Chrismon ready for challenge
By Mike London
LANDIS ó Former North Carolina closer Thad Chrismon is accustomed to being called in from the bullpen, but he won’t be asked to save South Rowan’s baseball program.
It’s in pretty good shape.
Linn Williams stepped down after a solid 16-9 season. The Raiders graduated a strong senior class, but Chrismon, who assisted Williams for eight years, figures things will still run smoothly on his watch.
“Linn’s as fine a human being as there is, and I enjoyed every minute of those eight years,” Chrismon said. “Linn was respectful, fair, knowledgeable and loyal, and because of that South has done a ton of things right for a long time. South’s on the right track.”
South’s pluses include avid community support, a principal (Judd Starling) who yearns to hang championship banners and a fine facility that is kept in top shape by new athletics director Danny Crosby.
Still, there’s room to get better. While South has experienced only one ugly season this century, its last deep playoff run was in 2003 and its last 20-win campaign came in 1996.
“If you look at each facet and ask yourself how the program can get better, getting more mentally tough is the single biggest thing,” Chrismon said. “I want our kids to be determined ó very, very determined to be successful.”
Determination carried Chrismon a long way as a player.
“I competed with anyone, and I didn’t care who you were, I fought you tooth and nail,” he said. “I was feisty. Between the lines, a lot of people probably thought I was a jerk.”
An all-round athlete at Apex High, Chrismon planned to play football at Newberry, but a North Carolina coach was in the bleachers for his third-round baseball playoff game. He saw Chrismon pitch a two-hitter and hit a home run, and Chrismon’s phone rang later that night. Suddenly, Chrismon was going to UNC instead of Newberry.
He was a longshot with the Tar Heels, the last-minute scholarship guy. The last day of fall workouts , he was certain to be redshirted as a freshman, but that’s when the pitching coach asked him to try using a submarine motion.
Chrismon still remembers the fateful conversation: “This is the deal. The coaches can’t work with you anymore until spring, but try this motion out on your own, and there’s a chance you could travel and even get a few innings. Or you can keep pitching over the top and you’ll redshirt.”
Chrismon worked on the new, funky delivery throughout the winter on his own, and the rest is history.
He started a few games as a freshman but found his niche in the bullpen.
From 1992-95, he made 141 mound appearances, still one of the highest totals in Division I history. He made 135 of those appearances in relief. He didn’t have special velocity, but he succeeded in the ACC with his deceptive delivery, pinpoint location and dogged determination.
In his career, he struck out 279 batters in 330 innings. He won 26 games and saved an ACC-record 41. In 1993 and 1995, he pitched in the regionals.
In 1993, he saved a school-record 18 games, led the nation in saves and was one of six pitchers named to the Collegiate Baseball All-America team.
He signed with the Atlanta Braves, and his ’95 pro season in Eugene, Ore., wasn’t bad at all. He was 2-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 32 relief outings.
A highlight for Chrismon during his time with the Braves was the day he walked into a weight room and saw that Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Steve Avery were involved in an intense discussion.
“I picked up a barbell and wandered over as close as I could, figured I might learn the secret of pitching,” Chrismon said with a laugh. “But they were talking about golf.”
Not long after that, the Braves told Chrismon they didn’t think he had a chance to reach the big leagues.
Maddux and his buddies were going to be around a while, and the Braves liked to use half of their 50 draft picks every June on pitchers.
Chrismon thanked the Braves for being upfront with him, shook hands and moved on.
In 1996, he played with the Chillicothe Paints, an independent team in Ohio. Then he hung up his cleats, got married and settled down.
Chrismon isn’t a teacher, but in the summer of 2000, he started assisting with South’s football and baseball teams.
His first ties to the school were through his wife, the former Angie Deal, who was a cheerleader at UNC before she was a coach and teacher at South, and his father-in-law, Larry Deal. Deal will always be Mr. South Rowan. He served as football coach, track coach and athletics director forever.
Now Chrismon bleeds red and black as much as the rest of his family.
He works at International Automotive Components in Albemarle, but he’s sure he’ll be able to budget time to handle workouts, practices, games and motivation.
Greg Yanz, a former Catawba player who served as South’s jayvee coach for a decade, will assist Chrismon with the varsity squad.
Bubba Morris, a North Rowan standout who recently graduated from Catawba, is set to take over the jayvees.
Cal Hayes Jr., who had a sensational career at East Rowan and played pro ball, is on board as a volunteer assistant.
Chrismon’s first lineup next spring will include second baseman Maverick Miles, a rising junior who has been all-county twice.
“The next step for Maverick is to lead,” Chrismon said. “I can see him opening up and taking charge, and I think our rising seniors will too. They learned a lot by watching a great class.”
Blake Houston, Preston Penninger, J.D. Bare and Jordan Corriher are other returners who had their moments, and Alex Ingold, injured most of this season, should play a key role.
While he was still playing, Chrismon figured he’d coach someday, so he made a point of learning from every baseball mind he was exposed to ó from Atlanta’s Terry Pendleton and Willie Stargell to South’s Williams and Yanz.
“Being a coach means making a huge emotional investment in kids,” Chrismon said. “When I look back, it was my coaches who did a lot to make me mature. They showed me you can learn a lot about life from the trials and tribulations in sports. Facing adversity, discipline, character. There’s a lot of things in sports that can make you a better person.”
Now Chrismon, who is no longer part of South’s football staff, hopes to build better, more determined people on the baseball diamond.
“Linn is still gonna be around at the school, and that gives me motivation,” he said. “I want to make him proud. I want him to see us keep moving forward. And when I leave this program, I want it to be even better than it is now.”