of baseball. I was pleasantly surprised how quickly the players accepted me as their coach. Once they realized I knew and loved the game and that I had a vision for the team, they bought in. It was soon full-speed ahead.
Still, it wasn’t the smoothest start for a college coaching career. I was hired only a week before the fall semester began after the previous coach, Dr. Danny Davis, left over the summer to take another head-coaching gig in North Carolina. I inherited a team of only 21 players, which, most notably, had only six pitchers on the roster. Very little baseball recruiting had taken place at Campbellsville over the summer because of the coaching vacancy. However, the team wasn’t without talent. Campbellsville had finished second in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference four years in a row before my arrival. But with only six pitchers on the roster, I was forced to get creative.
One of my first decisions as coach proved to be an extremely valuable move. In an effort to make my pitching go further, I chopped the regular season schedule by 10 games. Our conference games were 7-inning doubleheaders, so I always made sure I had my best four pitchers ready for each conference doubleheader. My other two pitchers would pitch the mid-week games. Predictably, as the season progressed, we found we were winning the conference double -headers but losing our mid week games. But overall, the approach worked. As we approached the final conference double header of the regular season our overall record was 26-24 with a very good 13-3 conference record. We needed to sweep the last conference double header to take the regular season conference championship. I wanted to win badly. I wanted to reward the administration for taking a chance on me and I wanted my players, who had worked so hard the entire season, to get those conference championship rings.
Our bats came alive in the first game of the doubleheader and we cruised to a 13 to 1 victory. As is usually the case in baseball, when you experience an offensive flurry in one game, runs are often hard to come by the next time out. That is how we found ourselves down 2-1 in the bottom of the 7th inning. We had three outs to stage a comeback and clinch the title.
Our first batter up got a base hit, and the next hitter walked, putting runners on first and second with nobody out. Brad Baber stepped to the plate. Brad was a very mature 21-year-old senior who was married, had a baby, was majoring in pre-law, and still playing college baseball at a high level. Brad was a hard-nosed player who put his heart and soul into everything he endeavored.
With our bats cold I decided we needed to manufacture runs any way I could. I gave Brad the bunt sign to move both our runners into scoring position. Brad squared to bunt and fouled the first pitch off. I gave him another bunt sign. Again, he bunted foul. With two strikes, I took the bunt sign off and told Brad to swing away, and he didn’t disappoint. Brad caught the very next pitch into the gap for a game winning two-run triple, clinching the first baseball conference championship in Campbellsvlle College history.
After the game, Brad explained to the local paper: “After screwing up the two bunt attempts I knew I didn’t want to face an upset Coach Vince in the dugout, so I made up my mind to make up for it and I was able to hit the triple in the gap to win the game.” Brad Baber was named an Academic All-American after that season and is now a successful lawyer in Indiana.
Our momentum from that come-behind walk off win carried us ahead to the final of the regional tournament. We were undefeated, which meant the only way we wouldn’t advance to the sectional was if we were beaten twice in a row. But postseason contests were a full 9 innings instead of the 7 we were accustomed to played during our conference doubleheaders. Having only six pitchers on our roster finally caught up with us, and we were defeated twice to end our season.
A few days later, I was named KIAC conference coach of the year, which at age 26, was an incredible honor and thrill. I was filled with such a sense of satisfaction that I had proven I was capable of being a successful baseball coach despite being a double amputee. It was one of the highlights of my career.
That success didn’t come easy.
Eighteen years earlier, as a fourth-grader at Northside Elementary in Bogalusa, Louisiana, coaching baseball seemed completely impossible. Surviving the trials and tribulations of grade school as a double amputee was my primary goal. It was September of 1968, early in the school year, and I, like many kids with physical disabilities during that era, was the subject of intense bullying.
I was seven years old and still using wrist crutches to help me walk at the time. There was a small faction of boys who decided they would have some fun at my expense by seeing how many times they could knock me down during recess. Every time the duty teacher turned her back, the boys ran full speed at me, gave me a hard shove, watched me fall and laughed repeatedly. I would pick myself up, dust myself off; and a few minutes later they would come again. I told the duty teacher what was going on but her response was that unless she actually caught them in the act there was nothing she could do. The bullies knew this, so harassing me became an ongoing game for their entertainment.
I endured this daily for about two weeks before I finally got fed up and realized the teacher wasn’t going to stop it. I came to the realization that if it were to end, I was the one who was going to have to stop it. On one particular Wednesday lunch recess I decided to stand up for myself. That day I kept looking over my shoulder anticipating the bully charging me, and like clockwork, one boy started approaching at high speed. As the bully closed, I swung my right arm, fully extending my wrist crutch and delivering a direct blow to the bully’s stomach so hard it knocked his breath completely out. The young man, unable to breathe, collapsed like a house of cards and gasped for air. He probably thought he was dying. By the time he finally recovered and started breathing normally again, things had already changed. Because I stood up for myself, the bullies finally left me alone and the recess harassment stopped. The duty teacher never knew what happened.
It wasn’t the last time I would be teased. Schoolchildren can often be immature and cruel, particularly when faced with something or someone different from them that they do not understand. Later, my classmates blamed me when we couldn’t move to a second-floor classroom (which, believe it or not, in the insulated world of the elementary school student was a big deal) because I couldn’t navigate the stairs very efficiently. Although that move made it easier on me physically, it was emotionally difficult because my classmates blamed me for them not getting the upstairs classroom and saw fit to constantly remind me of this. The bullying came and went, but subsided during middle school as the students matured grew more used to my disability and also began to mature.
That experience, and the support of my parents, helped develop a resolve and toughness that I otherwise might not have cultivated. To deal with the stress of harassment and bullying, I developed a mantra of “Vince’s are Tough” to help me cope with the bullying. That toughness is something I carried throughout my childhood and into my baseball coaching career. It has served me well in good times and bad. I complimented that toughness with a strong desire to defy expectations.
A few months after my incident with my schoolyard bullies, I would put down my wrist crutches for good. Later that same school year, I was misbehaving at home, as 8-year-olds will do. My mom had had her fill of my bad behavior that day and decided to punish me by taking my crutches away and making me stand in the corner for half an hour. My mom left the room and went about her daily business maintaining our home. When she returned, I had moved from the corner to the far side of the room. Confused, she quizzed me on how I managed to make it to the other side of the room without my crutches. My response was simple.
“I walked,” I said.
Of course, she couldn’t believe that I walked across the room without my crutches so she demanded I demonstrate it for her. When I promptly repeated my feat, she took the crutches from me permanently. I walked with my prosthesis without a cane or crutches the rest of my life.
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