Here's to you Ron McNutt

Ron McNutt announced his retirement early this year, but that fact never really set in until two weeks ago when the Senator baseball team was eliminated from the zone playoffs.

"During that game I didn't even think that this was my last game," McNutt said recently, gazing out at the baseball field named in his honor. "All I remember was trying to get across to the team that we have a chance; that we had one loss and they had one loss, and if we win, they're not in it.

"We played up to the best of our ability and came up short, but we battled until it was over. Then, as I walked across the field, that's when it hit me. As I was shaking hands with the Reno players and coaches, Carl Vinci (the Reno announcer) said a lot of nice, kind words which was very touching."

So, after 29 years, 658 wins, 12 league titles and two state titles, McNutt finally gets his due. The veteran Carson High coach, teacher and athletic director is being honored this weekend with a full slate of activities.

An alumni game is scheduled for 10 a.m. today, followed by a roast tonight at 7 at the Nugget with ex-Carson and big league star Matt Williams acting as master of ceremonies. A golf tournament at Empire Ranch is scheduled for Sunday morning.

"I'm so excited about this weekend," McNutt said. "It's going to be an emotional time for me and my family. You just don't pour everything you have into a job for 29 years and not have a feeling of sadness.

"It was fun for me. Maybe I touched some of their lives in a way that helped them grow. At the house, we've received a lot of letters from kids (former players) that can't make it because of either work or family commitments, and they indicated they were proud to have played in the program and for me. They didn't have to say something like that. It makes you feel pretty good."

Over the last half of the season, as the end of the season drew nearer, opposing coaches like Rob Hastings of North Valleys, Ron Malcolm and Nik Kuster of Wooster, Gary McNamara of Galena, Doug Russell of South Tahoe and Pete Savage of Reno went out of their way either before or after a game to congratulate McNutt on his career.

A Hollywood script writer would have had the Senators sending the 60-year-old McNutt out with a zone or state title, but it wasn't to be.

"Was it as good as I had hoped?" McNutt said. "No. I have no regrets. It was the right time to get out and with the right team.

"We just didn't finish like I had hoped. There are other things just as important. For us, it was the kids that stepped up because of either injury or discipline problems. That was important in the success of the ballclub."

Carl Henry has known McNutt for more than 20 years, and he's coached with him, taught on the same staff and also had two sons in the program.

"Ron went out of his way to provide a special high school experience beyond the baseball field," Henry said, alluding to the trips to Hawaii, Florida and Los Angeles that the high school team took. "He's one of the most organized people I've ever known. He's a fund-raiser extraordinaire and an incredibly savvy coach."

McNutt said he hasn't decided whether he'll be staying on as athletic director, but he said he'll back whoever takes over for him in the dugout.

"It's time for a new, young guy to step in," McNutt said. "No matter who it is, he has to be his own person. He's not going to have to worry about me looking over his shoulder. I'll be supportive and help anyway I can.

"I can honestly say the program is in good hands. We had a lot of young kids that got a lot of experience this year, and we had a great JV team that lost I think only one league game. I honestly believe we'll have an outstanding baseball team next year. We'll be better next year."

MCNUTT COMES TO CARSON

The veteran Carson coach was teaching and coaching football in Caldwell, Idaho when John Giannandrea, whom he coached against in Idaho, invited him to join his staff at Carson as the offensive coordinator.

For a few years, McNutt was an assistant on the football and basketball staffs, a fact only the old-timers around Carson know.

When Roy Kidder stepped down from the baseball job in 1975 after 146 wins and one co-state title, McNutt took that on, too. After a few years of doing all three sports, McNutt was being pulled in umpteen different directions, and a decision had to be made, and baseball, plus the kids in town, were the big winners.

"(Some) would have told you he had more coaching knowledge in those sports than baseball," said Henry, a dean at Carson. "He surrounded himself with great people and became one of the finest coaches in Nevada."

What's amazing is that McNutt had just one losing season at Carson, that coming in 1978 when the team went 10-14 in his third year at the helm.

His philosophy was simple. He stressed solid, fundamental baseball built on repitition.

"I always believed fundamentals wins games for you at the lower levels, and when I say lower levels, I mean high school," he said. "If you can't cover first or hit the cutoff man you're going to get beat because you will continue to put runners in scoring position.

"If you do a lot of repititions, over time it gets to become habit forming. If it happens in a game situation, you will be that much better prepared to handle it."

Charley Kerfeld, one of five ex-Major League players coached by McNutt, said he used a lot of McNutt's philosophy during his nine years of managing in two independent leagues.

"Repitition is what makes you a better player," Kerfeld said. "He provided the basics."

Added Williams, "Ron just wanted to teach his players the intricacies of the game which is part of winning games. Those things contributed to it."

McNutt had high expectations like any successful coach, and that's why he ran such a successful program.

"I think Ron, whether other schools want to recognize it or not, raised the bar for baseball in Northern Nevada," said Tripper Nelson, a former McNutt assistant in the '90s. "His teams were the best dressed, played the best teams and had the best facilities. He provided a model for everbody else."

Nelson remembers the 1991season when Carson went 20-9, placing third in league and fifth at regionals.

"We only had a few seniors," Nelson said. "It was a disappointing year. We were getting phone calls because we were 20-9."

Maybe the most important thing is that former coaches and players said McNutt was pretty easy to play for.

"He made it fun," said Ken McFadden, a member of the '79 state championship squad. "He took a lot of pride in the team. He never pushed us too hard. You can only push so hard before people give up, and say it's not worth it."

MCNUTT'S MEMORIES

When you ask McNutt about his favorite Carson High teams, he admits that it's hard to pick out just one, and that he has fond memories of all his squads.

You can see his reasoning. In 29 seasons, he had 17 teams win 20 or more games, and five times the Senators had 30 or more wins.

"Probably the 1979 and 1992 teams because they won state," the veteran coach said. "There were so many teams in between that were very special in certain ways. They may not have won state, but came in second.

"I'll always remember the first team (1976) and this year's team. I had a lot of great teams because of the way they played."

McFadden, who now lives in Colorado, played shortstop on the 1979 team, and is representing that squad at tonight's roast.

"We played together a lot of years,' McFadden said. "When the season started, people looked at us as the team to beat at least in Northern Nevada. Rarely had anybody beaten the teams in Southern Nevada in state. Winning the whole thing was pretty much of a surprise.

"All up and down the lineup we had great players. John Gary was a homerun hitter for us, and Doug Gamble was awesome every year he played."

Matt Morgan, current Carson assistant under McNutt, was a sophomore on that 1992 title squad. He still holds single-season school records for runs scored (67) and stolen bases (38), both in 1994.

"We had some talented kids and athletic kids in '92," Morgan said. "Nate (Yeskie) went pro, but I don't think there was a Matt Williams or Charley Kerfeld type out there. We were a very coachable group."

MCNUTT'S BIG LEAGUERS

McNutt has produced five Major League players - Kerfeld, Williams, Donovan Osborne, David Lundquist and Bob Ayrault. Another Carson High grad, John Gamble, also reached the majors. That's amazing when you consider that Carson City has only 52,000 residents.

Williams played 17 years, 10 with the Giants, one with Cleveland and six with Arizona. He hit 378 homers and drove in 1,218 runs, and was generally regarded as one of the best-fielding third basemen in the game. His best year was in 1999 when he slugged 35 homers and drove in 142 runs with the Diamondbacks.

"I call Matt my Mr. Class Act," McNutt said. "He stood for everything that baseball is about. His profesionalism as far as how he approached everything (stands out)."

Osborne, like Williams, was a No. 1 draft pick. He was 49-46 with a 4.03 ERA in stints with the Cardinals, Cubs and Yankees. Three times he won 10 or more games with the Cardinals before arm problems ruined his career. He made a comeback with the Yankees this year, compiling a 2-0 record, but was released after two sub-par starts.

Kerfeld pitched five seasons for the Astros, almost winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1986 when he compiled an 11-2 record with seven saves and a 2.59 ERA in his first full season. He finished his career with an 18-9 record and a 4.20 ERA.

Ayrault, the current CHS pitching coach, pitched three seasons in the big leagues. He was 5-3 with a 4.05 ERA in a two-year stint with Philadelphia and one season with the Mariners.

Lundquist's career never quite got off the ground, unfortunately. In 37 games with the White Sox and Padres over a three-yer period, he was 1-2 with a 7.92 ERA.

"Looking back on when they played high school ball, they were just a different breed," McNutt said of the group. 'They had talent, but they had a lot of desire and a great attitude. You didn't think much about it until you see the next guy come in and play that position.

"I remember hitting groundballs to Matt after practice. I wanted to go home and have dinner, and he wanted me to hit him another bucket. It (baseball) was their life. You knew they had a chance to go to the next step. You could see it in them. They played 100 percent everyday, even in practice. They loved the game."

A favorite player? McNutt wouldn't touch that question. All five of those players touched him in different ways, and all five will always have a special place in McNutt's heart.

McNutt's hair is white these days, and the joke is that Kerfeld was probably responsible for most of that, and the ex-Carson star does nothing to dispell those rumors.

"I would say I put a whole bunch on there; probably the whole left side was mine," said Kerfeld, who scouts for the Mariners. "He told me somebody would get even with me. He told me I'd get paid back for the nine years I managed."

McNutt acknowledged that Kerfeld was the No. 1 prankster he ever coached, and that Williams was a silent second.

"I think it was his junior year and around Christmas," McNutt said, a smile on his face. "I was looking out the front window, and here comes this figure in the snow. He had on combat boots and a trenchcoat. He stops and waves. He was out running in the snow to get in shape for baseball."

That was small potatoes compared to how Kerfeld would show up to school, according to McNutt.

"I see him at school, and he was dressed in the wildest stuff," McNutt said. "He never matched. He would wear striped shirts and plaid pants. Let's just say he made things interesting."

THE CAPITOLS

You can't talk about McNutt without talking about the Carson Capitols, a program McNutt and his wife, Terri, started in 1978.

"When I got here, I could see the need for summer ball," McNutt said. "It was made up of kids who loved the game and wanted to play a lot of games. It wasn't set up for just Carson kids. Coaches would call me all the time and ask if I could take one of their kids.

"It was a great opportunity to spend a summer in the sun. People looked forward to coming out to our games at night. It just grew and grew. The Carson Capitols were very big in Carson City. When we got the lights, people were excited about coming out and watching night baseball. I still get calls from people that don't understand why we don't have it now."

And, McNutt readily admitted that some of his players always looked forward to playing in the summer, mostly because of the extensive travel.

Thirty-five players were drafted and more than 100 went on to play college baseball. The program started with mainly kids from Carson High and other Northern Nevada high schools. However, as the competition got better, McNutt started to get talented players from California and other states, and only using just the top three or four players from his own team. One year, three players came from Hawaii.

It was the exposure to college coaches and professional scouts that made it so special for the players.

"It gave all of us so much exposure," Kerfeld said. "He took us all over the country. He gave us the opportunity to see places we may never have had the chance to see as a kid."

When McNutt closed up shop after the 2001 season, his teams had played in 32 states, won four national championships and posted a record of 1,217-246. For those of you who don't want to do the math, that's an 83 percent winning percentage. Simply amazing.

Maybe his best-known teams were his last two, which were among the nation's best.

"We were a little short-handed in pitching," McNutt said wistfully. "We had great pitchers, but not enough of them."

The 2000 and 2001 teams had many Division I players, including J.P. Howell (USC, Texas), Dustin Pedroia (Arizona State), Galena's Joey Hooft (Miami), Bill Paganetti (Stanford), Dustin Hahn (LSU), Marshall Hendon (Cal State Fullerton), Baker Krukow (Nevada), Joe Jacobitz (USF), Carson's Joe Mercer (Nevada), Douglas High's Austin Graham (Nevada) and Bub Madrid (Nevada).

McNutt, a master fund-raiser, got plenty of support from local residents and business owners. He never charged admission to Capitols games except for his yearly tournament. In fact, it took less than a month to raise enough funds to put lights up on the field.

McNutt also got a big boost from Williams, who would sponsor a yearly golf tournament with all the proceeds going to the Capitols.

Because of the generosity of the community, McNutt was able to do things first class for his summer team. His teams traveled by charter bus or flew to tournaments, and it was Terri, who works for Frontier Travel, that was the master organizer.

"Her organizational skills just made it a smooth transition every summer," McNutt said. "Being in the travel business, she could get or knew where to look for the best deals. Dave Lippincott over at Frontier was so gracious and helpful."

The Capitols were truly a family affair, one that wouldn't have worked as well if Terri hadn't been so involved with the program.

"Ron and Terri were consistently putting things together for the team," Williams said. "It was a lot of sacrifice on both of their parts."

But eventually it got to be too much, according to McNutt.

"It got to a point where we were finishing high school ball around Memorial Day weekend, and the Capitols would finish the last week of August," McNutt said. "I would have a week off for vacation and then be back in school. It never really hit me (early on). I missed out on special times with my family. For the most part my family was with me so it worked.

"It's important to have the right person behind you. I was fortunate to have somebody like Terri who wanted to be a part of things."

And, Carson City was fortunate to have a man like McNutt coaching baseball in town.

Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1281.

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