Bill Gates did it again, and he didn’t even know it.
When Larry Hughes interviewed for the Highland Park baseball opening in the summer of 1996, he thought it was almost a given he was going to become the Scots’ new baseball coach.
But there was one last thing that he needed to do to cinch it. He had to meet with an administrator to talk about being able to teach a computer class. Well, Hughes had a background in health, psychology and physical education. He promised he would get caught up and be able to teach everything there was to know about a computer.
Alas, his argument didn’t convince that administrator. Thinking he was going back to coach at Dallas Thomas Jefferson, Hughes got a call from Carroll athletic director Bob Ledbetter about taking over as baseball coach after Brent Barker moved to Fort Worth Southwest Christian.
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Having to pull some strings in the Dallas ISD, Hughes was able to get out of his contract and signed a contract with Carroll on his 40th birthday, Aug. 10. For 20 seasons, Hughes met the demands of a community that expects nothing less than a state championship every season.
Unrealistic as that may be, Hughes ensured Carroll’s program was in the conversation every spring. The Dragons were in the postseason in 19 of his 20 seasons, reached the regional finals five times, reached the top in 2002 with the 4A state title and just missed in 2008 in the 5A state finals. Hughes’ Carroll teams averaged 24.5 wins per season.
I have always contended winning a state championship in Texas high school baseball is arguably the toughest thing to do in high school sports. You have to win seven rounds, of which the first five are usually series. If you get into a one-game, winner-take-all arrangement, then it’s a matter of breaks. Teams have to outlast the other. Depth is crucial.
Then, when it comes to the state tournament, it’s a one-game scenario. For Hughes to put that kind of run together is pretty impressive. When the 2016 season began, he believed this group had a chance to get to Round Rock. The offense just wasn’t as consistent as hoped. Carroll’s season was over in the middle of May in the 6A Region I area round when it lost to Lewisville Hebron.
Hughes understands pitching. He usually had enough of it.
Hughes pitched in college at SMU from 1977-80 and is among the last of those who played for that program before it was shut down following the 1980 season. He was the Mustangs’ closer.
He loved the game. He loved to teach it, even when he took over the Cedar Hill program two weeks after he graduated from SMU in 1980. A six-year period away from the game, in sales, was fine but it wasn’t fulfilling. When he returned to Thomas Jefferson, he was in his element.
“Teaching, coaching and being the kids is where I needed to be,” he said. “Those six years were valuable. But it gave me a greater appreciation.”
Hughes’ departure is one of those moments in Northeast Tarrant County high school athletics history that marks the time. When influential figures like Hughes and Grapevine’s Tim McCune (in 2014) step aside, it offers a reminder of how they helped the game grow to uncommon levels.
Millionaires in NET
The 2016 Major League Baseball first-year player draft may go down as the most lucrative in the Northeast Tarrant County history. It didn’t need first-round selections to do it.
Between Carroll shortstop Hudson Sanchez (first round to San Diego), former Keller Fossil Ridge standout and Oklahoma shortstop and pitcher Sheldon Neuse (second round to Washington) and Justin Northwest right-hander Dustin May (third round to the Los Angeles Dodgers), the trio signed for bonuses that added up to $2.9 million. Sanchez and May each agreed to $1 million. Neuse signed for $900,000.
What you hope for is that all three will have the financial wisdom to use the impressive figures as a foundation for their futures. If all three reach the major leagues and earn well beyond that, they’ve reached their dreams. If not, they’ve already attained a financial footing that many can only hope to attain.
Their journeys are just beginning.