<bt>Jamie Loving thinks he has less than five of his 15 minutes of fame left. But those who know him and have worked with him as he triumphantly led the McLean Little League girls softball team all the way to the World Series last month say he’s a fixture around town and not likely to fade into the background, even though the 32-year-old has announced his retirement from coaching.
Loving became a softball coach through serendipity when he was still a college student. His younger sister's softball team was losing its two coaches, as well as its season, when Loving and his father, well-known baseball coach Wayne Loving, stepped in to coach the rest of the season. He and his father coached the team together for two years after that.
Loving has now been coaching softball in McLean for 14 years. During that time he is credited for not only developing the most successful softball team in the league's history but also for growing the sport within the community.
“I don’t think that when I started coaching there was not necessarily a high level of expectation of the softball program or of the girls,” said Loving. Lynda Simpson, who coached with Loving from 1998- 2000 and the All-Stars in 1999 and 2000, says his dedication has been an inspiration to other adults in the league and has resulted in more participation from people who, like Loving, don’t have a child in the program.
“SOFTBALL IS A PARTY with him. It’s always fun. He’s committed to the kids and to the sport. It’s been a concerted and well thought-out effort over a lot of years to get where our team was this year. I don’t think anyone can picture the league without him in it. He’s just such a fixture,” said Simpson.
Loving made the decision not to coach the team anymore because he wants to spend more time with his own family. He and his wife have an infant daughter who, until she’s ready to play softball herself, needs her father's attention. “I know I have more years in me. I’ll be back when Adelaide is ready to play. Hopefully I’ll be older and wiser then,” Loving said.
“I’ll still be around. I’m still on the board and I’m sure I’ll catch a few games but I want to spend more time with my family now that Adelaide is older. The only thing that will change is that I won’t go to practices and games like I used to,” said Loving.
“The most important person to my success the last several years is my wife Jamie, who has always been understanding of my commitment to the league and my players, and so I’m looking forward to be able to give her and Adelaide the time they deserve,” said Loving of his retirement.
In addition to coaching a champion team, Loving is the vice president of the venture capital firm Blue Water Capital, in McLean. “They have been very understanding of my schedule and giving me the time to do what I needed to with the team,” said Loving.
Blue Water Capital officials were as surprised as everyone else in the region when the McLean team made it to the World Series. Loving had a big quarterly presentation due at work but because the team had to leave on short notice for Portland, where the series was held, his coworkers stepped up to offer him the support he needed. “They were great. They’ve always been great. Whenever I needed to take off early for practice or anything like that, they’ve been behind me,” said Loving of his company.
Arriving in Portland for the biggest game of his (and his team of 14 young girls) life was the start of the 15 minutes of fame for the team representing the South. “I suddenly went from being the team's manager to being its press agent,” said Loving. The game was broadcast live on ESPN-TV and was watched by crowds of fans in local bars and restaurants.
DIANE MILLER, who coached the All-Star team with Loving in 2000 when they won the first state title, said Loving is the quintessential person to speak for the team because he is focused on being positive and encouraging. “He was the perfect person to mic at the World Series because you don’t have to worry about him saying anything negative. Even when they were losing, you could hear him encouraging them,” said Miller.
Loving chooses not to focus on the blistering 18-5 loss endured by the McLean team. He’s more inclined to talk about how well the team handled themselves and the Herculean effort it took the team to get to the World Series in the first place. “They worked very hard, practiced several hours a day six or seven days a week for a month and played so well,” said Loving.
Gary Bell, the man likely to take over the team now that Loving has retired, said the team did so well because of Loving's “coaching, a little luck and a lot of talent.”
Parent Jean Sullivan said that how well the girls played was “a tribute to [Loving] and their loyalty to him. They all just want to give back what he’s given to them.”
“At the end of the day, myself, the coaches and the other parents, are just fans. It’s the girls who are the ones who are out there in the field,” said Loving.
The games leading up to the final were like a page out of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." The Europe team, according to Loving, “pitched too slow for us at 40 miles per hour.” The Filipino team, by contrast, threw “too fast” at 63 miles per hour. “We cranked up the pitching machine as high as it would go to prepare for them,” Loving said.
To prepare for the Waco team, which has consistently taken home the title for nearly a decade, the McLean girls practiced playing a different style of game. “We did work on bunting defense, but obviously it didn’t help,” said Loving with a laugh.
He says what he’s proud of is how the girls, all pre-teens, handled themselves in front of the world. “At some point, all 14 spoke to the media, whether it was TV, radio or newspaper. This group of girls was extremely well behaved. When we filmed stuff for ESPN they usually got it right in the first take. They weren’t interested in the cameras, they just wanted to play. Part of it is being 12 years old. They’re just happy doing what they’re doing and being with each other,” said Loving.
He also deflects the team's remarkable success by pointing out that he’s really had several years to build this team of young athletes. “The way major league softball works, I’ve basically coached the same team for the last several years. A lot of this winning season was built on 10 years of success,” said Loving. “They’ve worked really hard to practice and improve each year.”
THOSE WHO HAVE worked with Loving say his style of coaching is largely what has built a winning team. “He’s taught the kids to love the game, to play for themselves, for the team and for the community,” said Miller. “He’s left a legacy of players. The starting infield for Langley [High School], all but one played for him,” Miller said.
Simpson said, “The kids uniformly love him. Everyone ends up feeling like they were a critical part of the team. He just inspires everyone that plays for him.”
Bell maintains he’s learned a lot from Loving about how to coach effectively. “He’s taught me to be patient and try to be positive and not be critical. He left big shoes to fill and I hope we don’t disappoint him,” Bell said.
Loving has learned to adapt his coaching style over the years. “Boys are different than girls. With boys you can be more direct. There’s more yelling. It won’t be as detrimental as it would be in softball. But I will definitely, if they’re not doing what they are supposed to be doing, have them all go sit on the bench. I may scream and yell a bit and slam a bat down on a bench to remind them why we are all here,” said Loving.
“I want them to know if they are on one of my teams that I care about them and about them having a good time. I treat them as I’d want someone to treat my own daughter,” said Loving.
He says he’s learned how to be a better father from coaching the girls team and from being able to interact with other parents. “It’s taught me patience. I definitely have more than when I started. And, it’s taught me the right way and the wrong way to make a point,” said Loving.
He still remembers two lessons he learned in 1999 and 2000 about motivating girls. In 1999 he was talking about the “big” team he had that year. His wife pointed out to him that young girls heard that as “heavy” when he was really referring to the height of the team. “That taught me I needed to be careful about the words I choose,” said Loving. The next year he told a crew of players they should be embarrassed about how they’d played a game, only to be reminded by a parent that there was nothing to embarrassed about when they lost, so long as they played hard.
“The best thing has been being around the parents. Some of them are my best friends in the world. They are just good parents who look out not only for their own daughter but the other kids as well. That’s very beneficial,” said Loving.
THE OTHER COACHES and parents have conversely been given an opportunity to learn from Loving. “We will miss him and be a little bit short but he’s exposed himself as a coach to so many people that he’s got a graduating class coming up next year,” said Bell. Miller said, “Sometimes when people like Jamie retire other people step up so this could be a good news bad news kind of thing. I don’t know how he did it for so long honestly. There are always go-to people in a league and Jamie’s been that.”
Little League administrators are thankful that Loving will still be a part of the league, even if its from the back end. Loving will stay on the board and continue to help support the league in other avenues. “What we don’t see is in his position on the board and in the quarter master position, they actually overshadow his accomplishments as coach if you look at it,” said Bell.
“I think I’ve gotten way more out of McLean Little League than McLean Little League has gotten out of me,” said Loving. “This is the greatest spot in the world. It’s a little slice of heaven on Westmoreland Street,” Loving says of the Little League field. “I just got to go along for the ride.”
“Going out on a high makes this easier. It’s not hard now but maybe it will be in the fall,” said Loving.