Andy Baylock has a gift - one that he shares sometimes 300 times a day with the Connecticut Tigers. The gift is a rubber arm and the ability to use it accurately, over and over again. The long-time former coach of UConn Husky baseball and football is in his 14th season as a volunteer coach at Dodd Stadium, and at 76 years old, still throws the best batting practice going.
"It's a gift, and when you get a gift, you have to use your gift," says Baylock. "And I use my gift every day that I possibly can. Sometimes the body gets tired, but the arm is fine."
For 40 years as a baseball coach at UConn, including 24 seasons as Head Coach, Baylock combined his legendary batting practice sessions with the ability to create a successful environment for his ball clubs. He led the Huskies to 556 wins, three NCAA Tournament appearances, and two Big East titles while coaching future major leaguers Charles Nagy, Roberto Hernandez, and Pete Walker. "You have to be fun to be around," says Baylock. "Its one of my basic things. Be good people, be dependable, be accountable, be responsible, be caring, be loyal, be self-disciplined, be respectful."
He brings those same qualities to the Connecticut Tigers every day, with an infectious positive energy and youthful enthusiasm that meshes perfectly with this year's coaching staff.
"The kids love him," says Tigers Hitting Coach Scott Dwyer. "He helps keep everything loose. We have a real loose coaching staff, and Andy fits right in there. To be honest with you, it feels like Andy is our fourth coach."
Dwyer values Baylock's everyday presence with his hitters as an invaluable resource towards their growth. "His batting practice is unbelievable," says Dwyer. "It's just off the chart. And he has a plethora of information and knowledge."
A lifelong son of Connecticut, his knowledge of the game dates back to a truly unique experience, as a state championship catcher with the New Britain High School Hurricanes in 1955. There he caught the mythical Steve Dalkowski, who in baseball lore, is believed by many to have thrown harder than anyone who ever lived. Nobody knows exactly how hard the wild lefty - who both struck out and walked more than 1300 batters in nine minor league seasons - actually threw. However, Baylock can speak on good authority to the legend of Dalkowski, who pitched before radar guns were invented, when asked if he caught the fastest pitcher of all time.
"Without a doubt," Baylock answered. "I've spoken to people in professional baseball - Earl Weaver and all those guys who had something to do with him, and there was no question. You learned how to have soft hands in a hurry. Because that index finger in that left hand would get awfully bruised. You'd get a day when it gets dark and the ball would get a little dirty, and you'd catch it with your chest protector."
After graduating from Central Connecticut State University, where he was both a baseball and football captain, his career took him beyond the state's borders - first to the University of Michigan as a graduate assistant football coach, for two years as a pitching instructor with the U.S. Senior National teams, and as a volunteer coach in the Cape Cod League. However, his heart remains loyal to Connecticut, and particularly UConn, where he has been a part of athletics for 51 ½ years and currently serves as Director of Football Alumni/Community Affairs.
"Since the day I walked onto UConn campus, Andy has remained a mentor and close friend," says Nick Giaquinto, a star running back for UConn in the 1970's who won a Super Bowl with the 1984 Washington Redskins and currently is in his 28th season as Head Baseball Coach at Sacred Heart University. "He sincerely loves life and all the wonderful relationships he has developed over the years. He's a class act all the way."
By summer, Baylock remains a fixture at Dodd Stadium, where he has thrown batting practice to some of the best who ever played for the Norwich Navigators, Connecticut Defenders, and Connecticut Tigers. He says Nick Johnson was the best hitter he ever saw come through, but last year's World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner was his favorite. "I love that kid," says Baylock. "And he could hit, because he was always sneaking up in the batting cage asking for another 50 or 60 swings when nobody was looking."
Beyond his ability to throw strikes consistently in the batting cage, Baylock's dedication to doing so every day at Dodd Stadium exemplifies his pure love for helping players improve - something that is much appreciated by the team he volunteers for.
"I have the utmost respect for Andy Baylock," says Dwyer. "I love him like a father. He's a tremendous person who will do anything for anybody. There aren't enough words to say about what a special person he is and what an intelligent person he is. It's unbelievable the amount of knowledge this man has to share with people."
Andy Baylock's throwing arm may be a gift to him, but he himself is a gift to the Connecticut Tigers.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.