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A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No tears in this Brian's song

ROYAL OAK - Role models aren’t always presented on pedestals in burnished brass. They are not forever remembered in monuments fashioned from white granite.
Sometimes they are flesh and blood and arrive with a whistle around their necks. They might have a basketball in their hands or maybe it is a football.
They can be physical education teachers. They can be coaches. Often, they can be both.
“Sports, and baseball in particular, have always been my life,” said Brian Gordon. “I had a lot of people who influenced me when I was younger. Dick Moore in particular when I was growing up in Clawson. He was a phys ed teacher and a football coach. He had a huge impact on me. I always looked up to him. I had him as a teacher and coach all the way through junior high and high school. He was my coach in football and basketball and I wanted to be like him.”
Moore was the varsity football coach at Clawson High for years. Gordon is a Clawson High grad.
It was not just Moore who influenced Gordon, either. So did coaches like Steve Balowski and Ray Podulka.
Balowski is a member of the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. So, too, is Gordon. He was inducted as a member of the Class of 2011, along with Robert Gast of Lansing Sexton, Bob Kreszyn of Trenton, Dick VanderKamp of Grand Rapids Christian, and Glen Lake’s Randy Weber.
When Gordon got to Central Michigan University where he pitched, baseball coach Den Kreiner played a big role in his life. When he began his coaching career at Royal Oak Kimball, Hall of Famer Frank Clouser was also very influential.
Few, if any, influenced Gordon as much as his father, Bob, who was his coach through youth leagues and  Connie Mack baseball.
“My dad was in sales,” said Brian Gordon. “He owned a tropical fish store, Clearwater Tropical Fish, at the corner of 14 Mile and Main in Clawson for 20 years. He was also in the Clawson Fire Department. My dad was basically my only coach until I was 14.
“Later, when I was coaching myself, dad would come to my games and afterwards, he was always full of criticism,” said Brian Gordon, laughing. “Dad was big on throwing inside. He’d tell me that my pitchers had to hit a couple of kids to let the other team know the plate was ours.”
Bob Gordon died in 2003.
“He smoked like a chimney. He’d smoke between innings when he was coaching, and leave the cigarette burning in the dugout. If he could, he would’ve taken a cigarette out to the third base coach’s box with him,” said Brian Gordon.
Brian Gordon is just finishing up his first year as the athletic director and an assistant principal at Royal Oak High School. Previously, he had always been a coach and a physical education teacher. The job change meant he could no longer coach. Chris Lau is now the baseball coach at Royal Oak.
Gordon spent 20 years coaching baseball, first at Royal Oak Kimball and then Royal Oak High after Kimball and Dondero merged.
He was the junior varsity coach under Clouser for five years, and then took over the program from the Hall of Fame coach.
“Frank came to the Hall of Fame banquet,” said Gordon. “I learned so much from him. One of the most important lessons is that you learn a lot more with your eyes and ears than you do your mouth. It was an honor and privilege working with Frank. I got to eat lunch with him every day for five years, and if you think you know a lot about the game of baseball or coaching, all you have to do is talk to Frank to discover how little you really do know.”
In 15 years of coaching at the varsity level, Gordon’s teams only had two seasons below .500. One of those came in 1998 when the Kimball Knights went 11-22.
“I had a meeting with (Athletic Director) Chuck Jones after that season, and he asked me what  should I have done differently? We’d had a good season the year before, had beaten Brother Rice in the tournament, and had a nice tournament run after that. Consequently, I’d set up a schedule that Chuck knew was too tough. He knew we would get it handed to us, but he let me learn on my own.
“One thing about Frank; when I took the program over, he did not hover. He watched his son (Andy) play at Troy. Frank had built the baseball program at Kimball. It was his baby. I was thankful we were able to carry the torch and were able to be competitive.”
Gordon’s career record was 311-189. His teams won five district championships, a pair of regional titles, and advanced to the quarterfinals.
“I was proud of the fact that we always put a competitive team on the field,” he said. “Our kids expected to win every day. I know there were times when other teams could not figure out how Royal Oak Kimball or Royal Oak High beat them because they might have been more talented, but it was because we out-worked them.
“I am proudest of the fact that many of my players went on to become doctors, attorneys, architects, teachers and successful family men. I loved it when they came back and stood behind the backstop; that they cared enough to come back,” said Gordon.
Brian Gordon is a Clawson High graduate. He is also a member of the MHSBCA Hall of Fame Class of 2011. Both deserve hearty congratulations.


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