The Belton Tigers Baseball program was elevated from an afterthought in the early 1980’s to one of the most feared at any classification.
David Tidwell epitomized baseball coaching and education at the high school level. He spent 23 seasons building the Belton program from the days of baseball being just another spring sport and transformed it into a hard-working baseball organization and a source of community pride.
After coaching stints at Bay City (four years), Aldine Eisenhower (five years) and Longview Spring Hill (one year), Tidwell coached Belton to 18 playoff appearances in his 23 seasons as the Tigers’ field general and led the Tigers to the 1994 Class 4A state championship.
After 491 wins with Belton and 577 career wins, Tidwell and longtime Houston-area head coach Mike Maddox were inducted into the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame last Friday night (Jan. 12) at the Waco Convention Center.
“I had been a finalist for the past five or six years,” Tidwell said. “They vote around Labor Day each year. I would get the call that I was a finalist, and then that second call never came. This year, the call came and I couldn’t be more excited. It was a combination of a lot of things that happened for me.”
As most of the community’s sees the pinnacle of the Belton Tigers’ success of the 1994 team, there are often debates about which Tidwell-managed team was the best. Sure, there are plenty of players on Belton’s Wall of Honor and over 20 players that Tidwell coached that were Major League Baseball draft picks. Several have gone on to coach baseball teams, such as Toby Rumfield (San Angelo Colts, River City Rascals, Florence Freedom, Temple Wildcats) and Thomas Melvin (Humble Atascocita). You will get varied opinions and many examples of great teams. In Tidwell’s mind, there were a couple that immediately came to mind.
“A lot of people ask me if the state championship team was my best team. I have to say no. I thought the 1999 team was the best team,” he said. “As a team, we hit .406 that year and had two great pitchers throwing. We had what we needed. We faced Hays Consolidated in the third round, and they got hot at the right time. Then, I don’t know if they were the best team, but they were the luckiest team and that’s the 2002 team that we went five rounds with. We had two sophomores pitching, and one of them looked like a little leaguer. But those guys just kept hitting the ball and we got to the fifth round. Then we played Houston Forest Brook, and we stopped hitting that weekend. It was a strange deal. The thing about that ’94 team, and I always told this to my other teams, was they refused to lose.”
In recalling teams those teams that played above their potential, Tidwell and Belton Journal publisher David Tuma pointed to a 2004 Belton team that started 3-13 took on a highly-ranked Bryan Vikings team that went into the district season with a 13-3 record.
“It was one of those years where we weren’t good,” Tuma said. “In fact, we weren’t good in any sport. Bryan had beaten some ranked teams. I went to that game and saw several ex-players. That’s where I met Brad Turner for the first time. He was there for the same reason. He knew that you were catching a lot of flack. They ended up not only winning at Tiger Stadium, they won in Bryan. A&M Consolidated was incredible that year as well. I thought that was one of his best coaching jobs, really in any Belton sport.”
Tidwell was always hard on his players, but always to have the players reach down inside themselves for more.
“I always believed that if you have discipline in yourself about everything in life, then maybe you won’t swing at that curveball off the plate or a fastball over your hands, and in the outfield you’d run and get the ball and not let it drop in,” Tidwell said. “It’s about having pride and how you present yourself, even when I’m not around. Keeping your shirts tucked in, sitting up in the classroom, walk down the hallway with confidence. Those were things that I stressed to the teams that played for me.”
“He was tough on kids. You’re going work each and every solitary day,” said former Belton great and current Temple head coach Toby Rumfield. “He established a winning culture and work ethic that everyone bought into. He took great pride and passion in the baseball field, just like he showed in us.”
“He was a great role model. He was hard on you, but it was for a reason,” former player and current Tiger Baseball radio color analyst Jeff Potvin said. “He got the most out of people and made you achieve things you didn’t realize were possible. And to this day, a great friend. I know he couldn’t have done any of this without Mrs. (Lesa) Tidwell. She deserves a ton of credit for feeding us and putting up with a group of boys that was always tearing through their pantries or going on vacations with them and being fed without even asking. They make a great team and it funneled over into their boys. Tyson, Chad and Kyle. Love those guys like brothers.”
One of the best natural grass fields in Central Texas, Tiger Stadium would not be what it is today, had it not been for the passion for the field that Tidwell had.
“When I coached in Houston, we had a beautiful turf field. It was modern,” Tidwell said. “When I got to Belton, we had chicken-wire batting cages. We had a fence that was 300-foot all the way around the field. The fence was only about three-feet high. My first thought was ‘what am I getting myself into here?’ Dick Stafford was the head coach and he helped me prepare to get that field better. We pushed the fences back and raised the fences. We did some work around where people sat because for a long time it looked like a 2A field.”
Comparing the athletes of when he first started to coach athletics to today’s modern athlete, Tidwell feels that there really isn’t a difference.
“I believe that the athlete is the same, but they are bigger and have more access to what to work out on, how to work out, and what to eat,” Tidwell said. “They are just getting better. You see them in all sports now. There is more research out there on the weights that kids can use to get them bigger and stronger. In the 1970’s, we didn’t lift weights in baseball. We didn’t do any of that stuff. I tell every coach that I can that the biggest part of their program better be their off-season program. You better get those kids prepared to work for the year. In the mid-80’s, we started putting the program in. We wanted to get their bodies ready to play.”
Longevity at a school is hard to accomplish in this day and age. It is one of the qualities that endeared Tidwell to the community. One of the things Tidwell takes the most pride in was his longevity at Belton. When the Tigers were averaging 22 wins per season in the 1990’s, Tidwell was a hot commodity. He was offered a job at Converse Judson, but turned it down because his son Kyle said the only places he’d leave Belton for were Austin Westlake and Brenham. Well, Westlake and Brenham did offer Tidwell positions. Again he stayed because his son wanted to.
“Not too many coaches coach over 20 years at one school,” Tidwell said. “The longevity at one school, winning the state championship and having kids come up and say thank you are the things from my career I’m most proud of.”
Twenty-four of Tidwell’s former players are on Belton’s Wall of Honor from 1989 to 2005. Toby Rumfield, Chris Regan, Jason Regan, Darren Brinkley, Brock Rumfield, David Stroud, Brad Turner, Brian Mraz, Kyle Tidwell, Pat Bishop, Bry Ewan, Rocky Allen, Greg Hughes, Thomas Melvin, B.J. Soto, Josh Harris, Kory Douglas, Ian Pecoraro, Nathan Warrick, Brad McGehee, Drew Candlin, Blake Holt, Brooks Kimmey and Jonathan Farrow.
“Coach Tidwell meant everything to my career,” Toby Rumfield said. “From the pride that he took on the baseball field and the little details to his winning, he meant so much to everyone in the community.”
Tidwell can be seen at Tiger Stadium and other ballparks around Central Texas from time to time. He is never far from the game, and the community is always close to him. But with having grandchildren, he is seen as much at swim and gymnastic meets as he is football and baseball games.
Although many outside of Belton will see Tidwell’s impact on the baseball diamond, the impact was just as great in the classroom. Jennifer Emerson, the City of Temple’s Budget Manager, saw Tidwell’s teachings in the classroom and he was one of the chief reasons she chose accounting as a career path.
“When I was junior, I wanted to become a lawyer and was looking for an elective to take,” Emerson recalled. “I ran into Coach Tidwell in the hallway and he suggested that I take his accounting class. I had never even thought about a career in accounting until he approached me about the class. I took the class and he made it fun. He was hands-on and was able to communicate to some of the class by way of sports analogies. I went out and participated a UIL Competition.”
Emerson credited Tidwell with that career-changing meeting.
“Had I not run into Coach Tidwell and made the decision to take his accounting class, I probably would have become a lawyer,” Emerson said. He literally changed my life.”
One interesting thing during his tenure is that he coached all three of his sons. Some coaches may shy away from coaching their sons on the diamond, but Tidwell felt that coaching Chad, Tyson and Kyle were some of the happier days of his life.
“Man, it was such a joy to coach them,” Tidwell said. “I treated them the same as the rest of my players, if not expected more of them on the field.”
Having the boys around the diamond made an impact on more than just Tidwell. Toby Rumfield has had his family around the diamond during his minor league playing and coaching days. With Samantha now in college, T.J. a senior at Temple and Justin a freshman, Rumfield feels that coaching his boys is a great thing and cited that Tidwell had great influence on it.
“It was all part of the culture,” Rumfield said. “He was a big believer in the team and in family. When I played for Coach, his sons were always at the field. He coached his sons on the field the same as us. It is something that I learned back then and still believe in today.”
There are many stories out there with regards to Tidwell and his team. But Tidwell had good relationships with umpires over the years.
“When umpires came to my field, there were things that I wanted done,” Tidwell said. “I wanted the outside pitch called all of the time. I knew that certain umpires would do that. I didn’t want favors, didn’t want the bang-bang calls to go to me. I just wanted a fair game called. I wanted a guy behind home plate that was consistent. There were certain guys that I wanted there. They knew what I expected. I had good relationships with them. I was tough on them at times, but it was my job.”
Tidwell respected the umpires to where he would open Tiger Stadium for the umpires’ camps and clinics.
“They did a lot of the preseason calling at our field,” Tidwell said. “It was a way to be able to get the umpires time behind the plate and in the field, while giving us the opportunity to have quality umpired games.”
One of his good friends over the years, David Wesson, is still one of the best umpires today. One of his go-to umpires, Tidwell joked about Wesson and balk-calling.
“David Wesson was the king of the balks,” Tidwell joked. “He’d call a balk once a game. I had a great relationship with David. and Mike Garcia”
Tidwell was tossed out of two games early in his career at Belton. He had recalled a time where he had almost been thrown out of a game at the home plate coaches meeting in a game late in his career.
“There was an incident the night before where a player took a dive at Brooks Kimmey and knocked the ball loose,” Tidwell recalled. “At the time, the rule was that you had to slide. I argued with the home plate umpire the whole time. The next day, I am getting ready to take the lineup to the coaches’ meeting at the plate and Mark (Krueger) and Eddie (Cornblum) kept telling me to let them take it up. I told them that I would watch what I do. Good thing about it is that because of the rotation, the home plate umpire from the night before was at third base for that game. So where I was at as the third base coach, he was the third base umpire. I was on him for the entire seven innings.”
But, for the most part, Tidwell made many friends throughout the umpiring community.
“I had so many good relationships within the umpiring community,” Tidwell said. “We used to use the Bryan chapter a great deal and made some great friends there. I always fought for the kids and always fought because it was my job. Sometimes I just went out there to fire my kids up. I knew that the call was right, but I went out there to put on a show and see what would happen. It worked a lot of the time.”
The scene on Friday night at the Waco Convention Center was one to behold. Many of the state’s baseball coaches were in attendance, being the banquet was held at the conclusion of the 47th Annual Texas High School Baseball Association Convention. Among those were former Tidwell assistant current Belton head coach Mark Krueger, assistant coaches Darin Blomquist, Jason Knight, Joe Curtis and Ryan Lindemann, former Belton assistant, head coach and current Midway head coach Eddie Cornblum, Harker Heights’ head coach and outgoing THSBCA Region 2 Director Randy Culp, and longtime Tidwell assistant Danny Spradley.
“You can’t do this job without great assistants,” Tidwell said. “They allow you to do what you do. They were knowledgeable, dependable, hard-working. They made it easy for me.”
There were many players that attended the induction. Not only were there former Belton players, but from all of the schools that Tidwell coached at.
“I see a lot of my former players around. I bump into them all the time. The best thing is when former players or students come up and say thank you,” Tidwell said.
On Friday night, the family, friends, former coaches and players came to watch Tidwell get THSBCA’s highest honor for a coach. There were many stories traded at the reception, from in-game action to funny stories to amazing stories about 14-inning complete games to sad stories of those players no longer with us, such as former Tigers Brian Patton and Brad McGehee.
One of the stories that Tidwell told was during his early coaching days in Bay City stuck with him during his entire career. He asked the head coach at the time why coaching salaries were so low.
“The coach put his arm around me and said ‘It’s not about the money: It’s about making kids better.’ That is always something that has stuck with me. Make kids better.” Tidwell said. “I have some great friends. One is a bank president, one sells insurance, one is railroad supervisor and one is a plant foreman. They buy things that I can’t buy and go places where I can’t go. But, coaches, when a kid comes up to you in a restaurant or in store and says ‘thank you, coach, for changing my life’, we are in the best profession there is.”
David Tidwell inducted into THSBCA Hall of Fame
The Belton Tigers Baseball program was elevated from an afterthought in the early 1980’s to one of the most feared at any classification.