BAD AXE — After 30 years, 500-plus wins, and even more great memories, a pair of Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame members have decided to take off their cleats and head for the clubhouse.
Bad Axe varsity baseball coach Wayne Turmell and assistant coach Hank Weitenberner recently announced they are retiring from the program.
“Thirty years is a long time,” Turmell said earlier this week. “At some point, you have to walk away and make the move.”
Starting in the spring of 1982, Turmell compiled a 508-331-16 record with the Hatchets. His teams captured numerous league and district championships, including a trip to the Division 3 state semifinals in 2000. A former president of the MHSBCA, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Weitenberner has been with the Bad Axe program since 1983, starting out with the junior varsity team. He joined Turmell as a varsity assistant in 1986. He was inducted into the MHSBCA Hall of Fame in 2008.
“It’s been a great relationship, it went beyond baseball,” Weitenberner said. “I have had more laughs with Wayne than any other person in my life, for sure.”
Bad Axe athletic director Ron Johnston said both men will be missed.
“Wayne has been one of the top coaches in the state,” Johnston said. “He’s meant so much for a long time to the Bad Axe baseball program. He’s so well respected and so many coaches speak very highly of him. He’s going to be hard to replace.
“And Hank has basically volunteered his time for nearly 30 years being Wayne’s right-hand man. For someone to give up their time like that for those kids and the community...
“I myself appreciate what they have both done.”
Turmell actually went through three assistant coaches in his first four years before Weitenberner joined him on the bench.
“I guess I was hard to get along with at the start,” Turmell said. “But Hank’s stuck with me all those years. I really don’t think Hank said much the first five years, I really don’t. He was pretty quiet. But that certainly changed.”
Weitenberner’s main duties included the outfield, basic hitting fundamentals and coaching first base, among many other things.
“He gave me responsibilities that I appreciated,” he said. “And we never argued in front of the kids. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have disagreements, but we never did that in front of the players.
“And, really, as for the players, if they made an error, hey, that happens. When they didn’t play the game the right way, that’s when we had a problem.”
Turmell said he always appreciated his assistant’s candor.
“I always figured that two heads are better than one,” he said. “If you have someone you trust, you have to use them.”
Both men say that one of the things that helped them get along so well was their similar baseball philosophy.
“My philosophy has always been that you win with pitching and defense,” Turmell said. “You can always scratch out runs playing small ball. I think Hank has the same kind of thinking and has accepted it. And that made it easy.”
Bad Axe is known in the Thumb baseball community as a team which uses bunting and stealing to manufacture runs.
“You can teach almost anyone to bunt,” Turmell said.
As for stealing, Weitenberner has taken the brunt of that scoring weapon.
“If I thought a kid could steal second, I would take off my hat and rub my head,” Weitenberner said. “Now, I am almost out of hair... That means we did a lot of stealing.”
Both coaches agree that times have changed when it comes to youth baseball.
“When we started coaching, I think there were 10 Little League teams in town,” Turmell said. “There was no Xbox, no Play Station... Kids played baseball.
“Now, I think there are four Little League teams.. There are just fewer kids who play.”
Despite the decline in baseball’s popularity, the Hatchets endured just a handful of losing seasons during Turmell’s tenure. His 1998 team won 29 games, and his semifinal team in 2000 was 26-10.
This season, the Hatchets were 15-13, but lost six games by one run and three by two runs.
“We could have had a pretty good record, but that’s baseball,” Weitenberner said. “Records don’t always tell the story.”
As for some of their most memorable games, both Turmell and Weitenberner still flinch when they think about Bad Axe’s 1986 regional showdown with Tawas.
Bad Axe trailed 5-2, but wound up tying the game and sending it to extra innings. The Hatchets had an opportunity to score the go-ahead run, but had a pair of runners thrown out stealing second — by an umpire who would not move from behind first base and was making the calls from that position. The Hatchets eventually lost, 8-7.
Turmell said Weitenberner got so mad he tore off the bill of his cap.
Weitenberner remembers it differently.
“I didn’t tear it,” he explained. “I took it off and kicked it and the bill came off and the top part stayed. The umpire told me, ‘Put that on.’ So I took the little part of the cap and put it back on.”
After the game, media members agreed that the Hatchets were robbed on several calls, but Turmell never used that as an excuse.
“I told them, ‘We’re not going to talk about that.’ We lost, plain and simple,” he said.
“I didn’t sleep for about three years after that game. I think maybe the next time we got to the regionals was the next time I got a good night’s sleep.”
Both men say they give major credit to their wives, Denise Turmell and Barb Weitenberner, for putting up with all the years of late nights and missed meals. Both say they won’t miss the long bus rides, the early April games, and all the early-season preparation.
They both say, though, they will miss the games and the strategy, talking baseball and the camaraderie.
“It’s been fun,” Turmell said. “We can now sit in the car in the outfield and watch the game. And we can turn the heater on, if we need it..
“Guys like Clyde Dawe, Erv Ignash, Bill Walker — we got to continue on with what they started. Now, it’s time for someone else to take over and continue.
“Hopefully, people can reflect back and say, ‘You know, Weitenberner and Turmell did it the right way.’”
|After working together since 1986, Bad Axe baseball coaches Wayne Turmell (left) and Hank Weitenberner have decided to retire from the program. Both are members of the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.|