One of the most genuine compliments you can hear a coach receive is when somebody says, "I'd like my kids to play for a coach like that." Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter just retired the trophy.
Coaches, the good ones at least, share with their athletes the love of competition, the mechanics of their sport, and the joy and value of working together toward a common goal.
Walter goes considerably further; he shares organs.
This week, Walter was in the hospital with one of his players, Kevin Jordan. According to various news sources, the freshman outfielder was diagnosed with a condition (ANCA vasculitis) that left his kidneys functioning at lower than 10 percent efficiency.
After family members were ruled out as compatible transplants, coach Walter underwent the test and was considered a proper match.
Was he ever. Walter decided immediately to surrender a kidney to save Jordan.
The two spoke Wednesday from an Atlanta hospital and both Jordan, 19, and Walter, 42, are reportedly recovering nicely. It’s worth noting, that Jordan has never played an inning for Walter or Wake Forest.
“When we recruit our guys, we talk about family and making sacrifices for one another,” Walter said. “It is something we take very seriously to me, it was a no-brainer.”
I will spare you details of one on-line item that arose, suggesting that Walter’s uncommon humanity might be considered an NCAA violation. Fine, give him a warning if he promises to never do it again.
Jordan is a promising athlete, having been taken in the 19th round of the 2010 amateur draft by the New York Yankees. His condition, though, was diagnosed in August, and by the time he arrived at Wake Forest, his health had deteriorated causing him to spend most of his days receiving dialysis.
Walter is in his second season at Wake Forest. During his time as coach at New Orleans, he had to rely on considerable determination and will to keep his team together through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – which flooded his home up to the second floor.
One story of Walter’s compassion revealed that he missed two games one season when he flew to California to be at the side of a player whose mother had just died.
In an interview with Baseball America, Walter said: “I would do anything to help any one of my players or any one of my family members – anything in my power to help them have a better quality of life.”
In the case of Jordan, it allows him to have life. Period.
Walter called Jordan “an inspiration for all of us.” Perhaps. It’s obvious that Walter is the real inspiration. On Wednesday, he said that he doesn’t think he’s going to be hitting fungoes for the outfielders soon, but still plans on being recovered sufficiently to be in the dugout when Wake Forest plays LSU on Feb. 18.
Walter has drawn international publicity for his generosity. Good. The coaches the sporting world generally focuses upon are the few who win championships or are getting fired for losing or various misdeeds.
So many thousands go unnoticed in the daily process of influencing the lives of young athletes. Tom Walter is one who is not only changing lives, he’s saving one.
Yes, he probably will have an advantage over other coaches now.
When he sits in a living room with a recruit and promises him he’s committed to his well-being, his sincerity will never be questioned.
And he deserves to be honored as college coach of the year regardless what his record turns out to be this season.