Softball: Chiefs' Diez a consummate professional
TAMPA, Feb 19, 2013 (Tampa Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
On a drizzly Wednesday afternoon, the Chamberlain High softball team is squeezed inside the high school gym due to an earlier downpour.
While some coaches would have canceled practice, an hour or less hitting is time well spent to coach Bob Diez. The consummate teacher, Diez is a true believer that practice makes perfect, and he's a coach who demands perfection.
In 22 years, Diez has built a nationally recognized softball program at Chamberlain. The Chiefs are the defending Class 7A state champions and were ranked No. 20 in the nation at the end of the season. Diez, who has won two state titles and been to seven state final fours, has developed dozens of Division I players, with a few All-Americans and Florida Players of the Year here and there.
Last year's state championship victory against Bartow gave the coach 495 career victories. Four games into the season, the West Tampa native has 498 wins and can notch No. 499 at Gaither tonight.
But Diez isn't much for milestones. All he cares about is playing the game the right way and seeing his girls succeed, on and off the field.
Built for coaching
Diez, who attended Jefferson High, entered the coaching ranks in 1967 when he took over the West Tampa Little League program. Soon after taking the job, he guided the team deep into the postseason, but it lost in regional finals in Bowling Green, Ohio.
"We left seven runs on the bases," Diez said, still haunted by the outcome.
Larry Rodriguez, now an assistant coach on Chamberlain's softball team, was a member of that West Tampa Little League team. He was 7. He also played baseball under Diez at Jefferson High and watched as Diez coached his daughter, Lauren Rodriguez, at Chamberlain.
"He was very intense," Rodriguez said. "Not as intense now."
Early in his career, Diez learned to study what surrounding coaches had done and implement their techniques into his practice. He coached boys basketball at Robinson with Herman Valdes, baseball at Jefferson with Pop Cuesta and at Tampa Catholic with Pete Mulry and football at Chamberlain with Billy Turner.
"I respected what they did so much, I almost had to (coach)," he said. "I just stayed with it."
Diez took a break from coaching in the late 1970s and entered the real estate business with his uncle, building condominiums on beaches from Indian Rocks to St. Petersburg. When the economy started rolling downhill in 1982, Diez quit working in the housing industry.
Diez coached slow pitch softball at Jefferson and in 1992, took a job teaching driver's education at Chamberlain. The position was tied to the head softball coaching job.
"That first team was the best team I ever had," he said. "We were two deep at every position, but we had no pitching. We averaged 14 walks a game."
Diez had coached baseball, football and even dabbled in basketball. Though he never had a daughter of his own, coaching girls softball, he said, was a perfect fit.
"I got hooked," Diez said. "Females, they didn't talk back. They were sponges."
Like his own daughters
Stephanie Medina, now a junior at South Florida, met Diez as a fifth grader. Her older sister, Jogo, who also played at South Florida, was one of the top players on a stellar Chiefs squad in the mid-2000s.
Medina grew up with Diez, spending her spring and summers in either a Chamberlain uniform or Tampa Mustang, an area travel club.
"Probably the most caring individual I've ever played for my entire life," she said.
Jessica Mouse, who went on to star at Louisiana State University and USF, graduated from Chamberlain in 2007 as a first-team All-American. Her father, Tim, has been an assistant at Chamberlain since 2003.
"He was a great coach to play for," Jessica Mouse said. "His practices, there's nothing to compare them to. He's the best in the area. If you look at it, all the great players coming out of Chamberlain isn't a coincidence."
Players like Bianka Bell, last year's Florida Gatorade Player of the Year and now true freshman at LSU, and Mary Kate Smith, who went to play at Stanford.
Diez coached families at Chamberlain. There were the Holle sisters and the Smith sisters, the Kafalas' and the Diaz'.
"He cared for us," Medina said, "like he had 20 daughters."
Back inside the Chamberlain gym, one would think they were observing a first-year program rather than defending state champions. Like an old western gunslinger, Diez, now 65, is standing with his fingers twiddling at his waist.
As he adjusts his baseball cap, the anticipation causes the veteran coach to two-step from side to side. The wide-mouth chewing of gum ensues, followed by the tight folding of his arms.
"Hold on," he says, his crisp baritone voice echoing throughout the gymnasium. "Lindsey your front is wide open."
Diez marches towards Lindsey Hagberg, his senior catcher, and abruptly adjusts her stance like a photographer to a model.
Diez signals for another pitch.
"There you go," he says.
On a good day, "there you go" is the equivalent of hearing "job well done."
But the girls' know his heart is in the right place.
"People realize, yeah he does scream a lot, but when you have a coach who does that, it shows they care," Mouse said. "He's always the type of coach who makes you humble. He makes you better. He never let us believe we were that good. We knew we were good, but deep down we knew we had to get better."
Diez will retire from teaching next spring. He has no timetable to stop coaching, though he would love to see a former player take over.
"I would hope that whoever takes my job, I hope the administration would find someone and who understands the tradition, not only winning, but the commitment."
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