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Former Melvindale baseball Coach Gary Szalka, one of the winningest coaches in Michigan High School baseball history, says a few words at the dedication of Coach Gary Szalka Field on the campus of Melvindale High School on May 28.
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The field will be called “Gary Szalka Field” in dedication to the 37 years Szalka spent at the helm for the Cardinals.
Szalka, who now serves as an assistant coach for his son Todd at Trenton, has a lengthy and impressive resume. The longtime Melvindale skipper tallied 648 wins, nine league championships, 10 district championships and was named Downriver Coach of the Year 15 times.
He had a team ranked in the state’s top-10 18 different times, 12 all-state players have thrived under his tutelage and he was named Regional Coach of the Year in 1989.
The Central Michigan grad, who was a protégé of legendary Lincoln Park coach Tom Noland, was elected to the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1993, the Melvindale and Lincoln Park Sports Halls of Fame in 2006 and the Michigan High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008.
The ceremony gave Szalka a chance to catch up with many of his former players and colleagues who have shared the field and classroom with him throughout his career.
“From all inclinations, it was a great day,” said Todd Szalka, who was unable to attend due to a predistrict game. “My dad got to see a lot of his old players and some teachers he used to teach and coach with and it was an all-around great day for him.”
The field dedication hit home for current Melvindale Coach Merle Shepard.
The Cardinal skipper was a second grader in Szalka’s first gym class and later played for the legend at Melvindale where he was a team captain in 1981.
“He was a father figure to me,” Shepard said. “As a teacher and as a coach, you’ll never find anyone who will teach you better fundamentals all the way through.”
Todd, like many of Szalka’s affiliates throughout the years, echoed Shepard’s sentiments.
“Everyone always said that he was a coach who always got the most out of his players,” Todd said. “He went about coaching the right way.
“He coached as a teacher and he didn’t raise his voice a whole lot, but when he did, you knew it was serious. I think it held a lot more power.”
Szalka has coached with his son for six years at Trenton and his influence helped shape many aspects of Todd’s life.
“As a father, his reach extends into how I try to go about doing things with my kids,” Todd said. “As a teacher and a coach, he taught me that whatever you do, you want to leave it better when you leave than when you got there and to always give your best.”
Whether local baseball fans reminisce about his time at Melvindale or simply gaze at the new sign hanging on the Cardinal diamond, there is no doubt that the field looks better now than when he got there.
Last Updated: 6/28/2013 10:58:12 AM EST