Over the past three years, Bob Maxey's Hammond Bears baseball team developed a core of closeness that proved tough to beat this year.

Maxey, The Howard County Sun Coach of the Year, helped that closenesswith techniques such as visualization. The team would huddle before a game and visualize success at fielding, hitting and pitching.

He also did things like taking the team out to breakfast on the day of a big game. Maxey stressed doing things right, so when they went to breakfast they all wore dress shirts and ties.

His team also took pride in the way they dressed and looked on the field, the same pride they took in the way they performed.

"The credit really goesto the seniors," Maxey said. "They paid their dues the last couple of years, and this year we didn't have to spend much time on the basics. The kids worked hard in the off-season getting themselves prepared."

Eight of Hammond's top 10 players were seniors. Two were sophomores.

Maxey said parents also provided lots of support.

The Bears, only the fourth county team to reach the state final, compiled a 19-5 record and won their first county title with a 12-2 league mark.

"Before the season I told them we shouldn't lose more than four games," Maxey said. "I told them two teams will flat out beat you and we'll lose two games we shouldn't."

That prophesy played out almost exactly, as Hammond lost one-run upsets to Fallston and Atholton and was soundly beaten by Oakland Mills and Northeast (twice). It was Northeast that clobbered the Bears in the state final, but that was noreal embarrassment.

"Northeast was certainly the best team in anyof the four state finals and one of the best teams ever," Maxey said.

Maxey, 40, should know because he's been around the block a few times.

The last five years he has coached at Hammond. Before that he put in stints at Mount St. Joe, Howard Community College, the University of Maryland and Gallaudet University.

He also served two years as Hammond's first baseball coach when the school opened in 1976 before he moved on to greener pastures.

Eventually he completed a coaching circle that led him back to Hammond, and that proved to be ahappy move.

His team made only 35 errors, stole 90 bases while getting caught only six times, and batted .347 with 23 home runs, 11 triples and 32 doubles. It scored 165 runs in 24 games. The team earnedrun average was 2.09.

Maxey has run a summer baseball camp at Hammond for the past 14 years. Ironically, two players who attended thatcamp turned out to be two of his best this year -- Jeff Cyran and Joe Nestor.

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