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Rob Querry is in his second season as head baseball coach at Heritage High School in Palm Bay, Florida. And, like a lot of high school baseball coaches, he was having trouble motivating his players.
"I was like Charlie Brown’s teacher," Rob says. "The things I was saying, it was 'Wah, wah wah.'"
It's not as if Heritage High had a long history of winning.
"Well, the school opened in 2009, and when I got the job I was the third head coach in three years, and they had never had a winning season," Rob says. "Our team goal at the beginning of the year was to win 14 games, which would guarantee us a winning season. And we lost the first two games of the season. We were 6-19 the year before, so I started to see some of the behaviors and the body language from the year before. So they just weren’t hearing me, and so I tried to come up with something to motivate them."
And the motivation Rob came up with was not your usual, “I’ll buy you pizza” or “I’ll shave my head.”
"The motivation," Rob says, "was that if they did meet the team goal and win 14 games that they could name the baby."
"He came up with this, I think, he came up with this the day we had our first ultrasound," says Rob's wife, Julia. "And that’s so much fun. You get to see your little baby. And they give you pictures of the ultrasound. So they did that first, and then we went back out to the waiting room. And that’s when he told me, 'If they win 14 games, I’m gonna tell them they can name this baby.' And I laughed at him. I never gave permission. I only laughed at him. And I said, 'You’re joking.' And we left it at that. He had to leave for practice."
"I had a little black and white picture of the ultrasound," Rob says. "So I took it to practice that night. And when they all come up and they take a knee and we address certain things, I said, 'Guys, I’ve got some news.' I said, 'I’m pregnant,' and I showed them the picture, and they all laughed. They were hooting and hollering, and they were excited. And then I said, 'If you guys win 14 games, you get to name the kid.'
"And then they went nuts. They started jumping up and down. Running around and high-fiving each other and stuff. And so that really fired them up. But within 10 seconds of telling them, two or three of them started saying, 'Benny Smalls, Benny Smalls. It’s got to be Benny Smalls!' And the rest of them were like, 'Yeah, yeah. Benny Smalls!'"
Where does Benny Smalls come from? Well, you’d know if you watched the 1993 movie The Sandlot.
"The Sandlot is a great baseball movie," Rob says. "And when we had our first team meeting this year, we went to the auditorium at school. And I handed out their hats, and we went over the program plan. And then we watched the movie The Sandlot on the big screen, so it’s kind of ingrained in our program. So that’s where Benny Smalls came from."
"And the big question," I ask Julia, "are you as big a fan of The Sandlot as your husband and his baseball team?"
"Well, who doesn’t love that movie? And who doesn’t love that movie if they love baseball," she says. "So, yes, I’m a huge fan of that movie. And then they started winning games, and I started getting pretty nervous. It’s exciting. It’s so exciting when they win games. But with that on the line, it was a different story in my mind."
We started off the season, the players would get up in a group at the end of every practice and game and they would say Panther Pride and now they say Panther Family.Rob Querry
"It was kind of back and forth at the beginning," Rob says. "We would win one, lose one, win one, lose one. But then right before the spring break, we went on a seven-game winning streak.
The team was now at 13 wins on the season — just one win away from their goal.
"Once I started showing, I started to rub my stomach and remind them of how many more games they had to win before they could name this cute little baby that was inside of my stomach. And then that number started getting smaller, and I stopped taunting them."
"It definitely felt like she was warming up to the idea," Rob says. "And I would tell her, I’d say, 'Hey, you can’t taunt ‘em like that if you’re not going to follow through with it.'
"We went into a game with a cross-town rival. And there were probably 200 people at the game, which is about 160 more than are normally at the games. And there was a lot of excitement around that game, and we didn’t win that game. It was a huge letdown. It felt like we lost by 10,000 runs. We won the game the next night, and it was a huge weight off of our shoulders."
"Julia," I say. "I need you to tell me when you’re due and what you plan to name your child."
"I’m due on Sept. 16," she says. "And the guys met their end of the bargain, so how could I not? That little baby will be Benjamin Smalls. I said, 'I’ll do it.' And boy, that caused a roar. It was so much fun. That was so much fun when they said, 'Are you gonna do it? Are you gonna do it?' And I said, 'Yeah, I’m in — I’ll do it!' Oh, they started cheering and jumping up and down. It was so much fun."
"One of the parents made an eight-foot banner," Rob says, "and it had a picture of the team, and it had a picture of us as a family. Something like, 'Welcome Benjamin Smalls Querry — due in September,' and then it said, 'One Family. Panther Pride,' which is one of our slogans. And we took pictures with it and stuff. And it was just awesome. It was a great night. We started off the season, the players would get up in a group at the end of every practice and game and they would say, 'Panther Pride,' and now they say, 'Panther Family.'"
"They’ve been saying Panther Family for a little while now, so I got to join into it," Julia says. "And I said, 'Panther Family — now there’s even a baby.'"
The Heritage High School baseball team is now looking forward to the district tournament. Which leaves me wondering, what happens next year?
"I already told him," Julia says, "I don’t know what you’re going to do next season. 'Cause I’m not going to have another baby just so you can win."
"Yeah," Rob says, "I’ll have to pray on it."
This segment aired on April 9, 2016.
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