Thursday, July 31, 2003

B-level coach, A-level respect

Mr. Label players thrive on intellect, dedication of manager Ammann

By Colleen Kane
The Cincinnati Enquirer

If they're lucky, athletes can remember one coach from their childhood that gave everything to the team - the person that loved the sport more than anyone, and made playing fun.

Jeff Sunberg is 37 years old, and he gets to play for that coach now. Sunberg is playing for Mr. Label/Plant Detail coach Bill Ammann in the Cincinnati Metro Softball Championships this week.

"You (could) say it's rare to find coaches like him, but ya know what, it's rare to find people like him. He goes above and beyond all the time," Sunberg said. "He knows more about the game than any of us will ever know.

"He keeps us together . . .and if the team needs it, he'll go argue a call to the point of getting ejected - just to fire us up."

Ammann has coached for 40 years. He's coached some of the best teams in Cincinnati, including the Majors for about four years and two A teams that won Metro championships.

Ammann is so respected that, even while nearing 60 (on Aug. 6), he was asked to help coach one of the top softball teams in the nation, Dan Smith. But he would rather stick with his B-level group of 35-year-olds.

He will coach Mr. Label today against Huss Electric at 7:30 p.m. in the winners' bracket of the B division at Rumpke Park.

"I'd rather stay at home with mama's cooking. I'm too old to be traveling all over the country," Ammann said. "They're a bunch of super-nice guys. The guys just want to play. They play strictly team ball; that's why they win."

And the Mr. Label players are glad to have him.

In 2000, Rick VandenEynden wanted Ammann as a Mr. Label coach so badly, he left a fruit basket on his doorstep with a card that read, "the only thing that's missing from this team is you and Mom (Ammann's name for his wife)." Ammann joined the team and they won the Metro A championship the same year.

Since 2000, Ammann has endured both family and his own health problems, including his second bypass surgery in 2001 and the death of a granddaughter in 2002 around the time of the Metro. But nothing will keep him away from his softball team.

Two weeks after his surgery, he was back coaching. Sunberg and VandenEynden tell multiple stories like that - about him cracking jokes to break tension, running the bases when they needed an extra player and coaching third base at 4 a.m. during an all-night tournament.

"I firmly believe softball keeps Bill young. Young in heart, young in spirit," VandenEynden said. "He's a lot like a father figure to the team, but at the same time he's one of the boys. He's tremendously funny and constantly keeps us loose."

At a glance

In the Majors: Watanabe beat Taylor Made 26-14 to advance in the losers' bracket. Watanabe will play Tinytown Pizza at 9:30 p.m. today.

In A: No. Ky. Softball eliminated Kerry Softball 14-9. They advance to play Saturday.

Dixon Trucking faces Cooper Sports today in the A loser's bracket game at 7:30 p.m.

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