WALLA WALLA - DeSales baseball coach Kim Cox didn't know for sure if he'd be able to travel to Renton, Wash., to be inducted into the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) 2011 Hall of Fame tonight.
As usual, Cox's baseball team is headed into the Southeast 2B District 9 postseason, an occurance which has netted his Irish 16 state championships since 1989.
But after DeSales wrapped up the league title last weekend, setting up a district game against Tekoa-Oakesdale-Rosalia Saturday, Cox just might make it to Renton to receive his award.
But don't tell him it is his award - according to Cox there's plenty of credit to spread around.
"The honor is not a reflection on me at all," Cox said. "It is a reflection on a lot of other people who have had a tremendous influence on the program here at DeSales and all of its players throughout the last 28 years.
"First, and most importantly, my family and, in particular, my wife, Lisa, and our three children Nathan, Ashley and Alexis. Lisa has sacrificed a lot of time and energy when we were a young family. I have had a lot of fond memories coaching but none of them compare to being married to such a tremendous person. She is a hero to me.
"Also, my coaches, who have served here over the years," Cox said. "Tim Duncan was amazing at working with our pitchers. I think we really got things going when the two of us worked together. I think Tim's importance in getting us started in a more solid direction with our pitchers was a huge factor.
"Rob Holtzinger coached with me for 18 years. He is a very smart baseball guy and was particularly good at coaching infielders. You might question what was in his mind when he hung around me for 18 years, but I am really glad he did. He was here during the earlier years as well and, like Tim, his influence on our kids as players and people was awesome.
"Joe Gonzalez was another guy who made our guys get better every day. He was an excellent athlete and had a great competitive nature," he said. "There were others along the way and our present staff of Mark Graves, Mike Postlewait and Clint Hale deserve thanks and credit as well. Mike is a very good young coach. My greatest wish is they will want to stay around and kick me out the door eventually!"
When someone does replace Cox, his numbers will be hard to match. According to the WIAA, Cox is the sixth baseball coach in state history to win 500 career wins, which he reached in his 25th year coaching the Irish.
Cox's baseball teams won seven consecutive state championships on two different occasions (1992-98 and 2000-06).
But his coaching accolades come not only on the baseball diamond, but on the gridiron, as well. He finished with a 138-30 record with the Irish football team. Cox's Irish squads picked up four state titles along the way.
After handing the DeSales reigns off, Cox is now a volunteer coach on Pasco High's football team.
"Coach Kim Cox is an exemplary coach and a great human being," DeSales athletic director Greg Fazzari said. "All of his colleagues at the Walla Walla Catholic Schools join with the entire state in congratulating him in his coaching achievements - thus far.
"Coach Cox has touched many lives by his passion for sports and his passion for youth," Fazzari said. "DeSales High School and the entire Walla Walla Valley has been the beneficiary of his time and talents."
His players - and former players - are Cox's driving force.
"We have always had some great kids and we have also had some great parents," Cox said. "I will not name players' names because there are so many who were outstanding and I do not want to slight anyone. I will say that it gives me great pleasure to see former players doing well as coaches. Obviously, Dave Meliah (currently Walla Walla Community College baseball coach) and J.C. Biagi (manager of the Walla Walla Sweets) being two that are well known in this town."
And many of the coaching traits Cox attributes to picking up under the tutelage of former Lewis-Clark State legend Ed Cheff may be found in his players.
"I think the kids who have played here see the term ‘work' as a positive thing and not a four-letter word," Cox said. "I think they understand that outcome never comes before doing tasks. We don't talk about titles here. We simply take a hard look at who we are, where we are, and where do we need to be as players. I have no patience for any delusional thinking. There needs to be some accountability and some honesty. I think if you can buy into the honesty aspect, you can learn to play the game with joy and not let the ‘outcome worries' cloud and contaminate where you are and what you want to become."
And Cox sees himself in Cheff's teachings.
"I have learned so much from Coach Cheff," he said, "not only about baseball skills but about respecting the game and the need for the proper mentality to excel in this game. Coach is a humble man and I hope we can always be like him in the area of humility and treating our opponents with respect and kindness.
"It would bother me a great deal if the men I coach against felt that I had not treated them kindly or showed them respect and empathy when it should have been a foregone conclusion," he said. "But like Coach always said... if you don't have good kids who will buy into the regiment and have the heart and soul to give what they have, then, none of the other aspects will matter much.
"When Ed retired (after 34 years at LCSC after last season) , it saddened me for days," Cox said. "I will always say his influence was major."
All of Cox's coaching success makes it hard for him to pick out favorite memories.
"I have a lot of fond memories of players and games," Cox said. "I tend to not talk much about favorites because many events are remembered fondly and equally.
"If really pressed, I would say that winning our first title in 1989 at the Kingdome was a lot of fun for our kids and our school.
"All 16 titles are different and there is emotion attached to each, because each team is unique and the players are different," he said. "The best game we ever had, however, was the semifinal win against Northwest Christian (in Spokane) and their ace, Jeremy Affeldt (now pitching for the San Francisco Giants). That game went nine innings and was 0-0 after the eighth inning. We got a guy to 2B and Ty Baffney knocked a run in.
"Jeremy has made a good living in professional baseball and was able to earn a World Series ring with the San Francisco Giants last fall," Cox said. "I was really happy for him. I don't think he would trade that ring for that semifinal win!"
Cox also attributes his faith with guiding his success.
"It's funny, because it seems so clich, but the truth is, all we really think about and talk about is trying to get better," he said. "That is good enough for us."