By Mike London
SPENCER ó Rob Linder has done his best to stay out of the spotlight the last two decades, but he’s accepted the job as head baseball coach at North Rowan.
“The kids have kept asking me about it, and I know they’ve wanted to know who will be coaching them,” Linder said. “I had a sophomore ask me if I was going to be his coach the next three years, and I told him I hoped so. He seemed happy, and that made me feel pretty good.”
Probably no one has ever been more qualified to be a rookie head coach. Linder, 40, has paid dues and more dues ó and more dues.
It’s not as if administrators haven’t encouraged him to be a head coach long before this, it’s just that he’s preferred working with athletes behind the scenes as an assistant or jayvee coach. He’d rather coach than deal with paperwork.
Linder is a nephew of the late Lope Linder, a long-time football coach who is a Rowan County Hall of Famer. He graduated from Salisbury High in 1985, then played baseball and football at Catawba. He coached at North, then moved over to East Rowan and became a fixture.He’d still be at East, happily serving as an assistant, if East hadn’t lost enrollment and teaching positions when Carson opened. One lost faculty spot was in the P.E. department. Linder wasn’t a head coach, so he was the guy who had to relocate.
North welcomed him back, and Linder coached receivers for football coach Avery Cutshaw this fall.
Bobby Byerly, North’s baseball coach the past two seasons, had taken a post at Davie’s Ellis Middle School, but Linder still expected to coach the jayvees or assist the new head coach with varsity baseball.
“When I came over to North I wasn’t thinking about being head coach,” Linder said. “I thought Bill Kesler might be coming back. Or maybe Jason Kluttz or (Aaron) Rimer. But I’m happy to be doing it. I’ve worked with a lot of very good baseball coaches, and I tried to learn from all of them.”
Linder has an impressive background. He played on the best Salisbury baseball team of the last 50 years.
Linder and Kris Huffman did the pitching for the 1984 Hornets, who went 21-3 under coach Tom Sexton and broke the school record for victories.
“I think it’s very cool that Rob’s hung in there with coaching all these years and is taking the North job,” Sexton said. “They’re fortunate to have him. He was a solid athlete. He’s a solid person.”
Linder won 10 games for Sexton’s ’84 Hornets. After Huffman pitched a one-hitter to best East Surry star David Mabe, a virus-weakened Linder took the mound for the 3A Western final against Asheville A.C. Reynolds.
Linder pitched a five-hitter, but the Rockets scored on a passed ball and won 1-0.
Linder hit the hardest ball of the game when he lined a rocket up the middle with two on in the fifth. It struck the pitcher’s leg and ricocheted straight to the shortstop for a rally-killing out.”It was one of those blinding shots up the middle,” Sexton recalled. “When Rob hit it, I thought we had won it. One more run or one more out and that team was competing for a state championship.”
Linder bounced back from the heartbreak as a key pitcher on the 1984 Rowan County American Legion team that recovered from a 2-6 start to win the state title.
In the Area III championship series with Asheboro, Linder pitched a 10-inning gem to win the third game, 2-1. In Game 7, he was a hero. His brilliant long relief stint gave Rowan a chance, and he singled home the winning run in the 10th inning.Linder also won a big game against Paw Creek in the Western championship series and beat Hope Mills in the state championship series.
Linder was a good pitcher and .300 hitter for Catawba baseball teams. A two-time all-county punter at Salisbury, he also served as Catawba’s punter for four seasons and set a record for most career boots with 231.
“Because we played Georgia Southern,” Linder joked. “I must have punted 10 times against them.”
In 1988, Linder played on conference championship teams at Catawba in both baseball and football.
He knows what winning is all about, and he knows North hasn’t had a losing season since 1994. But he also realizes graduation just about erased the varsity roster.
“I think they had like 12 seniors last year, and we’ll have about three this year,” he said. “We do have Billy Veal and Nick Smith, so that’s two good pitchers and two good infielders. We’ve just got to find the players to fill in around them.”
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or email@example.com.