The coach's last commute


As a boy, Rod Poteete's dream was to be a professional baseball player, pitching on a national stage against the world's best hitters. Unlike most other boys with the same dream, Poteete possessed the dedication and physical ability to make his come true.

After a dominant high school career in Los Angeles, Poteete was recruited by Stanford University. Over three seasons in the starting rotation, the 6-foot-7-inch right-hander with what the Los Angeles Times called a "whirly, jerky delivery" posted a 20-5 record and pitched two complete games in the 1967 College World Series.

Poteete was signed by his hometown team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. It appeared that his boyhood dream would be realized.

Technically, it was. Poteete played two years in the Dodgers organization, pitching for minor league teams in Bakersfield, Calif., Medford, Ore., and Ogden, Utah. He was being paid to play baseball, although he did not reach the national stage.

He was released at the end of his second season, and although he worked out for the Angels, and the Yankees showed some interest, Poteete's pro career came to an abrupt end.

He took the news hard at first, but he soon turned his attention to teaching and coaching. He moved to Las Vegas to earn a master's degree in secondary education at UNLV. He also served as an assistant under baseball coach Bob Doering, who had been Poteete's high school coach. The following year, in 1973, he was a grad assistant trainer for all sports, working with football coach Ron Meyer and basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.

Teaching credential in hand, Poteete applied for jobs in Nevada, California and Arizona. Teaching jobs were hard to come by at that time, but Poteete finally received a call from the principal of a small high school in rural Nevada. Don Worden, principal of the fledgling Pahrump Valley High School, had a new building with eight classrooms, and he needed a teacher for each of them.

"Don called me up the week before school started," Poteete recalls. "He said, 'We need coaches and we need a teacher.' "

Poteete started out teaching U.S. history and coaching junior varsity boys basketball. The following year, 1975, he created Pahrump's baseball program. There was no budget, but Worden found money to buy each player a $9 uniform. Games were played on a softball diamond at the community park.

Despite meager funding and a lack of facilities, Poteete devoted the same energy he exhibited in his own baseball career to building a successful baseball program. Pahrump contended for the league title in the program's second year of existence, and won the league title in the fourth year.

With help from a couple of local boosters and free labor from his players, Poteete got a baseball field built on the campus around 1981. The garage door from his house was used for the scoreboard. The field served the program well until Pahrump's current high school was constructed on the site in the '90s.

Poteete built Pahrump into a widely recognized small-school baseball power in the late '70s and early '80s. The team reached the state finals in '79, '81 and '83, and made the state semifinals in two other seasons. Poteete was named Southern Nevada Small Schools Baseball Coach of the Year six times.

Unfortunately, the Trojans never managed to earn Poteete a well-deserved state championship. They were hindered from '81-'84 in part by a certain mustachioed first baseman who had a decent glove but couldn't hit worth a damn.

Poteete resigned as Pahrump's baseball coach after the '86 season, primarily so he could spend more time with his two sons, who were playing youth baseball in Las Vegas.

They were playing in Las Vegas because that's where the Poteete family lived. With his wife teaching at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, he commuted 65 miles to Pahrump every day.

Poteete is retiring from the Nye County School District next month. He's been teaching in Pahrump for 35 years. He estimates he taught 37,000 classes and 7,000 students.

But those numbers pale beside his commuting tallies. Poteete estimates he's driven 750,000 miles between Las Vegas and Pahrump, spent 15,000 hours on the road and burned 50,000 gallons of gasoline.

Last Friday, a retirement party in Pahrump drew a strong turnout of former players and students. The players, naturally, reminisced about the glory days, some of them recalling specific games and plays in incredible detail.

But nobody remembers those details more vividly or with more passion than Poteete. In part it's because he has an encyclopedic memory when it comes to sports.

But I think it's also because that was a triumphant period for the coach. Disappointed by his cut-short pro career, Poteete found himself in a tiny rural backwater. He could have simply punched the clock. Instead, he turned lemons into lemonade, putting Pahrump baseball on the map and making a lasting positive impact on hundreds of players and students. His 35 years in the classroom and 12 years in the dugout deserve a standing ovation.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com), the Review-Journal's director of community publications, posted a high school career batting average of .212. His column appears Friday.

 

Rules for posting comments

Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Stephens Media LLC or this newspaper. This is a public forum. Read our guidelines for posting. If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon next to the comment.