Harry Lentz, the baseball coach at Northeast High School in Pasadena for 28 years, died yesterday morning with the game ball from his last game in his hand.
Lentz, who had battled an inoperable brain tumor since October, was 51. Lentz had not missed a game in his 28 years.
He had taken a turn for the worse on Friday morning, according to his wife Terry Lentz.
Still he coached his final game that afternoon, a 14-2 victory over Westlake that left his Eagles 3-1 and his career record at 348-200 (.635), including state championships in 1975, 1991 and 1992, and a district title in 1973 before the state championships commenced.
His 1991 team became the first in Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association history to go 24-0, and the Easton ,, Sports National High School Poll named the Eagles national champion.
"We were prepared for it because the doctors had told us that he probably wouldn't make it through the weekend," his wife said yesterday. "He died at 5:53 a.m. today, with Friday's game ball in his hand."
Terry Lentz said the teammates had written the score and date on the ball and sent it with assistant Ed Gole to Lentz's Glen Burnie home.
Lentz left midway through the game on Friday, and on Saturday morning, most of his family -- including his 85-year-old father, Harry Sr., had arrived from Pennsylvania, the coach's native state.
"He told me goodbye about 6:15 a.m. yesterday [Saturday] and said practice was at 9 a.m.," said Terry Lentz. "I told him practice had been called off so he wouldn't insist on going."
Lentz, who was graduated from Kutztown University in 1964, had vowed in February that he would be back coaching his Eagles this spring. He didn't miss a practice or game since baseball began March 1.
Gole picked up Lentz every day for practice or a game and the coach sat in a pickup truck next to the Eagles dugout. Lentz made a two-hour trip to McDonough in Charles County last Monday as his Eagles rallied for all of their runs in the final inning to overcome a 5-0 deficit and win 8-6.
"When he said in February that he would be back to coach, I didn't think there was any way he would," said Bob Grimm, former Northeast athletic director who came to the school one year after Lentz in 1965 and worked nearly 25 years with Lentz before he was transferred to North County.
Best known as a baseball coach and former president and member of the County Coaches Association, Lentz also coached the Northeast football team for five years through 1982. His 1980 football team ended a string of 13 consecutive losing seasons, going 7-3, and his 1981 team went 9-2 and reached the state playoffs.
"He was hard working, fatherly-like with the kids, always doing something year-round, and maybe worked too hard the last 10 years," said John Zuger, a close friend.
Zuger, a longtime Canadian Football League scout, got Lentz a job as a scout with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after he retired as Northeast football coach. Lentz also served as a football assistant with the Navy lightweight team and at Bowie State under former player Dave Dolch.
For the past seven years, he was an associate scout with the Baltimore Orioles.
In January, Lentz entered the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. Al Kohlhafer, a 25-year assistant coach to Lentz, made the presentation.
"Al took it really bad, even though it was inevitable," said Donna Kohlhafer, a 1968 graduate of Northeast and a former social studies student of Lentz. Al Kohlhafer was in Pennsylvania over the weekend for a tournament.
"Al and I were very close to Harry, who introduced me to my husband in 1972. It's devastating," Donna Kohlhafer said.
Terry Lentz said burial will take place in Slatington, Pa. about mid-week. A memorial service will be held April 17 at Northeast High, the scheduled date for the naming of the Eagles' baseball field after Harry Lentz.