Braves' third base coach Bobby
Dews teaches persistence by example
By Gary Goettling
His first big break didn't come until he was 41 years old. He has successfully battled skin cancer, an occupational hazard from spending many long afternoons under a searing Southern sun. His frantic work schedule keeps him on the road and away from home for weeks at a time. Yet Bobby Dews wouldn't trade his career for anything.
"Baseball is the central theme of my life, and it's been a good life for me," said the one-time industrial management student and member of Georgia Tech's class of 1961.
No. 52 is finishing his second season as third-base coach for the Atlanta Braves, an organization he joined in 1975 after nearly 15 years as a player and manager in the St. Louis Cardinals' farm-club system. His first few years with the Braves were spent managing clubs in the Carolina, Appalachian and Southern leagues. His AA Savannah Braves won the Southern League championship in 1978, earning him Manager of the Year honors.
The following year, Dews received the call coveted by coaches and players alike--a promotion to "the show;" in Dews' case, it was bullpen coach for Bobby Cox during his first stint as manager of the Atlanta team.
"I've been up and down since then," said the softspoken Dews, referring to a succession of important but unheralded major- and minor -league assignments. "I've held just about every job in the Braves organization except manager and general manager. I truly believe it was all working around so that at this time in my life, I'd be able to coach third base for the Atlanta Braves."
Dews worked in the Braves' coaches box before, in 1980-81 and again in 1985. He also has been director of player development and the minor-league field coordinator, where he oversaw development of some of the Braves' outstanding talent.
"We took a lot of pride in the stars like Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Ryan Klesko, Tommy Glavine and David Justice," he said, "but we took particular pride in guys like Mike Mordecai, who can help you win a World Series. They come through our system and become pretty good role players."
During the game, a third-base coach's main job is to relay signals from the manager to base runners and hitters. But the real coaching work is done before and after a game, he said.
The key is preparation, according to Dews. "If you're a good teacher before the game, and the ballplayer has a grasp of the fundamental baseball skills and the way we want to play, then a coach can stand back a bit during the game. If he makes a mistake out there, I'm discouraged because I wasn't a better teacher before the game.
"Give players a foundation, and they'll build on it-that's talent. But they have to have that foundation, and they have to keep working on it, never forgetting that the game is bigger than any one player no matter how talented. There's something to learn out there every day."
Dews added that it's difficult to isolate the roles of individual coaches on the Braves staff.
"We're very careful not to be too rigid or jealous about our areas," he explained. "If [first-base coach] Pat Corrales can tell somebody something that I should be telling him, and he can do it in a better way than I can, then I'm not jealous. I'm happy that we have somebody who can talk to that kid. It's the old saying: 'When a student's ready, a teacher will appear.' Sometimes you're just not the right one for him at that time.
"The reason for that, the person who set that atmosphere, is No. 6, Bobby Cox. He delegates authority well, yet he has the ultimate authorityand you know it. But you also feel free to do some things and be creative on your own sometimes."
Robert Walter "Bobby" Dews was born in 1939 in Clinton, Iowa, the son of a minor-league infielder in the St. Louis Cardinals system. His parents separated shortly before World War II, and when his father, also named Bobby, was drafted, young Dews was sent to live with his grandparents in Edison, Ga. After the war, the elder Dews resumed his career. He was often accompanied during the summer by his son, who worked as the batboy while absorbing the sights, feeling and culture of professional baseball.
After graduating from Edison High School, Dews entered Georgia Tech, where his base-running ability and early "apprenticeship" in the minors earned him a spot in the Jackets' lineup.
"My first day of practice, Coach [Joe] Pittard looked at me and said, 'I want you to relax and enjoy the game because I can tell just by looking at you, you're gonna be my starting shortstop.'"
Dews also played on the basketball team, a squad distinguished by an NCAA Tournament appearance in 1960. He half-jokingly described his position on the team as a "non-shooting guard," an assessment apparently shared by some of his teammates.
"I almost had a heart attack during one game because I passed Roger [Kaiser] the ball, and he threw it right back at me," Dews laughed.
"I knew Coach Hyder was upset whenever he said 'cheese and crackers,'" Dews remembered. "He didn't curse, so that's the expression he used. When I'd miss a shot or shoot when I shouldn't have, he'd yell, 'Cheese and crackers, Bobby!'"
Dews left Tech in his junior year, enticed by a minor-league contract offer from the Cardinals. Assigned to the club's Daytona Beach team, he hit a respectable .272 in 82 games and was promoted to the Billings team for the 1961 season. There he broke his leg sliding into home plate and was forced to sit out the remainder of the year. His leg healed, but his former quickness wasn't quite there. Eight more years in the minors finally convinced him that he would never make it to the major leagues, at least as a player. Dews began studying the less glamorous aspects of the game-base running, throwing, defensive alignmentwith an eye for staying in the game as a coach.
Meanwhile, he entered West Georgia College, graduating in 1968 with a degree in English. Dews remembered the first year out of West Georgia as a "really beautiful situation." He was back in Edison teaching high-school English and history during the off season, and spending the summer playing baseball in various minor-league towns. He had also started coaching.
Although Dews and his wife, Glenda, and their teenage daughter, Dana, live in Albany, Ga., ties to his home town remain strong. Edison, population about 1,600, is located in southwest Georgia, 120 miles west of Albany, between Dickey and Sutton's Corner.
"I've always had a good support system in that little town," he said. He underscored that sentiment in 1991 by writing Edison Town, a collection of profiles and verse about some of the local citizens who influenced him most as a child. Copies of the self-published book were donated to the Edison library for its fund-raising efforts.
"I don't think they'd be interesting to anyone outside the Calhoun County line," Dews laughed. "I like to joke that for one month in Edisonor maybe two months I was the best-selling writer in that town."
Dews is something of a role model himself, and not just for young baseball players learning the fine points of the game. Dews' career is a broader lesson in persistence, determination, and the realization that ambition may sometimes find its own path to fulfillment.
"I wanted to play major league baseball, but that didn't happen," Dews said. "So I took all the time I spent in the minors agonizing over not being in the big leagues and used it as a motivating factor. That's what drives me now to continue as a coach.
"As a coach, I can live my career. I'm playing every night; I'm out there with the team and I just want to win the game." GT
Gary Goettling is a freelance writer in Tucker, Ga.