A few years ago, when wildfires were breaking out around Palm Bay and threatened lives and property, Ed Yanes went missing from his softball coaching job at Eastern Florida State College.
As Yanes concentrated on his firefighting profession, assistant coach Bob Yanczewski took control, as he always does. More than a decade ago, after Yanes had worked several years as Yanczewski’s assistant at Melbourne Central Catholic, the two agreed to switch roles.
Yanes, a former first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 1984 who played five years in the minors, was coaxed into giving softball a try by his former college coach, Ernie Rosseau. He took over the Eastern Florida program in 2004 and immediately approached Yanczewski about joining him.
Yanes has been a firefighter and paramedic in Palm Bay for almost 20 years. He works one day then takes the next two off. Out of danger, he’s a coach.
It’s not a normal situation but it’s one that has been pure magic at Eastern Florida with a string of 10 straight appearances in the state playoffs.
There are times when Yanczewski admits being a little nervous. And it’s not necessarily about having to make coaching decisions, since he’s been in softball a lot longer than his head coach.
“When you have a lifestyle like that, you’ve got to worry about it,” Yanczewski said. “He’s protecting the citizens of Brevard County and that’s a great thing. Of course we worry every time we hear about something going on, a brush fire or a house fire. We hope everything is cool with him. A couple of years ago, when he was out on a brush fire, he was gone for a week.”
The players started to get a little concern the more practice time and games Yanes missed.
“He was out there every day for a week and the kids were like, ‘Hey what’s going on?’ ” Yanczewski recalled. “But work goes first.”
To the credit of all involved, everyone makes adjustments when they have to do so. After all saving lives is just a little bit more important than winning a game. But in this case, the fireman and his good friend and assistant have made it possible to do both.
“After getting released (from baseball), my goal was to be on TV, and that didn’t pan out,” Yanes said. “My brother was a fireman in Miami Dade for 30 years, and when I got out of ball he kind of said, ‘Hey, this could be a career path for you, it’s something to think about,’ and I studied it, did a little research on it. Being on teams my whole life, being around groups of people, it was a good fit for me. It was a transition from one team to the next, and it went pretty smooth. I enjoy it.”
Without Yanczewski, who led MCC to either a district or runner-up title in nine of his 11 years as the head softball coach there, it wouldn’t have been possible.
“We kind of flip-flopped roles,” Yanes said. “I owe a lot to him. He does a lot of the stuff I don’t have time to, being on shift for 24 hours. He does a lot of the background checks on kids as far as scouting. we have a very good working relationship together.”
They are about as close as two coaches can get.
“We’ll be out to dinner with his wife and the waitress will come up to me and his wife will say, ‘Ed, tell her what Bob wants.’ I’ll order dinner for him and,” Yanes said. “It’s fantastic. We’ve been together close to 15 years, we worked together at the high school and then we came over here. He’s phenomenal. You can’t run a Little League team with one person. Without him here it would be impossible to be able to do it, working a 24 hour shift and being able to come out here and get this going.”
Over half the team made the dean’s list last semester.
“Those are the numbers we care about,” Yanes said.
And here’s an even cooler bond the two share. While Yanes protects his community, Yanczewski protected his country. He’s a retired disabled Army veteran. He was injured while in Vietnam.
It’s a situation about which he prefers not to share many details but does say, “I’m happy with my life. I took five shots for our country. The good thing is, I’m still here to talk about it.”
So both have made personal sacrifices for others. Imagine George O’Leary at UCF taking a day off so he can go fight a fire or Billy Donovan missing every third day in Gainesville to be on call in case of an emergency.
Not happening. Practice for the 2015 season was slated to start Monday. Ultimately, Yanczewski said the two are proud of the program they have built together but both feel the most important thing is “getting that paper on the wall.”
As in graduating and moving on to a four-year school. After a great fall in the classroom, the coaches were waiting recently to see if they had reached a lofty goal, being the sport with the school’s highest grade-point average.
“We’re more excited when we get the GPA title at the school than wins and lossses,” Yanczewski said.
In an era of sports where priorities seem so messed up you have to love these coaches and this team, don’t you? Forget the score. They all win. So do the people of Palm Bay.
Contact Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @DaveJonesSports.