Vinton youth coach has worked with kids in either baseball or basketball since 1969
By Sports Editor Brian Hoffman
Vinton’s Ricky Carr has been trying to find things to do this baseball season with the coronavirus pandemic keeping the kids out of the dugout. Carr has been a coach-out-of-diamond this spring after coaching youth baseball, basketball or both for 50 consecutive years.
Ricky is a familiar face around the Vinton ballparks and gyms. He’s coached a baseball team in Vinton every season since 1982 and he’s coached the Vinton Cardinals minor league team every spring since ’85. That’s not to mention coaching countless all-star teams, high school girls’ basketball and serving as the voice of William Byrd High School basketball as a public address announcer, but all that’s on hold as the pandemic keeps kids off the fields and out of the gyms.
“It’s like the winter time, only not cold,” said Carr. “This is the first year in a long time I haven’t coached baseball. I go for walks with my wife(Vicki) and we do things at home to try and keep each other happy.”
Ricky, who turned 70 last November, grew up in Roanoke. He attended Belmont Elementary School, Jackson Junior High and Jefferson High School. He played youth baseball in Roanoke and learned the game under legendary coaches like Jimmy Mitchell and Cecil Doss.
“They taught fundamentals first, and that’s what I’ve always done,” said Carr. “Bruce (long time Vinton coach Spencer) and Greg (Halsey, Carr’s assistant) do the same thing. And, I found out real quick that you always hustle.”
Ricky concentrated on basketball in high school, and he was lucky enough to be a sophomore when Dick Kepley returned to Roanoke to join the Magicians staff. Kepley had played for Jefferson, then went to play at the University of North Carolina. He returned to Roanoke to coach at Jefferson, then Patrick Henry when Jefferson closed. He was the jayvee coach when Ricky played on the team as a sophomore, then Carr was on the varsity for two years when Dick was elevated to head coach.
“He taught us a lot,” said Carr, who became a big time Tarheels fan. “He went on to win state championships. I know he won in 1970 when Vicki was in school.”
Ricky’s coaching career began in 1969 when his cousin, Ronnie Payne, asked him to help with the Williamson Road Tarheels basketball team. He coached hoops in the city for three years, then got married in 1972 and moved to Highland Avenue in Roanoke. His neighbor across the street, Robert Henderson, introduced him to his friend Danny Gee and the two hit it off. Gee was a baseball coach in the city and he asked Rick if he’d like to take a team.
“He said they had a bunch of kids and they would split up the team,” said Carr. “He said ‘you take some good ones and I’ll take some good ones, and you take some bad ones and I’ll take some bad ones.’ Well, that season he went undefeated and I didn’t win a game.”
Ricky coached baseball and basketball in the city until he met Glen Martin in 1982. Ironically Glen’s daughter Tammy would marry future William Byrd High School baseball coach Gene Riggs.
“We were working a construction site together,” remembers Carr. “He was coaching in Vinton, and he said if I’d come to Vinton he’d give me a team.”
Now established in Vinton, Ricky dropped down to tee-ball in 1983 when his son Chris was old enough to play. Chris had been coming to practices since he was five years old but when he turned seven he could play tee-ball and was part of an undefeated team coached by dad. And, yes, they kept score in those days.
Chris went up to the minors in 1985 and Ricky was able to take over a team that had been coached by Jay Childress. He had a good team right off the bat, so to speak.
“We had as good an infield as anyone I’ve seen,” he said. “We had Gary Wiggins at first, John Dogan at second, Jason Murdock at third and Chris played short and pitched. Jeremy Obenchain was our catcher.”
Ricky coached the Cardinals for two years, then coached in the Majors for two years and the Juniors for two more as Chris worked his way up the Vinton Rec. ladder. When Chris aged out and started playing school ball Rick went back to the minors, and his Vinton Cardinals have been a fixture in town ever since.
Carr is respected for his teaching of fundamentals and “playing the game the right way.”
“I’m big on fundamentals,” he said. “I have a meeting with the kids and parents at the first practice and we go over the ‘Cardinal rules.’ You come to practice 15 minutes early and you come to games an hour early. When you get out of the car you have your hat on straight and your shirt tail in. You carry your own equipment from the car to the field, and back to the car again after practice or a game.
“I tell the parents, when you get home look up ‘commitment’ and ‘respect.’ Then I tell them to teach that to their kids and they’ll be fine.”
Ricky doesn’t believe in hollering at the kids or arguing with umpires. His biggest joy is in taking a child not as accomplished and teaching him to be a competitive player with a love of the game. Winning is important, but it’s not the only thing.
“We win with class and we lose with class,” he says. “If a player or parent argues with the umpire, I’ll ask them to leave.”
Ricky has had many assistants over the years, among them Wilson Wiggins, Sandy Murdock, Jerome Rose and Kevin Witcher. The one who’s been with him the longest is Greg Halsey, who has been with Carr since Greg’s son Justin was 10 years old. This season, before the pandemic, Justin’s son was getting ready to start tee-ball.
“Greg was going to coach his grandson’s tee-ball team this year,” said Carr. “He’s a great coach and we get along together well. I’ve always said when Greg stops coaching, I’ll stop coaching.”
This year they both stopped coaching, at least for a season, but Ricky vows to return next summer. If the pandemic allows he’ll continue to run his fall program in Vinton. He volunteers his time to work with kids who want to play.
For his selfless work on the field, Carr was inducted into the Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010. It was also that year he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but he’s now been cancer free for almost 11 years and he keeps on ticking, coaching kids and serving as the public address announcer for William Byrd basketball.
Rick’s son Chris is now married and he and his wife Sandy have three kids. Chrissy graduated from Byrd while Sam is a rising senior and T.J. is a rising freshman. They played rec. sports in Vinton growing up.
Wife Vicki is getting to see a lot more of Ricky these days, as he’s not only retired from his job but isn’t able to spend countless hours on the ballfield and in the batting cages due to the pandemic.
“You know you have a good wife when you spend every birthday, anniversary, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day on the ballfield and she’s good with it,” said Rick with a chuckle. “I realize I’m the head coach, but she’s the boss.”
Once things get back to normal Ricky hopes to continue to coach as long as they want him and Halsey stays by his side. It’s been a tried and true combination, but Rick knows the real secret to success on the diamond.
“The secret to being a successful coach is to have great kids, great assistants and really good parents,” he said. “I’ve been lucky, and I hope to be back next year the good Lord willing.”