Baseball preview: Walter has eye on ball

"I'm a lifetime learner, and I really try to get better at coaching," Arundel coach Bernie Walter said.
"I'm a lifetime learner, and I really try to get better at coaching," Arundel coach Bernie Walter said. (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)
Bernie Walter is a baseball man. Always has been. Always a success, too.

Despite juggling three jobs at Arundel High, his teams have won a record 10state championships. This year, his 36th, could be one of his most accomplished, because his only focus will be on the diamond.

A scary thought for the rest of the Anne Arundel County baseball coaches.

Walter, 66, retired from his position as the school's athletic director and health teacher in July. No more distractions. No more worry about the bus for the girls softball team being late. No more concern about lesson plans or settling parent-coach debates.

Once former assistant AD Lee Rogers accepted the top job and asked Walter to return as coach, the first thing Walter did was delve into the two four-drawer filing cabinets in his home office.

"I go to three [baseball] clinics a year every year, and I take notes like a student," Walter said, explaining the massive files. "I re-read every file. I want to learn. I'm a lifetime learner, and I really try to get better at coaching. ... I try to have multipurpose practices. Make them more complex. I like to find different ways to do things and then refine them."

Walter rewrote the team's playbook last fall.

"He's a perfectionist," assistant coach Tut O'Hara said. "We're always trying to get better. It's all about improvement."

Seniors Brooks Miller, a pitcher, and Mitch Reece, a catcher, said what sets Arundel apart is the coach's penchant for repetition, fundamentals and detail.

"He gave us the new playbook two months before practice," Miller said. "He said if it's important to us, we'll read it. I did."

Said Reece: "I transferred here last year, and what I really appreciate is that when something goes wrong, he'll bring the whole team in to talk about the mistake so everyone will learn from it. And he also tells you why something works or doesn't."

Rogers, who was Walter's assistant for eight years, laughed a little when asked about the coach.

"His coaching staff says he has too much time now," Rogers said. "He's always coming up with more practice sessions and new plays."

Rogers said there was never a doubt Walter would be back as coach this season - and for as many more seasons as he wants. "Having him as coach makes it easy for us," he said. "He's an integral part of the community, as well as the school."

Added South River coach Ken Dunn: "Bernie already thinks St. Patrick's Day is an Arundel High School holiday because it celebrates the school's green and white." To which Walter deadpanned, "Isn't it?"

Following Walter as baseball coach at Arundel - whenever that might be - will be an unenviable task to say the least. "Bernie has bigger than big shoes to fill," Rogers said.

Walter's teams have won 597 games, 16county titles and 14 regional crowns in addition to the 10 state championships. Even so, Walter made no assumptions that he would be asked to remain coach after retiring as AD and teacher.

"I think entitlements are completely against everything this country stands for," he said. "When I was a sophomore at Maryland, I tried out for shortstop. Just before the season was to start, the coach called me in and told me I was the best shortstop he had but he was going to start the senior. To this day, I don't understand that decision."

Brandon Agamennone, 33, who played for Walter's 1993 team that won the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's mythical national championship, said Walter is the coach who had the biggest impact on his life, giving him focus and direction.

"I think what Coach Walter is about is education," said Agamennone, a former minorleaguer with three organizations, including the Orioles, who is now a financial planner and youth coach in Dallas. "A lot of people talk about his baseball acumen, but he has an incredible desire to educate. He always said, 'The day you know everything, hang it up.' It has been a mark of his career. His desire to learn and educate young people is really where he excels."

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