Editor’s Note: Over the next few weeks, The Ouachita Citizen will talk with baseball and softball coaches to reflect on the recent stoppage in play. Though highly doubtful, we’ll pose the question to coaches on whether or not they’ve experienced anything crazier than COVID-19 postponing (and possibly canceling) spring ball.
Mark Sims is like every other coach in the area right now, as he tries to cope with a spring without sports. But make no mistake about it, Sims isn’t playing the victim card. While he would much rather be on the baseball field with his Sterlington Panthers, he can’t help but think about the bigger picture overall.
“Everything we do is for our seniors,” Sims said. “You think about so many of them that don’t get to play baseball after this, and you just hope someway, somehow they get to finish this thing out on the yard. But there are a lot of important things going on other than sports. There are people out there that are really hurting right now and sometimes athletics is just not the most important thing. I feel bad for our kids, but this is all difficult.”
Perhaps Sims’ life experiences have helped shape his perspective during this tough time. Suffering tough losses goes hand-in-hand with coaching. You’d be hard pressed to find a coach who hasn’t suffered a loss that he or she doesn’t think about regularly. Sims isn’t any different in that aspect, both as a coach at West Monroe, Hahnville and now Sterlington. He’s even suffered some tough ones as a player in the minor leagues with Scranton.
But along the way, Sims has had to deal with some heartbreaking moments players off of the field that have made a man with such a tough exterior showcase so many emotions over the years.
The most recent heart-wrenching story involved former pitcher Spencer Davis, who went 34-8 at Sterlington in his playing career. During Davis’ senior season, his late mother, Donna Davis, was in the fight of her life against cancer. Davis capped off his magnificent career with an MVP in the Class 2A State Championship Game after his dominant effort in an 11-1 victory against Lakeside.
Sims embraced Davis after the victory, loudly shouting, “I love you, man. I love you. I love your momma. You call your momma right now.”
After the game, Davis told The Ouachita Citizen he had a short conversation with her on the phone, where both broke into tears. Donna Davis lost her battle to cancer less than two weeks later.
“To see Spencer finish the season like that, and everything (father) Cary (Davis), had to go through, it was something,” Sims said. “The way Spencer was able to handle all of that is a credit to both Cary and Donna. To have Spencer on the mound in that moment was definitely the most sentimental moment in my career.”
Sims also pointed out that Davis was still an excellent student in the classroom, as well, further illustrating the character of both him and his family.
Though the visual of Davis on the mound in the state championship game might be the most sentimental moment in Sims career, Sterlington’s head coach had dealt with difficult situations involving players before. At Hahnville, Sims coached Ron Johnson, who lost his senior year due to a battle with leukemia. Johnson was in remission the following year and was granted the opportunity to come back and play his senior season.
“You try to tell these kids that baseball and athletics can wait, but no matter what sport it is, it’s therapy,” Sims said. “It takes your mind off of everything else. That’s the sad thing about now is you can’t get out there and practice and play. You just sit around and worry all the time.”
Johnson’s career at Hahnville ended in the 2002 playoffs against Barbe. Hahnville trailed 7-2 in the top of the seventh inning when Johnson got to pinch hit in his last game.
“He actually drew a walk,” Sims said. “We got to call time and get a pinch runner in, so that was a special moment. That’s what it’s all about it.”
Sterlington’s current eight seniors entered their final season with a 100-13 record and two state championship victories. The Panthers might not get to defend their Class 3A State Championship, but for Sims, that’s not the most important thing right now.
“I’ve got a daughter that’s a senior, and I’m wondering if her class will even get to walk across the stage,” Sims said. “So I’m not just thinking about our players. I’m thinking about all the seniors and everything they’re having to miss.”