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For VWC baseball coach, 600 wins is just a number
For VWC baseball coach, 600 wins is just a number

In a career filled with accomplishments, Virginia Wesleyan baseball coach Nick Boothe hit a big one Sunday: 600 wins.

Boothe is in his 28th season at the school. He's been the Old Dominion Athletic Conference coach of the year six times - more than anyone else - and led the Virginia Wesleyan to the Division III tournament six times. In all, 22 Marlins have played professionally, according to his biography on the school website.

The road to 600 wasn't always smooth. The Marlins went 16-21 in 2011, their first losing mark since 1996. In 2012, they went 11-22, with a losing record in ODAC play for the first time since 1991.

Last season, VWC went 11-26, losing 11 games by one or two runs.

"Probably the most frustrated I've ever been in coaching," Boothe said.

One night last season, Ty Boothe walked into his home to find his father crying. A senior at Kellam High School at the time, Ty thought he was done with baseball. He'd played infield for the Knights but wasn't planning to play in college.

Seeing the toll losing was taking on his father changed that. He decided to enroll at VWC and join the team.

"I'm not going to sit there and see somebody I love hurt," Boothe said.

While last season was difficult, Boothe is quick to note he's endured worse. In September 2003, one of his players, sophomore Michael Snapp, was shot to death at his off-campus apartment.

"Tougher than any loss," Boothe said.

Photos remembering Snapp and other players sit prominently in Boothe's office. The images recall team projects, bonding exercises and celebrations.

Anything recognizing Boothe personally is harder to find. The reason for that becomes apparent when you ask about what 600 wins means to him.

"Nothing," he'll tell you.

Those who know Boothe insist that's not just talk. They also insist he is too humble in addressing the feat. According to NCAA record books, only 41 Division III baseball coaches had won 600 games entering this season - including several who count their wins after they or their school moved up to Division II and I. More than half needed 30-plus years to reach 600 wins.

Boothe "should be considered not just one of the best baseball minds there is but one of the top educators," said AJ McNamara, who played for Boothe in the late 1990s and is in his eighth season as coach at Post University in Connecticut.

Former players said several factors contribute to Boothe's success - primary is his desire to be a mentor. McNamara recalled him being front and center at virtually every team event. He also led volunteer projects and offered lessons on how to act.

"I could only hope my son has someone like him for a coach," McNamara said.

Players also note Boothe's instincts. New York Mets star David Wright first met Boothe as a boy attending one of the coach's camps. After Wright hit .254 in 2011, he turned to Boothe for help in the offseason. Wright hit .306 in 2012.

During his junior year, former player Brandon Elliott said he planned to quit the team. Elliott went to Boothe, who in no uncertain terms told him he wasn't quitting. Further, he said Elliott was going to be a successful coach in the future.

Elliott kept playing and after he graduated in 2003, Boothe made him an assistant. He served for four years before becoming Virginia Wesleyan's softball coach. His 2013 team went 41-8 and opened this season No. 10 in the nation.

"Coach always brought intensity and expectations," Elliott said. "A lot of that carried over for me."

After the bad 2012 season, Boothe knew changes needed to be made. His first order of business was luring back Andy Wissinger as an associate head coach.

Wissinger played for Boothe in the late 1990s, then served as an assistant in 2000 and 2001. A strong recruiter and developer of talent, some of the players he brought in helped the Marlins go 34-9 in 2003, the highest win total in the program's 40-year history.

In 2002, Wissinger joined Christopher Newport University's staff. In 11 seasons, he helped the Captains to three Division III World Series berths.

Wissinger had a good thing going. But when Boothe asked him to return, he never hesitated.

"I enjoyed my time here. I enjoyed playing for Coach Boothe. I feel at home here," Wissinger said.

Wissinger and Boothe went looking for specific types of players this offseason - ones who could both hit and pitch, and who helped build programs in high school.

One of those was Taylor Erby. A pitcher, infielder and outfielder, he in 2012 led Lake Taylor to its first Eastern District title since 1995. His brother, Justin, was another key member of that team. The brothers selected VWC over a few Division I programs.

"Because of the coaching staff," Taylor Erby said. "And I found out a bunch of good talent was coming in."

As difficult as last season was, the Marlins started to make strides toward the end. They went 4-3 in their final seven games decided by one or two runs, after going 2-8 in their first 10.

That fostered optimism entering this season. The Marlins opened with four losses to teams ranked in the top 15 nationally. Since then they've won three straight, including a 5-1 victory at Averett on Sunday that gave Boothe 600.

The Marlins visit Christopher Newport today, before opening Old Dominion Athletic Conference play Saturday with a doubleheader against Guilford.

This season's rotation includes juniors Alex Tucci and Dylan Stoskus, who threw a combined 10 complete games last season. Returning hitters Brett Sutryk, Brandon Lineberry, Jordan Miller (Grassfield) and Casey King all have made contributions.

Add in 17 touted freshmen - Taylor Erby has a team-high seven RBIs, outfielder Nic Kurz is hitting .346 and Ty Boothe is starting at shortstop and tied for the team lead with four stolen bases - and Boothe is confident his team will continue to grow.

Conferences coaches picked Wesleyan ninth out of 11 teams, but that's fine with Boothe.

"I was hoping we were picked last," he said. "That ticked us off. I think we are going to surprise some people."

The Marlins have never had four straight losing seasons. Turning things around is important to Boothe.

Sitting in his father's office during the preseason, Ty Boothe admitted, "It's hard watching your dad go from the top down to the bottom."

Before he finished that sentence, his father intensely blurted out "We're not staying there too long."

The conversation then got back to 600.

"That doesn't mean anything," Boothe said. "That's just going to end up on a sheet of paper somewhere. What you do for the community and to change lives is what lasts forever."

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