Updated: Nov 24, 2019
The man, the myth, the Chief. Grass Lake, Michigan is a tiny town that is synonymous with baseball. My little league Coach, Stu was one of the best coaches I ever had. He was coached by the Chief. When I played in High School, I was also coached by the Chief. Quite remarkably, Two Major League Baseball players, in a town with a population less than 1000 and graduating classes of 60 or fewer, were also coached by the Chief (One was the Pitcher for 2 Barry Bonds HRs in his 73 HR** Season).
I call him the Chief because he was a leader of Warriors. He could also predict the weather. I remember one time I saw him lick his index finger and stick it in the air. I asked him what he was doing, and he said, “Lightening is in the air, a storm is coming, we’re not playing today”. I laughed at him thinking I have seen much worse, almost certain we would play. It stormed and we got rained out. Looking back this may have been his sense of humor, because chances are he looked at the radar. He coached football too and impacted so many lives on and off the field. He was respected by his players, because he stuck up for them, when they didn’t always have a voice.
The Chief was Joe Bechtel and we were his Warriors. Anyone that played under him, would give him 100% because he would accept no less. He didn’t have to yell. He was the most soft-spoken guy you would ever meet. I remember an irritated voice and a grin several times, but never a yell. He also had a way with chairs. In my forum class, a wobbly chair broke on him and he picked it up and tossed it angrily. The Chief would make you chase after baseballs he hit while he chuckled. Partly for his amusement, but mainly to teach lessons about hustling and not giving up on plays.
The Chief is somewhat of a mythical legend now in Grass Lake. The passage of time has diluted some memories, many of his former athletes and students have left Grass Lake, but they all remember the Chief. The impact a coach has on our lives is as important as our own parents. With that said, Joe had 1000’s of kids, even if only for 2, 3, or 4 years. When Joe’s health failed him back in 2003, my brother and I went to his funeral, like several hundred other Grass Lake alumni. When “Take Me Out to The Ball Game” was played on the piano, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.