When Richie Pacheco started thinking about a namesake for Arlington Travel Baseball‘s new fall tournament a few years back, he says it was a “no-brainer” to turn to longtime coach Sam Fox.
As a youth sports coach in Arlington since 1966, Fox is as close to an institution as it comes in the county. He’s been coaching so long, in fact, that Pacheco, the president of the travel baseball league’s board, says he got the chance to learn from Fox when he was a kid decades ago.
Even still, tournaments are often designed as memorials to legends of the past, so Pacheco wasn’t quite sure how Fox would react to the suggestion. Apparently, it was quite well received.
“I think his words were that he’d rather be around to enjoy it than to have a memorial when he’s not around anymore,” Pacheco told ARLnow.
The rest is history. The travel baseball league held its second “Coach Fox Fall Classic” this past weekend, with seven teams and roughly 100 kids from ages 9 to 13 competing. Though it may be just a small gesture, Pacheco hopes it helps make people aware of Fox’s legacy in Arlington.
“Sam has given so much to the community, this is just something simple we could do to recognize that,” Pacheco said.
Fox himself says the tournament was a “very nice honor,” but wasn’t willing to cast his influence in the county in such grand terms.
He says he grew up in Arlington, and first started playing baseball in Barcroft Park. He even went on to get a job working for the county maintaining its athletic fields, but he says it wasn’t until one fateful day in Bluemont Park that his coaching career got going.
“I had practice with some kids in the neighborhood there, and a coach asked to see if I could help out with the team, so I agreed,” Fox said.
Yet, over the years, Fox watched as the baseball scene in the county changed, with the original league splitting in two groups affiliated with national youth leagues: one with Babe Ruth baseball, one with Little League. Pacheco helped started the travel baseball league a few years back, as a way for all Arlington ballplayers to play together and bridge the gap between the two.
But even as the teams and leagues shifted, Fox’s coaching style didn’t.
“I coach kids to have fun, and if we win doing it, that’s fine,” Fox said. “And, if not, the sun will come up tomorrow.”
Fox says he normally focused on pitchers, and has thrown more than his fair share of batting practices over the years. Pacheco’s enduring memory of his coaching style is simple: “When he talks, people listen.”
“He knows the game and he knows how to teach,” Pacheco said. “It’s about doing your homework, tuck in your shirt, that sort of thing. He’s teaching kids life lessons on and off the field.”
When asked if any particular memory stands out over his 50 years of coaching, Fox was direct: “No,” he answered plainly. But he says the totality of his experience over the years, which also included lengthy stints coaching basketball and football, is what really stands out.
“I love seeing where the kids start on day one and where they finish at the end of the season,” Fox said. “It’s been fun.”
Fox says he’s slowing down a little, particularly after suffering a mild stroke this summer. Yet he fully plans to keep working with the travel league where he can, and make a few more memories in the process.
“As long as it’s still fun, and my health is still good, I’ll keep coaching,” Fox said. “And it’s still fun.”