When informed he was the recipient of the Baseball America Youth Coach of the Year award, Marcus Townsend’s first thought was not about himself, but rather how the honor would affect the club where he has given so much of his time.
“Can this help our Boys Club with our baseball program in any way?” Townsend asked Joyce Jones, athletic manager for the Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club and the person who informed him of the honor.
As a baseball, football and basketball coach for the St. Louis-based club, Townsend knows baseball’s popularity often pales in comparison with that of the other two sports in the eyes of the kids he works with. But now with the recognition of his work coupled with the success of his baseball teams, Townsend hopes to see improved local sponsorship and perhaps even increased participation. And though the club is affiliated with the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, Townsend and Jones recognize the challenges they face.
“In terms of recognition, there just aren’t as many blacks in baseball as there used to be,” Jones said. “It’s really hard to catch our children’s attention and motivate them in baseball. Our inner-city kids have basketball or the streets on their mind. Marcus is just an amazing person when it comes to baseball. It’s his goal to revitalize interest in the game.”
Townsend’s passion for baseball coaching is rooted in his own playing career, which began at Mathews-Dickey at age 7 and extended to his college days at Texas College in Tyler. As a youth Townsend batted right and threw left, but because he was the most talented on his team he often played shortstop. At Texas College, he learned to switch-hit and starred as an outfielder/first baseman for the Steers. Townsend also played high school football–where he was a running back, strong safety, wide receiver and even quarterback–and ran track, but chose baseball because he felt it was his best sport and the one that promised the most longevity.
If Townsend’s playing career was distinguished, his coaching was even more so. He started umpiring at age 14 then went into junior coaching and straight on to head coaching and hasn’t stopped in 24 years. These days he coaches two or three baseball teams a year, with his players’ ages ranging from 5 to 18. To Townsend, giving back to Mathews-Dickey is vital because of the integral role it played in his life.
“With it being an inner-city program, normally with kids from single homes, we have a lot of single mothers. So I’m not just coaching, I’m normally involved with these kids through high school,” Townsend said. “They leave me at 15 or 16 in baseball, but their parents still call me when they have issues with kids–even at college. I don’t have a problem doing that because I want them to be productive citizens.”
Added Jones: “What makes Marcus so effective is his cool-down demeanor. When things really get tight, when they really go bad, Marcus is just calm. He talks softly–in fact the worse it gets, the softer he talks.”
No point drives home Townsend’s devotion to Mathews-Dickey more than the fact that he commutes nearly 700 miles to coach his teams. Because his wife wanted to move back to the couple’s home state of Texas, Townsend now makes the trip from Tyler to St. Louis every other week during baseball season, arriving in time for weekend practices and games.
Jones said the examples of rambunctious kids she has seen Townsend mold into disciplined, team-oriented players are too numerous to count. But Townsend remembers one particular case fondly. Now a sophomore on the Nebraska football team, Chris Brooks was in a situation similar to the one Townsend has seen too many times before.
“He was a bad little boy, just really confused,” Townsend said. “I had to go get him on weekends. He just had too much idle time because his mother worked, so we just had to go get him to keep him out of trouble.
“He called me the other day to say, ‘Hey coach, I’m doing this, that and the other.’ “
Blessed with a keen business sense in addition to his talent for coaching, Townsend works with his uncles to remodel and build new homes in the St. Louis area as part of Townsend Development.
His entrepreneurial endeavors also serve him well in fund-raising for Mathews-Dickey. Townsend plans and finances trips for his teams, but faces a lack of local sponsorship revenue.
Townsend’s teams travel all the familiar fund-raising avenues–raffles, discount cards, candy sales, donations–but one of the most interesting comes by way of Sports Services, which pairs local youth clubs with area pro teams to run the concession stands in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Mathews-Dickey kids got such an opportunity last year with the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Jones sums it all up: “There would be a tremendous hole in the Boys Club if we didn’t have Marcus.”