“Jacob, use your head,” longtime Butte coach Ron Counts yelled at the Butte Muckers pitcher Sunday afternoon at 3 Legends Stadium.
“Jacob, use your head and throw it in there. C’mon, Jacob.”
The pitcher, making an appearance late in the first game of a doubleheader, clearly heard Coach Ron. He took a deep breath, and his next pitch was a strike.
The socially distancing home crowd, which was growing restless after a string of walks and hit batsmen, gave a loud ovation.
Baseball returned to the Mining City over the weekend as the Butte Miners and Butte Muckers opened the American Legion season. That meant the return of Coach Ron.
Everybody in town knows Coach Ron, and Coach Ron know everybody in town. The Special Olympian just does not know most of them by name.
Every fan at the stadium could hear Coach Ron’s instructions, and he made most of us smile. Fans, players, umpires and media members were all happy to see him there.
That is because nothing says a Butte sporting event like Coach Ron, who goes to as many as he possibly can.
Coach Ron has coached all the teams, too. He has led the Bulldogs, Maroons, Orediggers, Copper Kings, Irish, Daredevils and, of course, the Miners and Muckers.
The list of teams coached by Coach Ron includes countless little league and traveling teams, too.
As I wrote for The Montana Standard in February of 2012, Coach Ron has also been a huge part of many big wins for the Dillon Beavers over the years.
Name the sport, and Coach Ron has coached it. Name the coach in Butte, and Coach Ron has coached alongside of him or her.
He has also directed the band, worked as an umpire and served an honorary role on with the Butte Police Department.
Years ago, Coach Ron had a shirt that proclaimed he was Butte High’s biggest fan on one side, and swore allegiance for the Maroons on the other.
In 2017, Coach Ron went into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame with the 1992 Butte Central basketball team.
The coach is as passionate about his teams as he is optimistic. And his teams are any teams from the Mining City.
“We’re OK,” he will say, reassuringly if the home team is trailing early.
When the Butte team wins, nobody is happier. Tears of joy can often be seen running down Coach Ron’s face after a big win.
While they might not always understand what he is yelling to them, so many players have been inspired by Coach Ron over the years.
That inspiration does not come from wins and losses, either. It comes from Coach Ron’s incredible outlook on life.
His life has not always been easy, but he has always displayed a positive attitude. He has overcome some incredibly long odds with a smile on his face.
When Butte High Bulldog and Montana Grizzly legend Colt Anderson addressed the Special Olympians before the Special Olympics Montana State Basketball Tournament last fall at the Butte Civic Center, he signaled out Coach Ron.
Anderson played for some great coaches, including Greg Salo, John Thatcher, Bobby Hauck and Super Bowl champion Andy Reid. As Coach Ron stood up to be recognized, beaming with pride, Anderson told the Olympians that Coach Ron is his favorite.
Like about 95 percent of the people Coach Ron talks to, I am “Guy.”
“Hey Guy,” the coach says.
But that is not to say that Coach Ron does not know me. He does. And he knows to ask how my boy is doing because Coach Ron remembers when he helped coach our Little League team one game. He also remembers that my son was struggling with some health problems last fall.
As I left the stadium Saturday, Coach Ron said, “Tell your son I said hi.”
I have known Coach Ron for as long as I can remember going to sporting events, and the break in sports we had because of the coronavirus was one of the longest periods of time that I have gone without talking to him.
About a month ago, officials with the Legion said they were hoping to begin play May 30. The way events were being canceled because of the coronavirus, I did not believe a return to the diamond would actually happen.
Then, the Little Leagues said they were going to play again. Even as I went to Little League practices, it did not seem like it was really going to happen.
Saturday and Sunday, the Miners and Muckers played home games. Certain seats and sections of the stadium were roped off so the fans would keep a safe social distance.
Players were not supposed to give high fives, and, for the most part they did not. But how do you not give a high five after an inside-the-park home run?
Sitting down by the home dugout — in a roped off section — was Coach Ron. His presence and his loud voice made it all seem real again. He made it feel like baseball season.
Do not take my word for it.
Ask the pitcher, whose name, by the way, is not Jacob.
— Bill Foley, who is also not great with names, writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. He is writing more frequently during the coronavirus lockdown. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.