Last winter, former all-star pitcher Billy Wagner got a call from Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, asking if the lefty would consider coming out of retirement.
He turned down the overture, pointing to his new job in baseball -- head coach of the junior varsity team at the Miller School, outside of Charlottesville.
And Wagner says it's a decision he's glad he made.
"I've got four kids myself, and I get to see them a lot more often," he explained. "And they get to play their games and experience a childhood instead of following me around everywhere to a ballgame or to a new city.
"And this is more me."
Wagner a Virginia native who attended Tazewell High School and Ferrum College, was taken in the first round by the Houston Astros in 1993. He pitched 16 seasons in the big leagues -- with the Astros, Phillies, Mets, Red Sox, and Braves -- before retiring after the 2010 season. His 422 saves currently rank fifth on the all-time list.
Now he's hoping his achievements can inspire his new players.
"Nobody expected me to be a pro baseball player, and that's what I tell these guys," Wagner said. "Nobody expects anything, so that's why you can go out there and go as hard as you want. Because there's that 'what-if' factor. What if it really does happen? Because I'm the living proof of 'what if.' It can happen."
"It's awesome," said Miller School eighth grader Marcus Respeto. "He shows us these things to do, and what he's done. So it's a big motivation for us to be as good as we can be on the baseball field."
"He's the best coach I've ever had," said tenth grader Orion Bloom. "We do so many different things that all have made me a better player. And I can see steady improvement in myself. I mean, it's been amazing. That's the only way I can describe it."
Bloom admitted to being star-struck when he found out who would be coaching the Mavericks this season.
"At first I didn't really believe I was going to have a pro as a coach," he said. "And then when I stepped out on the field the first day, it was like, wow, I'm really being coached by a pro. It was amazing."
"I mean, anyone who has a professional baseball player -- who has that much skill, and he's really nice -- come and be your coach is just a fun, and life-changing experience in baseball," said Respeto.
Wagner said the idea of coaching was always in the back of his mind, as a player. He credited the mentors he had along the way, from his coaches in high school (Lou Peery) and college (Abe Naff); to two of his big league managers, Jimy Williams and Bobby Cox.
"I'm having a blast. This is really what I wanted to do. I love to develop young kids," Wagner said. "And I think the reason coaching is such a joy is because they always inspired me to be great, and that's what I hope to leave to these kids -- that good is okay, but great is better."
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