"Well...coach...coach Hughes...um...you uh...oh, God."
"Casey, it's alright bud. Take your time."
That--roughly paraphrased--was the opening exchange between Coach Pete Hughes and myself in my first ever interview. I was previewing Virginia Tech's 2009 season and I was scared out of my mind. I was in my first semester after transitioning from mechanical engineering to journalism and I guess I had forgotten how to communicate with humans rather than calculators. I think I might have even admitted to him that it was my first real interview. Yikes.
The Hokies were heading into their third season under the former Boston College coach and were trying to erase memories of a 23-32, 6-24 season. As a result, I was trying to tiptoe around the previous season's results, so as not to start things out on the wrong foot. Hughes could tell through the phone that I was nervous and he went out of his way to make me more comfortable.
I calmed down considerably after that and we finished up our talk and both went our separate ways. Hughes guiding the Hokies to a 9-1 start, myself attending nearly every home game that season. Very soon after I was done talking with him I got the sense of the type of guy that he was.
I imagined that his demeanor translated over to his kids, the players on the team and to the Blacksburg community. After years of reading interviews with him, watching him support fundraisers and awareness events, and talking to his players made me realize that I wasn't imagining it.
Hughes spearheaded the baseball team's "19 ways" community service campaign and, as seen above, supported Project Purple which raises awareness of substance abuse. Hughes lobbied hard to bring an NCAA Regional to Blacksburg for the first time ever and get the Blacksburg community really excited about the program.
The baseball program was in poor shape when Hughes got to Blacksburg and he built it into an incredibly solid program. The team had success on the field under Hughes and was able to generate enough buzz to warrant much improved facilities. The combination of the two turned the heads of recruits and other ACC programs alike and put Tech baseball under "contender" status.
I think this tweet today from Andrew Rash sums things up nicely:
OU got more than a coach today. They got a father figure that will impact a lot of players life's. I app everything he did for me.— Andrew Rash (@AndrewRash_20) June 27, 2013
Looking around Twitter today it was a constant theme of players and fans being thankful for everything that Hughes brought to the program and community.
I started as a student at Virginia Tech the same year that Hughes came to Blacksburg. I never really went to Tech baseball games before the move to Blacksburg, it was just too tough without a car. Basically, he's been the only Hokieball coach that I've ever known. It'll take some getting used not seeing the "19" popping out of the dugout before games. That being said, I have no reservations about Jim Weaver's decision to appoint Patrick Mason as head coach. Sure, he could have gone out of house and picked up someone else. But if anything, it's a continuation of the style and the sense of family that Hughes built around the program that is just so damn likable.
For more on Virginia Tech baseball, including complete coverage of new coach Patrick Mason and Hokies in the minor leagues, stick with us here at Gobbler Country.