PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Fighting back tears, outfielder Mike Baxter recalled fond memories of his legendary high school coach, Jack Curran, who passed away this week at age 83.
Curran coached for 55 years at Archbishop Molly in Queens, not far from the Whitestone neighborhood where Baxter grew up. His 1,708 career victories in baseball and 972 in basketball made him the winningest coach in New York state history.
"Everyone calls him 'legendary' and things like that," Baxter said Thursday, after taking a moment to compose himself. "He was more. I think when you knew him and knew what kind of guy he was, he was selfless. He put everybody first, all the kids. He was just an incredible guy."
In addition to Baxter and former MLB pitcher Mike Jerzembeck, Curran coached NBA players Kenny Anderson, Kenny Smith, Brian Winters and Kevin Joyce at Molloy.
Baxter laughed as he recalled Curran urging his baseball players to "just hit the straight ball."
"Back then he used to coach third," Baxter said. "He'd get in the box and you'd take a fastball and he'd go, 'Yo, what are you doing? Don't take the straight ball. You've got to swing at the straight ball.' I guess from high school he kind of taught me you try to hit the fastballs."
After high school, Curran stayed in close touch with Baxter as he advanced from Columbia University to Vanderbilt, to San Diego's Minor League system and finally the Mets.
"He really put the lives of the kids that he had first," Baxter said. "That's kind of why he was around forever. It meant everything to him, that school and the kids. It's just a sad day."