BIRCH RUN, MI – Tom Dutkowski has just reached a major milestone in his baseball coaching career at Powers Catholic Saturday when emotions overcame him.
It wasn’t anything that happened on the field, where Dutkowski won his 800th career game.
No, this had to do with his family – wife Valerie and children Jill and Vincent – who Dutkowski said allowed to rack up all those victories in 40 years as Powers’ head coach.
The Chargers opened Division 2 district play with a 4-1 victor over host Birch Run, raising Dutkowski’s career record to 800-521-10 since 1982.
Dutkowski had to stop and compose himself twice while speaking with MLive-The Flint Journal after his team raised its record this season to 26-13.
“I just started to think about my wife,” he said a few minutes later. “She doesn’t really (care) about this stuff but she lets me do it. She lets me do it. She’s always let me do it. I guess I’m just kind of an athletic lifer. I’ve been chasing a ball as a kid on the west side of Flint. I just feel grateful and humble.
“I’m happy for this team. They’ve really given a great effort all year long. So No. 1 , I’m really happy for them. No. 2, there’s so many people beyond me responsible. Players coaches, my family.”
Coaching for 41 years hasn’t allowed Dutkowski to spend as much time with his children as he would have liked although Vincent did play baseball for him at Powers. Dutkowski had to laugh when he recalled the time Vincent scored a run in 10 consecutive at-bats and his dad wasn’t even aware of it.
Today, Vincent is a corporate lawyer and Jill is a veterinarian. The pride Dutkowski has in his kids is obviously when he speaks about them.
This has been one of the most difficult seasons of Dutkowski’s career.
In November, he hurt his back lifting weights, he’s still undergoing physical therapy and he sometimes walks with a slight limp going across the field between innings.
But at age 67, he’s not ready to walk away from coaching just yet.
“It depends on maybe some stuff out of my control,” said Dutkowski, who retired last year from his teaching job at Powers. “I hurt my back in November. I’m very fortunate to have gotten through the season. I’m still not 100 percent. I don’t know if you saw me limping around out there.
“We’ve got a heck of a pretty young team. I certainly want to see these guys through. We’ve got five or six sophomores so I want to see these guys through. We’re still learning, though, how to win these kinds of games but they’re a lot of fun to work with … and they’re pretty talented.”
After all these years, Dutkowski said he doesn’t have a problem getting excited about going to practice or games.
“It’s easy, especially when you got guys who care, guys who play hard,” he said “You’ve got great assistant coaches. But the struggle this year has been just dragging my leg around. I hit the worst infield in the world now.”
One of those aforementioned sophomores is pitcher Grant Garman, who went the distance in the victory over Birch Run.
Garman allowed five hits, walked one and struck out eight. He blanked the Panthers after Birch Run’s Mason Leach led off the second inning with a single and scored on Darrin Cumming’s single.
First baseman Isaac Sturgess and shortstop Connor Kelly scored two runs apiece for Powers. Sturgess had a double and triple, Kelly reached base three times on a single, walk and error, and Garman drove home two runs on a sacrifice fly and single.
“I actually didn’t know that was coach’s 800th win,” Garman said. “I’m really excited for him and I’m proud of him. It was a big number and also he deserves it. He’s a really good coach and he got us prepared for every single game this year.
“That’s why we always win for him.”
Nobody had more than one hit for Birch Run, which fell to 6-23.
While Dutkowski has been Powers’ head coach for 41 years, Michael Cornman is in his first year as Birch Run’s head coach. He’s only 794 victories behind Dutkowski.
“That’s a big number,” Cornman said. “It takes a long time to get there depending on where you’re at. He’s got a good program there and it’s well deserved. He’s a down-to-earth guy, a really nice guy.”
The victory over Birch Run moved Powers into the district championship game against Frankenmuth, which beat Chesaning 7-1 in the other district semifinal.
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