By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
In his mid 60s, Bob Plantz was still giving lessons but thought he was probably done coaching baseball on a team when he got a call from a former player.
It was Larry Keeker at McNary. He needed a pitching coach and wanted to know if Plantz was interested. The two met at Applebee’s.
“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Plantz said. “I had to check with my wife and she said, ‘Get out of the house.’ It was real easy (to say yes). In all seriousness, Larry does a fantastic job. I would not be doing this with just anybody. He created as atmosphere for all the coaches.”
Plantz began coaching in 1967, leading the freshman team at Wilson High School in Tacoma, Wash., while student teaching at the University of Puget Sound. Plantz’s first teaching job was at Silverton, where he again coached freshmen. He then became the head junior varsity coach at Mt. Angel.
“I guess I knew from the time I was a sophomore in high school that I wanted to teach and coach,” Plantz said. “I grew up in California and I had teachers and coaches that really made an impression on me.”
After giving law school a try, Plantz got back into coaching at Whiteaker in 1974. One of his players was Keeker. They were also neighbors and Keeker served as Plantz’s classroom aid.
Plantz left Whiteaker in 1978 to become the first head baseball coach at McKay High School.
In 1983, Plantz’s team defeated Corvallis in the last game of the regular season to win the school’s first league championship in any sport.
“That was pretty special,” Plantz said. “It was really a great bunch of kids.”
On that McKay team was Deputy Chief of Keizer police Jeff Kuhns and Dave Brundage, who went on to become an All-American at Oregon State and made it to AAA with the Seattle Mariners. He now manages the San Francisco Giants AAA team—Sacramento River Cats.
“Dave had a quality you don’t coach,” Plantz said. “He seemed to have no fear of failure.”
After five years at McKay, Plantz went to Newberg, where he coached baseball and softball before retiring in 1998. He had a Grand Slam batting cage franchise in West Salem and then started doing lessons at the Courthouse.
Retirement didn’t stick and Plantz assisted Jerry Walker when he started the baseball program at Blanchet Catholic School. But when Walker left, so did Plantz.
But that retirement didn’t last either as Plantz joined Keeker at McNary five years ago.
“I guess I just love it,” Plantz said. “What I’m doing now, just being an assistant, it’s just pure coaching. I don’t have to do budgets. I don’t have to do fundraisers and all the field maintenance and all the head coach responsibilities. That’s Larry’s worry. I just go coach.”
Plantz biggest point of emphasis is teaching good mechanics to avoid injuries.
“We start by making sure they use their legs and their back muscles, try to take the strain off their arms,” Plantz said. “A lot of kids come in, they throw hard but they put terrible strain on their arm. We try to teach them safe mechanics.”
Plantz said he’s never been a yeller or screamer and stopped throwing batting practice years ago when “the buzzards were circling around my arm.”
He and Keeker call games together.
“When we get somebody out, it’s my idea. When a guy cracks one, it’s Larry’s fault,” Plantz joked. “We have a lot of fun with it.”
Two pitching performances stand out in Plantz’s time at McNary.
In 2014, the Celtics opened league play with a 1-0 win over South Salem as McNary junior Mickey Walker out-pitched Sam Tweedt, the reigning Pitcher of the Year, who went on to sign with Oregon State.
“That was amazing and so much fun,” Plantz said. “It was a remarkable accomplishment.”
The second came in 2015. Down in Arizona, with West Salem watching after playing the game before, McNary senior Nick LaFountaine threw 45 pitches and couldn’t get out of the first inning. But LaFountaine came back to defeat West Salem 8-3 later in the season.
“They were licking their chops and he beat them,” Plantz said. “It was just really satisfying for this kid to start out that way and battle and compete.”
Plantz had surgery for prostate cancer just before Christmas. His prognosis is optimistic but he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll keep coaching.
“I guess that’s probably made me appreciate it even a little more,” he said. “It’s just open ended.”
Keeker is happy to have Plantz on his staff as long as he wants to be there.
“He’s helped baseball players literally at all different levels so that experience alone is certainly valuable to our program,” Keeker said.
“He just has a good perspective on the game. He loves the game itself. It’s been a part of his life for a long, long time. Probably the most important thing is he’s just passionate about working with baseball players and specifically the kids here at McNary. He’s emotional just about every season at the end. He’s invested so much of himself that he gets emotional about it.”