John White always wanted a way to pass along some of his life stories so that his grandchildren could regale in them long after he’s gone.
It was just a matter of finding time to actually do so.
Then along came the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and a canceled 2020 softball season, and suddenly the opportunity to sit down at the computer and turn the spoken word into the written word was at his fingertips.
White, a former baseball player at Southern Oregon University and current head softball coach at Eagle Point High School, took a few of the stories he has experienced along the way in his new book “A Sidelined Coach Riding Out The Coronavirus.”
The book is available at Cascade Athletic in Medford as well as online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It offers first-person accounts from his childhood to adulthood, as White retells some of his fondest memories of baseball, men’s fastpitch softball and then his venture into coaching.
“I’ve been thinking about doing this for quite a long time,” White said, adding that it took about six months from start to finish to get the book done during the pandemic. “It was during a period of time when we weren’t doing anything, so I had to do something and I occupied my mind during that time.”
The book is under 100 pages — and it was totally by design. But because of that, it meant that White had to be selective when it came to what was included and what was left out even though he has a lifetime of memories on the diamond to tell.
“I keep thinking of things I might have put in (the book) to make it a little longer,” White said, “but I like the idea that it’s short because I think that the kids that I’m coaching now or kids that I have any sort of an influence on — I’m a substitute teacher and I’m in the classroom all the time talking to the kids — it’s short enough that they will possibly read it and possibly get a few things out of it. I thought if it was too long they might not even pick it up.”
White, who turns 70 in November, shares stories from his youth and how he came to love the game of baseball, his college baseball career at SOU and into his time playing men’s fastpitch softball, as well as his coaching career. He recalls his travels with local fastpitch softball teams and where he first got his coaching inspiration from, notably after encounters over the years with legendary Oregon Tech men’s basketball coach Danny Miles.
White credits Miles’ coaching style as a heavy influence on the way he coaches and interacts with his teams. While White was never actually coached by Miles, he followed the former Medford High School standout’s athletic career during his days as a kid living in White City. White said he would routinely watch Miles’ games when his teams would play in Central Point, and the admiration only continued as the two got older.
“I played American Legion baseball against him when he was a Medford Mustangs coach and we had the Central Point Cheney Studs,” White recalled. “Danny was an exceptional man and still is, but I remember one night I had been hauling hay all day since five in the morning and then went to play a doubleheader later that day. Danny was coaching in the third base box and I was playing third base, and I was having a rough night because I was just wiped out. He came out and put his arm around me and said, ‘There’s going to be a better day.’
“That just stuck with me. I always enjoyed competing against him because he always had something — whatever opportunity was there he would take advantage of it.”
White went on to have his own accomplished athletic career, one that he did close to home after growing up in the Rogue Valley. He was inducted into SOU’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018 after a baseball career in the late-1970s that saw him honored as an All-Evergreen Conference selection in all three years with the Raiders.
After his college baseball career came to an end at SOU, it didn’t mean he stopped showing people how good of a hitter he was. He joined a men’s fastpitch softball team, and became so good at the sport that he was inducted into the Oregon State ASA Softball Hall of Fame in 2001.
White, who has coached softball at Eagle Point the last seven years, was named the state’s Class 3A Coach of the Year in 2009 during his time with the Rogue River High School baseball team.
Much of White’s book is dedicated to his time playing fastpitch softball, which is a sport he holds near and dear to his heart still to this day.
“Men’s fastpitch used to be very out in front of the community for a long time until basically Title IX came around and the fields were being used by the girls and guys who were playing started to gravitate toward coaching and it just kind of died out,” White said. “It was a great sport, and in my opinion better than baseball. Actually, more people would come watch us (play fastpitch softball) than come watch baseball when we were in college.”
There is one section that White is unquestionably most proud of in his book: the one where he talks about his men’s fastpitch softball experience.
“I think that preserving the men’s fastpitch days was one of the things that was really important to me because some of my friends from around that time are starting to die,” White said. “Some of us are in our 60s, 70s or 80s, and it just preserves that point in time.”
The same experiences that he talks about in the book are ones that he shares with his players.
It doesn’t matter the age of the athlete, either. White wanted a consistent theme to come across while he was in the writing process: one of just how much sports is an opportunity to gain valuable life lessons.
“Some of the things that dictated (what went into the book) are that people that have been able to accomplish things, without fail, have put in a lot of time and energy into it and nothing comes for free,” White said. “So, I just wanted to try and point that out more than anything else.”
Preserving the memories that he has collected along the way was always going to be key.
It doesn’t matter at what point along the road they came, really, just as long as White was able to leave his stories for the generations behind him was most important of all.
“I’ve been telling those stories to my teams for so many years that I kind of follow along with the narrative I use with them,” he said. “I could go on and on about things, but I wanted to talk to them about times that were met with success and times success came from failure and all of those sorts of things and the reasons why they happened. That was probably the main consideration there.”
White already has an idea for a second book, one that involves what it takes to make a team in high school or college.
But for now, White is simply appreciative that he had the time to write this book, even if it came at the expense of a spring sports season in 2020 that never came to be.
Because, above all else, the ability to have some of his fondest sports and life memories now down on paper that will last forever is something that was time well spent.
“My grandparents are gone, my parents are gone and I occasionally find myself wanting to know something that they had talked about in the past or a story they told me in the past … and there’s nobody to ask,” White said. “So, wanting to know something about family history and not being able to ask about it, I wanted to preserve that and also give a sense to my grandson about what things have been like around here and where my experiences have come from.”
Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneEagle Point coach John White on the home field.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneEagle Point coach John White talks to his team before a home game earlier this season.