By Gene Phelps
SALTILLO – A coaching friend once told Johnny Bolen that when it came time to retire … he would know.
“He was right,” said Bolen, who plans to retire next month after 39 years in coaching, the last 25 as Saltillo High School’s baseball coach. “It will probably hit me this summer, or maybe next spring, that I’ve retired.”
Before Bolen – the state’s eighth all-time winningest coach with 679 wins – can hang up his spikes, his 2014 Tigers have to be eliminated in the postseason, which opens today.
Saltillo (13-14) travels to Vicksburg for the first game in its best-of-three Class 5A play-in series. Game 2 is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday in Saltillo. A third game, if needed, would be played in Vicksburg.
“Friday could be my last game, hopefully it’s not,” Bolen said. “Maybe we can put together a string. Who knows what might happen.
“When you get to this point, it’s a new season.”
Bolen said he has enjoyed coaching his final team, even though he was hoping for a few more wins.
“We have been really competitive,” he said. “There have been a couple of games we haven’t played well, but that happens in baseball.
“In some games we’ve been one hit, one pitch, one play away from winning the game. It’s been the story all year.”
Saltillo baseball has made a solid run during Bolen’s tenure. The Tigers once reached the postseason for 18 consecutive seasons. The 1998 team played in the state championship series, but lost in three games to West Lauderdale.
“We play the first game at home and beat (West Lauderdale) 2-1,” Bolen said. “We went down there and lost the second game 2-1, and our pitcher, Eric Reynolds, pitched a no-hitter.”
Reynolds is now an assistant coach on Bolen’s staff.
Bolen’s 39 years in education and coaching have taken him to stops in Tennessee and Texas, along with Mississippi. He’s coached baseball for 37 of those seasons.
“I think I’ll miss my association with the players and teachers the most,” he said. “I’ll also miss the coaches on the diamond.”
Then Bolen paused and said, “Game days … I’ll miss game days the most.”