Jefferson State’s Green remembered, inducted
The Alabama school where he built a respected baseball program doesn’t have baseball anymore.
For that matter, two years ago, Jefferson State Community College did away with all of its athletic programs, its baseball team being among the last to represent the school in the spring of 2011.
During that same spring, April 14 to be exact, Donald Green died after a long battle with cancer at age 69.
With both the coach and the sport he resided over gone, reminders of Green are fading.
Some of the longtime coaches in the Alabama Community College Conference, where Green coached baseball for 30 years, 1967 to 1996, didn’t know he had passed away until well after it had happened. Shelton State (Ala.) Community College baseball coach Bobby Sprowl said he learned of Green’s death about two months ago.
But a fresh reminder of Green’s brilliance as a baseball coach at the junior college level materialized earlier this year: Green was chosen for induction into the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The honor is well-deserved, said Wallace State Community College-Hanceville coach Randy Putman, who played for Green at Jefferson State, then coached against him for seven years in the ACCC.
“He 100 percent deserves it,” Putman said. “The sad thing is, I wish he could have gone in when he was living. It’s sad it’s taken this long.”
Putman and Sprowl referred to Green as a pioneer of Alabama junior college baseball, which now boasts 17 teams in three divisions in the ACCC.
Sprowl said he coached against Green for four or five years, until Green retired 17 years ago.
“He always fielded good teams and was a class act,” Sprowl said. “He was one of those guys who when you went to (conference coaches) meetings, you listened to what he had to say. You didn’t say anything. You let the guys like him talk.”
Green’s record at Jefferson State did a lot of the talking for him. He compiled a 622-428 record and his teams won the ACCC North Division title 10 times and the Region 22 championship twice. His division also honored him as its coach of the year nine times.
One of the few things Green didn’t do was take a team to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction.
Putman, a Hall of Famer who has taken Wallace State-Hanceville to the JUCO World Series six times, said never mind the absence of a trip to Grand Junction when assessing Green.
“He more than just about anyone deserves to be in such a prestigious institution as the JUCO Hall of Fame,” Putman said.
“He might not have ever had a team that went to the World Series, but he had a lot of players who would call him a friend later in life.”
The latter is as important as wins, said Putman, who is approaching 900 career victories.
“He was a genuine person, genuine meaning a big influence on his players,” Putman said.
That helped Green get players to work hard for him, which led to success, as did Green’s understanding of the game.
“His teams did the little things: bunt, hit the cutoff, take the extra base,” Sprowl said.
Putman added, “He worked hard, he had a plan, and he followed that plan. ... He was a player’s coach, communicated very well with his players. ... His door was always open. You could talk to him about baseball or life in general. ... He taught me a lot about baseball and a lot about life.”
Putman also called Green “a very, very good baseball coach,” one who could evaluate talent and put players in places to succeed. Case in point: Putman, who thought he was going to play first base at Jefferson State. Green moved him to third.
“He said, ‘You could be a great third baseman,’ ” Putman said. “I had my doubts, but I did become a pretty good third baseman.”
When it comes to stories about Green, Putman recalls the bus rides to and from games with Green as the bus driver.
“Going to the game, we’d get there a lot faster than we did coming home,” Putman said. “Going to the game, you needed your seat belt. ... When we lost or didn’t play well, it seemed like it took twice as long to get home.”
Putman won’t forget Green and what he meant to him.
And he’s happy the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Association is putting Green in a place, its Hall of Fame, that will remind others about a man worth remembering.