Bill Hebl, the longtime head coach of Pardeeville’s prep baseball team and a fixture in the state’s baseball community since the late 1950s, recently decided to retire from coaching and resigned from his position with the Bulldogs.
And what a career it has been.
Hebl retires with a 303-198 career record, which was 28th among active coaches.
He retires with a WIAA Division 3 state runner-up finish to his resume.
And he retires with a laundry list of other accomplishments, including a stint at Madison Area Technical College as an assistant (1988) as well as head coach (1989-1991), a state appearance as Cassville’s head coach in 1968 and a handful of sectional tournament appearances.
And that’s just his coaching accomplishments — Hebl helped his Sun Prairie team to a sectional final in 1958 (the year he graduated) before lettering for three years as a catcher at UW-Whitewater.
And he went with the Milwaukee Braves to spring training in Waycross, Ga., in 1961.
So for the first time in a long — long! — time, Hebl won’t be putting on the baseball pants, pulling up the stir-up socks or tying the laces of his cleats.
He won’t be touching the bill of his cap signaling for a suicide squeeze any time this spring, either.
But, he did recently take some time to answer a few questions about his career and his decision to retire.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO RETIRE? It was time to pass the torch to someone else. Also, I wanted to watch my grandson play in the majors (a little league division) in Portage and maybe help coach.
HOW — AND WHY — DID YOU DECIDE TO GET INTO COACHING? Playing sports in grade school, high school, college and the Home Talent league, I enjoyed the competition, sportsmanship and camaraderie. And coaching allowed me to continue in these areas.
RECALL THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT LED TO YOU FIRST BEING PARDEEVILLE’S HEAD COACH IN 1971? After being out of coaching for two years, I asked the head coach if he would let me coach and he could keep the salary. And he agreed. So my career as head coach at Pardeeville High School began.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO RESIGN AS THE BULLDOGS’ HEAD COACH THE FIRST TIME, IN 1985? My son graduated and my daughter was playing at Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam.
IN WHAT WAYS IS HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL DIFFERENT NOW THAN IT WAS IN YOUR FIRST YEAR COACHING, IN 1965 AT MAUSTON? The players are stronger and better fundamentally, because they are going to clinics and playing on all-star teams and in fall baseball leagues. The coaching also is better because coaches are attending more clinics.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN WHILE WORKING FOR MADISON AREA TECHNICAL COLLEGE’S BASEBALL TEAM IN BETWEEN 1985 AND 2005 — WHEN YOU RETURNED TO COACH AT PARDEEVILLE — THAT HELPED YOU WHEN YOU RETURNED TO HIGH SCHOOL COACHING? There are a lot of changes you can make during a game to help you win, unless you have gone over them in practice. Also, it helps to scout teams.
YOU WON A LOT OF GAMES AND HAD A LOT OF GOOD TEAMS, YET YOU ONLY MADE IT TO THE STATE TOURNAMENT TWICE AND THE SECTIONAL TOURNAMENT FIVE TIMES; TELL US ABOUT THE CHALLENGES OF WINNING IN THE POSTSEASON AND WHAT KIND OF THINGS NEED TO HAPPEN FOR A GOOD TEAM TO BECOME A SPECIAL TEAM AND GET TO STATE: The most important ingredient is, you need good pitching depth. Your second and third pitchers are going to have to win the regional final, sectional final and the state championship (games). Also, it does help to have a good record in order to get a good seed and possibly a first-round bye. And, you need a lot of luck!
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR BEST MEMORIES FROM YOUR CAREER? The best memory was Pardeeville receiving the sportsmanship award at the 2011 state tournament. We (as coaches) stress the importance of recognizing good performances by our opponents being respectful of umpires. Another huge memory was the 2011 sectional final, and coming from behind to win on Eric Curtis’s three-run, walkoff homer to beat Westby, 6-5, and become the first Pardeeville High School baseball team to get to state. Also, the semifinal game at state, scoring the winning run on a single by freshman Riley Schmidt to overcome a three-run deficit.
YOU HAVE A REPUTATION AS BEING A COACH WHO REALLY EMPHASIZES BUNTING, AND YOU CALL A LOT OF SQUEEZE PLAYS; SHARE WITH US THE GENESIS OF THAT PHILOSOPHY, AND THE VIRTUES OF THE SQUEEZE PLAY: Usually, every team has two, three or four good hitters, so the tail end of the batting order needs to manufacture a run now and then. If we get a runner on first, he steals second, is sacrificed to third and scores on a squeeze bunt, then we have a run. We work on bunting at every practice. But kids need to buy into the program: If done correctly, you can’t stop the squeeze. If we need to move a runner into scoring position, we will sacrifice.
WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT FOR PARDEEVILLE TO GET A NEW BASEBALL FIELD BUILT AT THE HIGH SCHOOL? It allows us to practice and play games closer to the school. It also creates a practice field and game field for the junior varsity team at the school.
IF YOU HAD TO GUESS, HOW MANY BASEBALLS DID YOU WATCH SPLASH INTO PARK LAKE IN FOUL TERRITORY ALONG THE THIRD BASE LINE WHEN PARDEEVILLE USED TO PLAY ITS GAMES AT CHANDLER PARK? It averaged about three per game, so about 40 per year.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE QUIRK AT HEBL FIELD, AND WHY? Two things: In-ground dugouts and mesh netting backstops. They give you a feeling of playing on a pro baseball field.
WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH THE ADDED FREE TIME YOU’LL HAVE IN THE SPRING NOW THAT YOU’VE RETIRED? I have a pitching mound in my front yard; any player that wants to work on pitching, I am available. I re-string baseball gloves, too.
ANY FINAL THOUGHTS? The hard-working assistant coaches and the talented players I have been blessed with over the years have made the years of coaching very enjoyable. I also want to thank the people who worked on the baseball field. What a beautiful facility it is; you should be very proud.