KITCHENER – After seven years as the skipper of the Kitchener Panthers, Brian Bishop is stepping down for a new coaching job that’s close to his heart – his son’s rookie-level baseball team.
The field manager of the local Intercounty Baseball League club is taking the Panthers’ infield coach Luke Potwarka with him as he goes from managing grown men to a group of eight and nine year olds.
Saying goodbye to the Panthers was hard, Bishop said, even through he’s been considering it for several years.
“The last seven years I spent with them have been my best years in baseball. It wouldn’t trade that for anything,” Bishop said. “Those guys stuck it out through some lean years when we weren’t winning a lot of games. They gave me everything they had.”
The Panthers hope to find replacements for Bishop and Potwarka before Christmas.
“They will be missed, there’s no doubt about that. They’re leaving a big hole,” said Scott Ballantyne, the club’s general manager.
Bishop said he made his decision while watching one of his son Andrew’s ball games this summer. He realized he hardly knew any of the parents or players on the team.
“It kind of hit home how much I was missing of what he and my other son were doing,” he said. “I realized it was time to spend more time with them.”
Bishop has coached his older son Ben’s hockey team in the past, but has never coached baseball at the rookie level. He knows it will be an adjustment after his years managing in the IBL, at the junior level and with the University of Waterloo team.
“You’re basically starting at square one and trying to teach them how to play,” he said. “It’s going to be different, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
And he admitted the IBL’s schedule, with its long bus rides and busy schedule on top of work commitments, can wear you out.
“Some people don’t realize what a grind this league can be sometimes,” he said. “But those guys, they made it easy. If it wasn’t for those quality guys, I probably wouldn’t have lasted seven years.”
The Panthers finished the 2013 regular season tied for third with a 25-17 record this season, and made it into the semifinals before being eliminated by Brantford.
Potwarka said his loyalty to his friend meant he knew he’d also be leaving as soon as Bishop made his decision. The pair have been coaching together since 2003, and Potwarka played for Bishop prior to that on the University of Waterloo team.
“I’ve always said that I’d go with Bish when it was time to move on,” he said. “But it’s tough to say goodbye to the Panthers. They’ve kind of been like our family.”
As an assistant professor in recreation and leisure studies at the University of Waterloo, Potwarka said it’s a chance to add to his academic research in coaching methods, too.
At one time, Bishop was famous for his short temper and his arguments with umpires that often got him ejected. But that short-fuse mellowed over time, and Bishop evolved in recent years into a more relaxed manager who put his players first.
“He’s a real player’s coach. He’s good to play for, he gets along well with the guys,” said shortstop Mike Glinka. “He really cared about the guys and what was going on in their lives. There’s a relationship there that transcends the baseball field.”
Bill Pegg, the Panthers president, said Bishop is leaving in a transition year for the club. A lot of veteran players are moving on, and it’s good timing to make a fresh start.
But he said it’ll be tough to replace his well-liked manager, who brought a unifying presence to the Panthers after several tumultuous years.
“The one thing I always admired was there was always good harmony on the team. He’s always been loyal to his players. When he came on the field, he brought stability,” Pegg said. “He was respected by his players. That’s his biggest legacy.”