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Hall of Fame nod caps Stone’s career

UMass Lowell baseball coach Jim Stone has 801 wins to his credit over his 37 years at the helm. He retired in 2003. UMass Lowell baseball coach Jim Stone has 801 wins to his credit over his 37 years at the helm. He retired in 2003.
By John Vellante
Globe Correspondent / January 7, 2010

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LOWELL - Jim Stone, who rang up more than 800 wins in 37 years as baseball coach at the University of Massachusetts Lowell before retiring in 2003, will be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame tomorrow night in Dallas.

But ask him about his achievements and he immediately deflects the attention away from himself and to those, he says, who made his pending induction possible.

“As far as coaching, this is the ultimate award, this is a dream,’’ said Stone, a native of Atkinson, N.H., who now resides in North Fort Myers, Fla. “But there are a lot of people who contributed along the way. There were the players, and believe me when I say each and every one of them was special. There were my assistant coaches, the administration and all the other coaches at UMass. I am so grateful to all of them.’’

His credentials speak volumes:

■ 801 wins;

■11 NCAA Northeast Regional appearances;

■ two Division 2 College World Series appearances;

■ 30 or more wins in seven seasons;

■ 20 or more wins 15 times;

■ New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association Coach of the Year nine times;

■ ABCA Northeast Region Coach of the Year five times.

Those facts are noteworthy. But the statistic that makes Stone most proud is the number of his former players that were able to play pro ball.

“That was the frosting on the cake, getting those kids signed to professional contracts,’’ he said. “The important thing, of course, was to get them out of college with their degrees. One time, just for kicks, I went through the thought process and I think we had about 50 kids go on to the next level, whether it was independent ball or the professional minor leagues. Guys like [Mike] LaValliere, [Mike] Bryant, [Marc] Deschenes, [Matt] Tupman, [Billy] Moloney, and [Jon] Cahill. They were all fulfilling their dream.’’

Of all those that signed pro deals, LaValliere, a catcher who played at UMass from 1979-81, was the most successful. He played with the Phillies, Cardinals, Pirates, and White Sox, earning a Gold Glove with Pittsburgh in 1987.

In a phone interview from his home in Bradenton, Fla., LaValliere said he wouldn’t call Stone a father figure, “but he was a pretty calming influence.

“I know as a kid leaving home for the first time and going to college, he cared for me. He cared for all of us. His relationship with us was personal. He wanted to know everything about our families and about what classes we were taking. He was a genuinely good man, a nice man and his induction into the Hall of Fame is well deserved.’’

Though he rarely got upset, he reminded his players every now and then who was in charge, LaValliere said.

“I remember one instance when we were on our spring training trip in Florida. Pretty much the whole team missed curfew one night. On the way back to the hotel, we were tip-toeing back to our rooms through the pool area and there was Jim sitting on a chaise longue waiting for us. All he said, and I’ll never forget it, was ‘Practice at 8 a.m. and don’t bring your gloves.’ We knew what we were in for. We went to the field in the morning and pretty much sweated off what we had to sweat off. We got under his skin that time and we knew he was upset, but he didn’t yell or scream at us. He forgot it, we forgot it, but I’ll tell you, we remembered not to do it again. We learned from it.’’

With 801 wins and more than 1,200 games coached on his résumé, Stone has a ton of memories.

His favorites, he said, were from the 2001 and 2002 teams that played in the College World Series. In 2001, UMass Lowell defeated Central Missouri (13-5) before being eliminated with losses to St. Mary’s (12-1), and Delta State (6-2). In 2002, UMass lost its opener to Cal-State Chico (5-2), but then beat Florida Southern (7-2) and Ashland (10-5) to advance to the semifinals before losing to Cal-State Chico again, 8-4.

“I was so happy for the kids in those two years,’’ recalled the 71-year-old Stone. “Playing in the College World Series was a dream come true not only for them, but for me as well. It was wonderful, a lot of fun.’’

A 1960 Springfield College graduate, he played on the school’s 1958 NCAA East Coast College Division championship team and was a team captain his senior year. He began his coaching career at Tilton-Northfield (N.H.) High that same year and moved on to Mascoma Regional (N.H.) High in 1963 before coming to what was then Lowell Technological Institute in 1966.

“My college coach [Archie Allen] at Springfield is an ABCA inductee,’’ Stone said. “Rusty Yarnall [former Lowell Tech athletics director] hired me. He coached at Lowell 41 years and I coached for 37. It’s unusual that a college program goes that long with just two coaches. They were instrumental in me getting this award.

“All in all, I think I had a great career, but it went by very fast. People ask me what I miss most and I tell them the players and game day.’’

John Vellante can be reached at JohnPVel@aol.com.