july2007

Stan Hennigar, A Man For All Seasons

July 11, 2007

Clearwater, FL



Stan Hennigar, A Man For All Seasons
                                                  By Peter J. Porcelli, II
 
 
     You just might think you could trace Stan Hennigar’s lineage to the days Fastball was played in gyms with a rock hard ball covered with tape when only catchers and first basemen were permitted to wear gloves. However, one look at his youthful appearance will quickly dissuade you from that notion. Seeing his last hurrah for the Brookfield Elks was a surprise to many in 2005, watching a 60 year old pitcher toe it up in a senior A game, but then again Stan seems ageless, and therefore you can expect almost anything.
 
     I was surprised when Stan sat himself down next to me in the bleachers at the 1994 ISC World Tourney in PEI and told me that he could see my love for the game, but could also see I needed quite a bit of tutelage. He told me my instincts were good but my knowledge of fastball as a sport could only come with learning and time. Believe me, I needed knowledge. We were to finish 21st that year, and it still stands as the worst Smoker finish ever, thanks to Stan.
 
     Stan took it as a personal mission to start me off from the beginning, as a rookie coach and lay out all the fundamentals. He never took a minute to assess what I already knew, he didn’t want to know. He was going to give me the gospel according to Stan and I had better listen up. From the week after I returned home in September 1994, through April,1995 when we opened the following season, he faxed me daily, long hand written manuscripts of how to’s, complete with hand drawn illustrations. I would fax back to him my questions before nine pm and the next morning on my fax was a detailed answer to each and every one of them. I felt guilty, as I occasionally asked the same question in another form, trying to cross up this self assured authority on the sport, but he was not to be confused or trifled with. His answers were consistent and made sense. 
 
     After much time, during which I covered no less than 350 to 400 hand written pages back and forth, I tried all along to commit them to memory. Stan then told me the training wheels were off and it was time to employ the fundamentals he had taught me. I started off with my team in 1995, and found it a bit rocky, getting player resistance once in a while, but I was to stay the course Stan had plotted. Nevertheless we started the season taking three of four from defending champion All Car. We finished sixteenth at Sioux City, and Stan told me to stay encouraged, because he had the answers I was still missing.
 
     Stan stuck with me through the next year,1996, assisting me with player talent evaluations, chemistry lessons, and other more advanced topics, while still emphasizing the fundamentals and never breaking ranks with his earlier lessons. We won the World Title that next year, and I owe much of it to Stan, but of course the players won it, not Stan or I.
 
     I think it is appropriate to point out the contributions Stan has made, however I will leave to others the responsibility to witness Stan’s playing days, and Stan’s influence on his sons and their illustrious hall of fame careers.
 
     But few know how much he has guided Sponsors who would be coaches, and who thirsted, not lusted to be the best coaches they could be. Stan was unselfish, dedicated, most knowledgeable, forceful, consistent, motivational, understanding, compassionate,
driving, introspective, accessible, approachable, poised, and most important of all, passionate.
 
     After the Smokers earned the ISC World Title in 1996, Stan told me that I would need to have someone with me every day if I was going to be able to build on my knowledge, and unfortunately, he could not take the time to tour with the Smokers. He told me to find someone I respected. I found Terry Baytor. Interestingly enough, Baytor never contradicted anything Stan had taught me, it was almost as if Baytor had been copied on every one of those faxes over two years. Baytor taught me much, and things Stan never had visited, but there was not a hint of contradiction. Along with Terry Baytor, Stan was truly “The Man,” I was sure.
 
     You might think that this story ends here and it is time for a standing ovation. Not so. Like he shocked me with his ability to better my life in the sport, I may, in turn surprise you with a side of Stan you may not recall or even be aware of. But first I must caution you not to be surprised or shocked because this is Stan Hennigar we are talking about and it is high time we stopped thinking everyone has limits, because Stan has proven he does not.
 
     In 1996, The Smokers had their own radio broadcast team I hired from a professional AM station in Tampa Bay who broadcast every home game live and many tourney games away on a delay. It consisted of Rob Weingarten, sports director at WFLZ, “The Team” as play by play announcer and he alternated with our assigned professional, Matt Birmingham. Weingarten only stood in when Birmingham was out of town broadcasting the Arena Football Tampa Bay Storm during away games.
 
     When it was time for the 1996 World Tourney, the ISC’s 50th Anniversary tournament, at Kimberley, Birmingham was delayed two days, having to get back from the west coast of the USA. Hennigar was asked to stand in as color commentator for the first two Smoker games. The most unusual set of dominoes fell as if fate had truly planned this for decades.
 
     Stan Hennigar, rookie broadcaster Stan, employed a technique, purely off the cuff, which consisted of three word phrases as each play in the game unfolded, then retraced in detail what had just transpired, resulting in a barrage of calls to the station from fans in the Tampa Bay area wanting to know who this expert was giving them the best bird’s eye view of the game AS THOUGH THEY WERE THERE THEMSELVES! A barrage to me is approximately fifty calls, to an AM station on a weekday afternoon. Stan was a star on the air and had never done it before. Just listening to his voice, you could readily tell God had equipped him for broadcast just as he had gifted Stan for playing and coaching. How stupid of us for not seeing it! Matt Birmingham was reassigned to play by play and gave Rob Weingarten a chance to get back to the Bay area for a couple of days and catch up on office work. When the Smokers made it to the final day and played in the championship final, it was none other than Stan Hennigar doing the color commentary for that Championship game, most believing he had supplanted Birmingham. However, Matt was already headed to St Louis for another Storm game, so it worked out well.
    
      Incidentally, that broadcast actually pre-empted the New York Yankees regularly scheduled double header that very day! No, it didn’t cost me any more money, and I never heard about any comment from George Steinbrenner. But it is a fact!
 
     When Jaybo Hanson hit the walk off “Shot heard round the world,” that vaulted to Smokers to their first championship, it was Stan Hennigar that could be heard saying, “The ball game’s over!” at crack of the bat, with a well timed, “Wow!” after Weingarten took the next 12 seconds to describe what Stan had said in three fourths of a second. It is even a part of the movie “Fastpitch,” and more recently is included in the Fastpitch promotional video circulating on You Tube these days, 11 years later. I have included the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-psFav9Jxk.
 
    Yes, Stan has done it all. He is a most worthy nominee and truly a man for all seasons. He played with distinction, coached many a player, taught coaching successfully, became a mentor, and set a standard for radio broadcast on instincts alone!
 
     I proudly offer this story from my personal appreciation of Stan Hennigar to share with you what a great fastball man Stan was and is today. I am most hopeful for his election!
 
Respectfully,
 
Peter J. Porceli,II
 
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