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Kevin Hieronymus

Putnam County staff surrounded by coaching talent

Some head coaches may shy away from surrounding themselves with equally successful assistant coaches, not wanting to look over their shoulders. Dave Garcia is not one of those coaches.

The fifth-year Putnam County head baseball coach brought former Princeton coach John Cruz into the Panthers’ fold in 2012. This season, he landed former L-P coach Bill Booker, who led the Cavaliers to a state runner-up finish in 2012 and compiled 375 wins in 20 years there.

Garcia welcomes all the good help he can get.

“One thing I learned about coaching, if you’re not willing to swallow your pride and take advice from other people, you’re not going to last very long,” Garcia said. “I still talk to (former PC coach) Ken Jenkins a lot. Jenks was with me in 2011 and stayed with me in the postseason. I picked his brain and to have John and Bill now to get ideas from and bounce ideas from and just listen to their experiences has been able to help all of us.

“There’s no proud thing for me. It’s just about putting out a good product and doing the best we can with the players we have. The more good coaches you have around, the more one-on-one time you have for the players, the better off they are.”

For Garcia, the additions of Cruz and Booker have been like turning a double play.

“It’s definitely a blessing. I feel very fortunate to have John and Bill on my staff,” said Garcia, who won his 100th victory in the season’s opener this year. “Both of those guys should be coaching their own programs and at the varsity level. Unfortunately it has not worked for them due to certain circumstances, and we’ve been able to benefit by bringing them over here.”

Booker was unceremoniously relieved of his coaching duties at L-P after 20 years as head coach, informed of the school’s decision before the postseason. The Cavs pushed on for “Book,” marching all the way to the 3A state finals before falling to Chicago Heights Marian, 10-2.

Garcia said he gave Booker time to relax and enjoy his team’s accomplishment before giving him a call.

“I think what happened to him was extremely unfortunate, and I just felt for everything he’s done for the game, he deserved the opportunity to be around a high school program,’ Garcia said. “I made the call in October and asked him if he’d be interested, and he jumped on it. I’ve been very fortunate.”

Booker feels the same way.

“I’m very fortunate to be working with such a great baseball man, let alone such a great school and administration,” Booker said.

Cruz compiled a 46-15 record at Princeton from 2008-09, then took a year away from the game to “clear my head.” He joined the PC staff in 2012 to work with the varsity and now is the F/S head coach.

Cruz, who has been coaching baseball since 1972, keeps coaching because of the kids. He says, “They want to learn; they listen, I guess you could say.”

“The thing I can tell you about John is just his relationship with the players,” Garcia said. “He gets along with them, and they respect him because they know where he’s been. He also has the ability to communicate with the kids, and they enjoy being around him, and that’s what you want at that level.”

Garcia and Booker are also teaming up coaching the Joliet Slammers, an independent professional team in the Frontier League. Their season started up a couple of weeks ago, so the PC coaches are driving to Joliet at night following high school practices and games.

Kevin Hieronymus is the Bureau County Republican Sports Editor. Contact him at khieronymus@bcrnews.com.

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