No. 6 Moment of 2012-13: Bret Butler wins his 300th game

Bret Butler

Over the next 10 weeks, Pitt-Bradford athletics will bring you the Top 10 Moments of the 2012-13 school year.

Each week a new moment will debut, featuring insight from coaches, players, and Sports Information Director Scott Elliott. It all leads up to the No. 1 moment in Panther athletics, which will be revealed the week of Aug. 5.

Bradford Era sports writer Andy Close penned it best after Bret Butler won his 300th game as a manager this spring, "To put it simply, Bret Butler is Pitt-Bradford baseball."

Literally, in every sense of the words it is true. Butler started the program back in 1999. He had no field and no equipment. He originally planned to go through his first season as a coach without an assistant. He soon thereafter met Jim "Chach" Colestro and the two have been Batman and Robin ever since.

Under Butler's guidance, the Panthers have amassed nine seasons of 20 or more wins, three AMCC championships and two NCAA tournament appearances. A slew of players have received all-conference recognition, three have been named the league's Player of the Year, and former Panther Zach Foster is the only player in the conference to ever be selected in the MLB Draft.

In coaching, if you're good and you stick around long enough, you'll start bumping into some career milestones.

Entering the team's conference opener against Medaille on April 5, Butler stood at 299 career victories. I had been closely tracking his running total all of last season as he approached career win No. 300.

While I was aware of the impending milestone, the rest of the campus remained dark to the matter. Butler is not one to boast or ask for the spotlight. He takes pride in watching his players celebrate, as any good coach would, and keeps his focus to the next game.

I mentioned something about it to him in passing earlier that week, but we both quickly dismissed it as the weather was more a headline at the time.

That Friday, Mother Nature provided a scenic day for baseball in the northwest corner of the country: sunshine and temperatures in the low 50's.

Sophomore ace Aaron Cressley took the ball in game one and he was sharp. He retired the first 13 Maverick batters before a slow chopper off the bat of Zack Shiesley in the fifth inning nestled perfectly between home plate and third base for their one and only hit that game.

The Panthers scratched across a run in the third on Jason Burkes' RBI double, and Cressley would make it stand up. He worked around base runners in the final two frames and induced the visitors into 4-6-3 double-play to end the contest. He finished with nine strikeouts, tying his career record.

I quickly began to spread word of Butler's achievement, but there was still another game to be played. Any celebration would be postponed until the conclusion of the doubleheader, and the Mavericks did their best to put a damper on the mood.

They led 4-2 entering the bottom of the seventh of game two, but Pitt-Bradford rallied, taking advantage of an error by the Medaille shortstop to score two runs. Bill Emerick retired the side in order in the eighth, and after walking to open the bottom half of the inning, Kirby Craft scored from second base on consecutive wild pitches. The Panthers poured out of the dugout to celebrate.

As per usual, the players gathered in the outfield to meet with the coaches, but the plans for a cold water bath for Butler was already in the works. After dismissing the players to tend to the field, Butler was greeted with a warm reception by parents and colleagues.

Colestro had the players sign a ball to commemorate the special occasion, and the team gathered one final time to present Butler with the ball.

I'll never forget it either. He went out of his way to make sure he was out of harm's way too, circling the players to check for any props. Butler delivered some heartfelt words and as the team circled in for one final huddle, two players rushed up from behind and emptied a 10-gallon jug of ice cold water on their coach. Butler's back arched as water poured down the back of his jacket and jersey, and the players howled in merriment.

In 15 years, Butler has a had chance to teach hundreds of young men about baseball and the game of life, and many still hold their former skipper in high regard today.

Eric Haynoski, a member of the 2001 AMCC championship team and the first Panther to be named AMCC Player of the Year, recalls Butler for his approach to the game.

"I would describe Coach as an intense, goal-oriented, professional motivator," said Haynoski. "He was able to get the best out of each and every member of the team.

"Personally, he taught me that losing is not an option and if you want something, don't let anyone or anything stand in your way."

Bobby Wyant, who was inducted into the University's Athletic Hall of Fame in October, chose Butler to deliver his induction speech.

"Coach was the reason I attended UPB," said the 2005 graduate. "Coach Colestro and him took an unmotivated 18-year old kid with raw talent and gave me the skill set to be successful in college baseball.

"For me, coach was the best motivator I ever played for in any sport. He knew how to push you in the right way on the field and would do anything for you off the field."

Current assistant coach and former player Shawn Manning counts Butler's passion for the game as his greatest strength.

"Coach's attitude reflected our team in that we played hard every time we showed up to the park," said Manning. "He coaches with passion and expects his players to play with passion. I know we did that every day at Pitt-Bradford."

"Coach has not changed much over the years. The players and their successes on and off the field are still his number one priority. He truly wants his players to succeed in life."

And it's the players whom Butler credits for not just his success, but the program's.

"I think of all of the great young men that are the reason that we have been able to win 300 games," said Butler. "I have been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by great young men that have played here and excellent assistant coaches along the way. 

"No way did I ever dream that this would happen 15 years ago when I was hired. What a privilege it has been." 

Baseball is a way of life for Butler, and he gives back a great deal of himself to the local baseball community. It's why people pack the hill during baseball season and former players always return to show support. And on that sunny Friday afternoon in early April, Pitt-Bradford shared a special moment with its longest-tenured coach.