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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

Saying goodbye: SHS baseball coach Kevin Self steps down after 15 years

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sikeston baseball coach Kevin Self addresses his team after the Bulldogs fell to Cape Central in the Class 4, District 1 championship game on May 18. The game would turn out to be Self's last in Bulldog red as the highly successful manager has stepped down to take a principal position at The Christian Academy.
(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Jared Self has vague memories about hearing that his uncle, Kevin Self, was going to be the new Sikeston baseball coach in 1997.

But he does remember one thing.

"I was glad and excited about it," Jared Self said. "It was a little strange for one of my family members being involved in a school program, but I was used to that growing up. I was definitely happy."

Those same feelings of enthusiasm and hopefulness seemed to follow coach Self throughout his 15 years of leading the Sikeston Bulldogs baseball team as he took an already prestigious baseball program and lifted it to new heights.

But now, the former Sikeston player, graduate and coach has decided it's time to move on. Coach Self recently submitted his resignation as Sikeston's head baseball coach and member of the Sikeston High School math department, promptly ending one of the most successful eras in Sikeston baseball history.

He has accepted a principal's position at The Christian Academy in Sikeston.

"It was a very enjoyable time," coach Self said. "It's been something that will always be a part of my life whatever I'm doing. I wanted this program to be the best that I could possibly build it to. I was blessed enough to have coached some of the best baseball players that have ever played at Sikeston and to have worked with some of the best kids and coaches.

"It was a God thing to bring me into this school district during that point and time and it's a God thing that's moving me to the next chapter of my life."

Self leaves the Sikeston program with a record of 266-98. He led the Bulldogs to six district titles and three state final four appearances which included a second place finish in 2001, a fourth place finish in 2002 and a third place finish in 2004.

Current Chicago Cub and former Sikeston Bulldog star, Blake DeWitt, was a member of all four of those squads.

"Coach Self had a huge impact on me, not only as a player, but as a person," DeWitt said. "I'm thankful for the years I was able to play for him and grow to know him and his family. He taught me a lot on and off the field that I carry with me today.

"I wish him the best of luck and couldn't be more thankful for what he has done."

So was former Mizzou Tiger star and Houston Astros draftee, Jacob Priday.

"On top of being a good coach, it's more than that, it's beyond just playing.," Priday said. "He sets a good example for players and students. The way he lives his life, being a family man and things like that sets a good example. That's probably the biggest thing."

Self began his teaching career at Southland High School. He spent seven years there helping Southland's baseball team to two state finals appearances as an assistant. He then moved on to Scott County Central High School where he spent four years and one season as the Braves' head coach where he went 9-8, which, at the time, was the most wins for any Scott Central baseball team in school history.

Combined with his one year at Scott Central, Self's career head coaching record is 275-106. He's been to the final four five times between Sikeston and Southland.


Coach Self has always been a baseball guy -- or a sports guy for that matter.

Along with his coaching and teaching duties he also was a junior high football coach and an eighth grade basketball coach during baseball's offseason.

It was a love that began with his father which was passed down to him.

"Baseball's been a part of my life as long as I've been alive," Self said. "My dad started it. He gave me the desire to do what I'm doing. I was a bat boy when I was four years old and all we used to do was go to Puckett Field and where the Field House is now.

"That's been my life since I was old enough to remember. Baseball has always been a part of it."

One of coach Self's most cherished times while with the Bulldogs was his opportunity to coach three of his nephews; Jared, Brent and William 'Heath' Self.

"One, as an uncle, we were always pretty close," Brent Self said. "As far as a coach, it helped that he is, if not the best, coach I've ever played for.

"He loves baseball," added Brent. "He knows baseball and is very knowledgeable of the game. He cared for the players that he coached. It wasn't about just winning, although that's what you try to do. He built relationships with players and he tried to teach life lessons as well through baseball."

Jared, who is the oldest of the three brothers, was a senior on Self's very first Sikeston team.

"He's professional," Jared said. "He really commands a team well and he knows what he's doing. He walks in and he's got the respect. I really can't remember what it was like but I'm sure it was pretty straight forward and a 'get to business' type of thing during practice."

At one time, Brent, the middle nephew of the three, followed in the footsteps of his uncle. As Brent served as the head coach of Arcadia Valley during the 2009 baseball season, he tried to relay the same type of coaching style he learned from watching his uncle.

"I tried to emulate a lot of who he was as a coach," Brent said. "The thing that I always remembered about him is that he always stayed positive. It's a game of failure where just 30 percent of the time you succeed. He would always encourage players. He got the best out of players and the best out of me."

William Self, or as most people knew him as Heath, was a part of coach Self's 2001 second place team as the Bulldog's starting center fielder. Heath tragically passed away in 2004 after being involved in a motorcycle accident.

"I was given the opportunity, for one thing, to coach my own nephews," coach Self said. "That was a big thing for me. I knew a lot of those kids and I think that helped when I first came in. It made a lot of kids believe in me.

"My nephew's believed in me and that made everyone believe in me."


Under the Self regime, the Bulldogs were again seen as a powerhouse in the state of Missouri.

His run of great teams began in 1998. It was the first Sikeston team to ever give Self a district title.

"We had to beat Cape Central during the district championship and we hadn't beat Cape in a long time," Self remembered. "We beat them three times that year,"

During that game, Brent Self, received the nod to start for the Bulldogs and pitched a gem -- twice.

The Bulldogs were able to get through 3 1/3 innings before a rain storm swept through the area which suspended the game until the next day.

"Brent had to throw 3 1/3 innings one day and it got rained out and he had to come back the very next day," said coach Self. "I believe he was sharper the second day than he was the first day."

Brent struck out 16 and allowed just two hits in the win.

"That game was pretty much the pinnacle of my high school career," Brent Self added. "Getting to play for the district championship was really the only time that I had gotten the opportunity to play in that type of game."

Brent served as a Bulldogs' manager as a freshman during the 1995 team's district run which was the only previous experience he had in big-time games.

"I was just so fired up," Brent said. "Cape Central has always been one of our rivals and they have a great tradition there. We were fortunate enough to score some runs and I felt like I had pretty good stuff that day."

The 1998 team was defeated by Chaminade in the state quarterfinals. Chaminade went on to walk through the state tournament to a state title.

And then there were the Blake DeWitt years -- as all Sikeston baseball fans know.

"The three that everyone remembers is the 2001, 2002 and 2004 teams, and deservedly so," Self said. "They were high achieving, very talented, hard-working teams."

"Obviously, coach Self had a big impact on our group," said Priday, who was an all-state catcher on those teams. "We had some good runs and he was the leader of all that."

One squad that also sticks out to Self is the year directly after in 2005. That version of the Bulldogs won 20 games a year after losing the baseball pedigrees of guys like DeWitt, Priday, Lance Rhodes, Nathan Eaves and Scotty Keenan.

"They didn't win their sectional game, but they had a chance," Self said of the 2005 squad. "That was a group of seniors that followed the Blake DeWitt era. Those guys were waiting in the wings and won 20 games. Those were kids that were really enjoyable to coach."

Although those were just a few mentions of memorable teams, Self admitted that there was something unique about all of them.

"They're all special," Self said. "There's things that I remember out of each year."


Along with his nephews, Self has a laundry list full of players that left lasting impacts with him.

Self saw several of his former players reach the NCAA Division I arena and countless others sign letters of intent elsewhere. Two of his former Bulldogs made it into a major league system. One, being Blake Dewitt, made it all the way to the show.

"The most obvious are Blake and Jake," said Self. "But there are others. If I start naming them I'll leave some out. There are so many that stick out. So many of them come back and talk to me when they're in town."

During DeWitt's senior year, the shortstop batted .558 with 15 home runs, and 48 RBIs. He was named to Baseball America's High School all-american first team and was a four-time selection to the Class 3 All-State team.

DeWitt was just as skilled on the mound as he was at the plate. He won 27 consecutive games while losing just one, which is a Missouri school record.

He broke eight Missouri records in batting and pitching while with the Bulldogs.

"Coach Self has been great for Sikeston's (baseball) program," said DeWitt. "He's a huge reason baseball is as strong as it is today. He taught the game the right way and cared about his players."

DeWitt was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round (28th overall) of the 2004 amateur entry draft.

Priday was an all-conference and all-district selection three times and was a two-time all-stater. The Bulldog catcher had a batting average of .571 with eight home runs and 44 RBI during his senior campaign, which was the same year Sikeston finished third in state.

Priday was named to the All-Big 12 Conference first team and the Academic All-Big 12 first team twice. In 2005, he was selected as one of Baseball America's Freshman All-American's as well.

"He taught us the game of baseball," Priday said. "With him playing college ball and everything and just seeing how you handle different situations. Becoming smarter about baseball in general is one of the things that sticks out to me.

"Calling pitches and calling games as a catcher, he cut me loose after my sophomore year and let me call my own games and anytime I had something come up he'd help me out."

On April 11, 2008, Priday broke the Big 12 single game home run record when he clubbed four big fly's against the Texas Longhorns in a wild 31-12 Tiger victory. He stands as the University of Missouri's career home run, RBI and at-bats leader with 49, 240 and 886 respectively.

In 2008, Priday was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 11th round during the amateur entry draft.

"Baseball for Sikeston has always been a hotbed for talent," said Self. "I have enjoyed a great deal of talent during the years I've been here. I'm not naive enough to think it's coaching ability. That's not what it is. It's good, quality family's with quality young men that believe what you tell them. When you get that, your going to win."

Brent Self was also an all-conference and all-state pitcher. He was a junior when Self started coaching. He first signed with Three Rivers Community College, transfered to Arkansas State and then eventually to Southeast Missouri State University.

"It was special," Brent said about playing for his uncle. "I always looked up to him and I can remember going and watching him play when I was a kid. I saw him coach a little bit of basketball too. I always thought he was a good coach and I'm happy I got to play for him."

Jared Self, who was a senior when Self started, went on to play at Dyersburg University after high school.

With only a year under Self, Jared remembers Self the best by just watching his uncle coach his younger brothers and during their string of state tournament appearances.

"My thoughts about Kevin as a coach are pretty much, with the exception of my one year with him, from standing back and watching him," Jared said. "I watched Brent's years with him and the Blake years with all those guys and he, to me, has taken Sikeston baseball program to another level. It's always been a pretty good program and there's always been pretty good teams, and I'm not a historian on the subject, but I don't remember anyone doing as much as he's done with what he's had to work with.

"I think he's been a fabulous coach and he's been a big asset to the legacy of Sikeston baseball."


In 381 career games, there's bound to be some that stick out.

The most memorable to Self was the 2004 sectional game against North County in Farmington at Wilson Rozier Park.

Down 3-0 with North County ace pitcher, Shea Brady, eyeing a gem on the mound, the Bulldogs ended up loading the bases.

Enter Blake DeWitt.

Legend has it, with the bases jacked and Sikeston's most dangerous hitter standing at the plate, DeWitt passed on a strike that Brady's catcher thought was unhittable -- even for DeWitt.

DeWitt reportedly told the catcher to call the pitch again. Brady obliged and ended up paying for it in the end.

"It's still on YouTube today," Self said. "The catcher decides to mouth off at Blake and of course, the rest is history."

DeWitt smashed an eventual game-winning grand slam.

"That day we just didn't quit," DeWitt said. "Coach Self, from day one, would preach that. We could have easily rolled over being behind late in the game against a great team, but we didn't and found a way to win.

"There was no quit in his teams, ever. That's one reason his teams through the years have had so much success."

"It was basically a two-hit game," Priday added. "Blake gave up a three-run home run on the mound and he came in a hit the grand slam. It just was one of those moments that made baseball worth playing."

What Self and Priday may remember the most, was the last out.

"(North County's) best hitter (Adam Howard) caught a change up from Blake and I thought it was going out," Self said. "Eric Chappell went all the way back to the wall and the ball goes through a tree branch, through some leaves and he catches the ball anyway -- right up against the fence. We went crazy after that. It was bedlam."

"That grand slam is what sticks out in everybody's mind," Priday added. "But, Eric Chappell catching the ball through the trees in left field to finish it was crazy.

"The competition we always had with North County, they were really good teams too and they wanted to win just as bad as we did. The fact that we came out on top made it a little sweeter."

Earlier that post-season, another classic happened with their rival Notre Dame.

After each team had played games in Scott City and Perryville, both Bulldog teams bussed down to Sikeston's VFW Memorial Stadium to play the SEMO Conference championship under the lights.

"The place was absolutely packed," Self said. "I remember in the first inning, John Robert Bizzell hit a bases loaded double into the gap and it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. The crowd was like at Busch Stadium. The crowd was so loud it was absolutely phenomenal."

Sikeston annihilated their rival 13-2 in five innings. The Bulldogs hit four home runs while Nathan Eaves belted three home runs that day -- one against Scott City earlier and two against Notre Dame.

Another game that stuck out in Self's mind happened in 2001 against Chaffee. It was a simple makeup game that just so happened to fall between district and sectional play. Seems simple enough, right?

But, the game itself had other plans.

Chaffee and Sikeston ended up going 15 innings and lost on a play at the plate. To this day, Self remembers the call that beat them and held back while arguing with the home plate umpire that allegedly blew it.

"We had a play that was called at the plate that we should have won the ball game and the umpire completely missed it," said Self. "I was running to the plate to argue the call and on the way up there, in the back of my mind I was thinking 'don't get thrown out or you won't be able to coach the sectional game.'"

In 2002, the Bulldogs had two extra-inning playoff games against Kennett and North County. Self said could have went either way.

"When you have those types of games, both teams make the plays," he said.

Jamie Puckett ended up hitting a game-tying three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth against Kennett. In the tenth, a bases loaded walk ended the game in favor of Sikeston.

Against North County, DeWitt hit an RBI single up the middle in the bottom of 12th to end it.


With the baseball season riddled with long bus rides, practices and the run-of-the-mill high school antics, there was plenty to keep Self on his toes -- nothing too serious though.

Self remembered during one of his first years with Sikeston he had to deal with a baseball fad that all of his high school players wanted to follow. Which included his family.

"I caught one of my nephews dipping on the bus. They had to run right after that," laughed Self. "That was a big thing back then with professional baseball.

"There were tons of other little things that kept me laughing."

Jared failed to remember such an incident to occur. Brent followed suit and denied any recollection of that happening as well.

"Maybe I should answer that I don't remember too," Brent said jokingly. "I didn't do too much of the chewing. I don't remember that part of it but, that's not to say that it didn't happen. Because if (coach Self) said it happened, it probably did.

"One things for sure, we weren't perfect."

Baseball tends to be one of the most superstitious sports of all-time. Self was a victim of superstition as well, and his kids never let a chance slip away to remind him.

"I had a pair of black, coaching pants that were an off brand type -- I think they were Voit's," Self said. "For some reason, when I wore those we'd win and when I didn't we might lose. The kids used to always tell me 'you gotta' wear the Voit's coach!'

"I remember, vaguely, something about his pants," Priday said. "I want to say that we were driving somewhere in Kentucky and he didn't bring the right ones and the wrong ones blew out the window.

"We said it was kind of an omen that he didn't need to wear them anymore."

"Baseball players are so superstitious," Self said. "They always have been and they always will be."


Through the last 15 years, Self's biggest hope is that he helped grow the already rich history of Sikeston baseball. He wanted to cast away any notion that Sikeston isn't one of the best places for baseball and it's players.

The numerous state rankings, the overachieving season endings and the overall quality of the teams Self presented for the Sikeston faithful to see year in and year out are evidence that he fulfilled his wish.

"The biggest thing that I have hoped to establish is that Sikeston baseball has always been and always will be a hotbed for baseball in the state," Self said. "Our little league all the way up to our high school program is evidence of that. It's known throughout the state and I think that's one of the things we've done. From about 1998 until 2007, we were ranked and people knew who we were."

With the many, many accomplishments Self and his teams made possible, there was just one item that was never crossed off the list.

"There's still that elusive state title that never came," Self said. "We had opportunities -- many chances to do it. That's doesn't mean that you've failed, it just means your goals are set extremely high and you don't quit until you get one.

"Sometimes life leads you other places and I'm still going to be rooting for them to get that title because I want them to," he added. "I hope that they do."

And just because he's out as head coach, doesn't mean he's gone for good. Self fully intends on helping every venture of Sikeston baseball any way he can.

His passion for baseball is too much engrained. Too deep to let go.

"I can still coach possibly sometime down the line," said Self. "I'm still going to help with legion

and I'm going to do everything I can to help this program. I'm still going to be in the community, so you can bet I'm going to be talking it up and helping these kids to continue to grow and continue to improve."

"I may go through some withdraws without the game," Self added. "It may be tough -- tougher than I think. Those spring smells,...it doesn't seem like spring unless you have those baseball smells. It's going to be a transition for me to move on. But, it's something that I'm going to step out on faith and do and I think it's the right thing for me right now."