There isn’t a day in which Jim Gibson doesn’t think about Bob Barrows and with good reason.
Gibson knew Orchard Park’s Mr. Baseball almost all his life. Gibson, 55, first met Barrows as a 9 year old when Barrows ran the recreation program. He went from playing for Barrows as a child and then a high-school teen to coaching with him for 32 years — with Barrows serving as Gibson’s assistant from 2001 until the end of last season.
Death is the only reason Barrows no longer attends any Quaker games as he died from an illness at age 79 last July.
One can think just how different things will be when coaching for the first time without a longtime friend, but there was still no way to prepare for that day when it came on April 3 when the Quakers opened their season with a win at Gowanda.
“The game against Gowanda had been the first Bob hadn’t been at since Eisenhower was president,” Gibson said. “I started coaching with him in 1981. He’s Orchard Park baseball. It’s definitely not the same without him around. I miss him every day. He was just a wonderful man.”
A man whose legacy at Orchard Park will live on for generations and not just because the field is named after him.
The program will bestow another honor on the man whose 643 wins ranks second all-time in the state this Saturday prior to the Quakers’ 11 a.m. home game against Jamestown. That’s when (weather permitting) the school will raise a banner with Barrows’ name and uniform No. 44 upon the right center-field wall.
That’s not the only way Barrows’ memory lives on as the team has a patch on its home and away jerseys honoring the late coach.
“We don’t talk about him constantly but once at day, at the end of practice,” Gibson said, “ ... this is a day Mr. Barrows would have loved.”
In a unique twist, there are four players on the team whose fathers were also coached by Barrows. The fathers and sons are shortstop Dave Hollins (dad also Dave), pitcher/outfielder Ryan Sumerville (dad Jeff), catcher Tyler Heath (father Jeff) and third baseman Jeff Palczewski (dad also Jeff).
Winning one for Bob may not have been uttered publicly by OP, but it could be the rallying cry this edition of the Quakers needs to get over the top in the always difficult Class AA once the Section VI postseason tournament begins later this month.
Orchard Park (8-0), which is off to a 6-0 start in ECIC I, has two fine building blocks in returning All-Western New York first-team outfielder Ryan MacCarrick and All-WNY second-team pick Hollins. MacCarrick hit .450 last year and has very good range. Hollins, a senior who will attend junior college in Florida via scholarship, hit .410 last year and appears to be getting stronger as he grows into his 5-11, 175-pound frame.
“He’s starting to show a little more pop than he had last year,” Gibson said.
Righty Pat Sheehan begins his third varsity season as OP’s No. 1 pitcher. He’s smart and throws strikes, Gibson said. Other key returnees include junior Andy Sipowicz (pitcher/first base), junior Brandon Nicholson at second base, junior center fielder Mike Bruno and sophomore third baseman Jeff Palczewski, who started as a freshman.
While a number of area coaches expect the Quakers to be among the Section VI Class AA title contenders along with Lancaster, last year’s state runner-up Clarence, Niagara Falls and Lockport, it is typically difficult to forecast who will win the crown in baseball because most teams have more than one good pitcher. As all baseball fans know, when a good pitcher is on, even the best of offensive teams can look pedestrian.
“Our division is always strong,” Gibson said. “It’s never easy, it’s always a tough game and I expect that again this year.”