Column: Proven Coaching Combo
Dale Yarbrough can be considered a quiet and unassuming head coach.
He is a man of few words, but knows when to speak his mind. He won’t say a whole lot in interviews, even in winning efforts, but will make clear the job his kids did.
But he knows when to deal out one-liners.
When asked about the difference between him and his longtime assistant coach on many of Melrose’s Babe Ruth League Baseball 15-and-under and now 12-and-under All-Star teams, Patrick White, Yarbrough deadpans, “Well, I got hair and he doesn’t.”
White takes it in stride because he knows of at least one attribute Yarbrough has that he does not worry about.
“Dale is able to handle the parents better,” White said.
It’s that kind of a relationship Yarbrough and White keep that makes the difference each summer with the Melrose Babe Ruth programs they coach. In the past few weeks, the pair have been in charge of the 12-and-under Melrose coach that won the District 5 championship in dramatic fashion, 1-0, in nine innings over Chiefland, and the recent Small State championship for smaller programs in the state of Florida when Austin Musgrove belted a three-run home run on Tuesday to turn a 2-0 deficit with one out left in the game into a 3-2 lead and ultimately, the victory that gave Melrose its first Small State title in six years.
Winning baseball has become a big thing with the programs run by Yarbrough and White. For example, just one year ago, Yarbrough was the head coach and White the assistant as Melrose won the District 5 and Small State championship with the 15-and-under program. And after a slow start at the start of the state tournament at Tallahassee against the host team, Melrose slinked its way through the losers bracket before arriving back in the North Florida sectional title game against Tallahassee, losing 3-1.
“Our biggest thing every year is that we get to the state tournament every year and we lose that first game,” Yarbrough said. “But our team knows how to come back and make it to the final in some years.”
The number actually is two, and both were with the 15-and-under teams. There was the 2018 tournament, and in 2013, Melrose opened the tournament against Tallahassee and lost that first game, but they fought back to the final at Lake City’s Southside Complex. On July 20, 2013, Melrose won the losers bracket final, meaning an immediate game with Tallahassee in the first championship. A Melrose win would have forced a second final. The teams locked in a bash for 15 innings and through a rain delay that lasted nearly three hours.
In the end, Melrose lost to Tallahassee, 5-4, and Yarbrough and White were left wondering who was left to pitch in the second championship game since they exhausted every good pitcher on that Saturday, including hard-throwing left-hander Brett Sellers, who went nine yeoman’s innings in relief.
“That team had some heart,” White said. “They had some heart, some grit, and toughness. We don’t plan on having a night like that ever again.”
The two are so close they do a lot of things together – including hunting, eating out and taking vacations together.
“Dale’s a hoot,” White said. “He just goes with the flow and he will speak his mind. He’s not shy about that.”
But there was a point this year that Yarbrough, a 1991 Interlachen High graduate, nearly quit coaching. On Dec. 12, 2017, his son Austin, a 2014 IHS graduate who was awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal, was killed in an auto accident just a few weeks before his 22nd birthday. Yarbrough said he was able to get the tragedy out of his mind while coaching last year, but as time went on, he said it became harder and harder.
“It was very close. About 50-50,” Yarbrough said of his chances of coaching an all-star team this summer.
But what changed his mind was a fateful night during Pop Warner season that put things back in place for him.
“I ran into a couple of parents at the game,” Yarbrough said. “We got talking and they asked if I would come back and after I thought about it, I decided to come back, but doing it this time at the 12-and-under level.”
On Thursday, Melrose started out once again on the wrong foot. A 3-0 loser to South Daytona in the opening round of the state tournament, they needed to win twice on Friday just to advance. And that, too, may be why Yarbrough keeps coming back. You see, two close calls to win state titles are one thing, but winning it all? You know it’s something he yearns for.
“Just once, I want to win the big one,” said Yarbrough, the head technician at Melrose Pest Control. “Winning Small State as we have done is nice, but I’d like to take home the big one.”
Small State has been a snap – five titles in the last six years with either the 15-and-Under program or the 12-and-Under program. But that North Florida championship? Then Yarbrough might just call it a day.
And figure if Yarbrough calls it a day when that moment happens or the time is just right, then the 47-year-old White, who played baseball at Palatka High School and graduated in 1990, won’t be too far behind. White said the pair is excited about coaching an all-star team in 2020, but as Yarbrough pointed out, it’s “one year at a time.”
“I have relinquished some of my duties with the league,” said Yarbrough, whose wife Sally was president of the league for years. “But like anything, when the season is done, you’re ready for everything to be over with it. But then you recharge your batters and you go and do it again the next year. But as I said, I just want to get (that North Florida) championship just once.”
And with that, you probably got more out of this modest, unassuming coach in this space than one would normally get.