A career dedicated to the sport of baseball has been recognized by the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall with the induction of Al Herback Aug. 9.
“When somebody recognizes you for what you’re doing you kind of consider it a job well done,” said Herback.
“To be honoured in my home province is really special,” he said.
In his lifetime, Herback has done it all, when it comes to baseball at least.
He has played the game, coached at the national level for little league Canada, officiated, and made a career of teaching coaching clinics.
Herback said that he never did anything in his career specifically to get into the Hall of Fame.
“It’s not even part of why you’re doing things,” he said.
A resident of Chestermere now, Herback is originally from Kincaid, Saskatchewan.
His lifelong love of the Game of Baseball started early.
“When I was a young boy, we had nothing but baseball,” he said.
“In those days we played…on Saturdays, Sundays, at school, in the evenings,” he said, “we played baseball all the time.”
When his family moved to Regina in the 1950s and he started to play baseball in a 12 and under league in the city in 1957.
“When I played my first baseball game and got my first uniform I was so thrilled and from that day forward that was my sport,” said Herback.
From that point on he was hooked, working his way up through the different baseball leagues to eventually play on the Regina Junior Red Sox and then on the senior team, the Red Sox.
“That would have been in 1964,” said Herback.
“I was a shortstop for them until 1970,” he said.
His career with the Red Sox was cut short when he moved to Alberta to pursue his career as a physical education teacher. He taught in both junior high and elementary schools.
Unable to resist the call of the ball park, Herback soon returned to Baseball.
He joined the Calgary Jimmies baseball team and, in 1972, he started working with and teaching coaches.
In his final season with the Jimmies in 1976, they won the senior baseball Canadian Championship.
“I didn’t do much after that as far as playing,” he said.
What he did do was continue his accidental career of working with and teaching coaches how to work with kids and be better more skilled baseball coaches.
It had never been a goal of his to start teaching coaching workshops, he got into it by chance after umpiring a minor league baseball game.
“It was a 13, 14-year-old age group where they had lead offs,” he said.
As he was working the game he noticed that one of the pitchers was not doing the set position properly.
“So, I stopped the game and told him and the other pitcher that if they don’t do it properly I’ll just call a walk,” said Herback.
The coach of the player who wasn’t setting up properly disagreed with Herback’s decision and was unhappy but respected Herback’s right to run the game how he wanted to.
“After the game, the other coach asked me if I’d be willing to run a clinic to teach them how to work with kids of that age group.
“So that started my 45-year career in basically teaching coaches how to train children how to play little league baseball or baseball itself,” said Herback.
When he started working with coaches there weren’t a lot of resources or clinics they could go to, to learn how to coach.
“If they were going to coach a team they were just going to go back to what their memory gave them as far as what they played baseball and how they’re going to teach the kids,” he said.
Herback relied on his experience as a teacher when instructing the coaches how to relate to their players.
“I think teachers have a skill where they can break down whatever it may be whether it’s in language arts area, or the math area, on the simplest way on how to teach a skill to children,” said Herback.
While baseball may look simple, there are a lot of little skills that need to come together for a player to hit or even throw the ball, making good teaching skills a must for any coach.
“It has to be broken down in sequential order so that the coaches understand it so they can put that same process when they’re dealing with the children,” he said.
Starting from that first unplanned request, Herback created a coaching program that has taken him around the world teaching people to play and coach the game he loves.
“As far as Russia, Poland, Ireland…and one of my most memorable and probably special trips was Uganda,” he said.
This is on top of his program being taught in every major Canadian city and over 200 American cities.
The trip to Uganda was unique in that he had to improvise some of the equipment for the game since there wasn’t standard baseball gear available.
“I spent 13 days teaching children in Uganda how to play baseball and instead of using baseballs and bats I taught with tennis balls and tennis rackets,” he said.
“They didn’t have any gloves,” he said, “with tennis balls…you don’t have a glove it’s a lot nicer to catch and play with tennis balls.”
Herback was accompanied by five other coaches who worked with him teaching the game of baseball to school kids.
The group of coaches were constantly on the move for the whole trip, they would spend a day, sometimes two, in one place before moving on to another.
They taught at a total of 800 children from seven different schools during the trip.
“It was a tremendous experience for the children,” he said.
Herback said that while it was obvious to see that the kids were having fun, he found it to be a very emotional experience as well.
“To see these children from a very, very poverty-stricken country, it was just sad to see children living like that and to be able to give them a little enjoyment in their day…makes you understand how lucky we are and our children are,” he said.
After 45 years Al is looking to slow down a little but his programs and skills are still in high demand.
“I tried to retire last year and unfortunately as long as somebody lets me know that they need help, as long as I’m physically able to do it, I’ll definitely be there,” he said.
Even after all these years, Herback is as passionate about the sport and coaching as he was when it all started.
“The children need good coaching,” he said.
“Good coaching will only come if we can somehow train the people who are leading these children.”