Bob Rahal hadn’t thought himself ready to return to coaching, but he agreed to meet with Bayside High administrators at the school in December of 2014 about the job of head softball coach. Not long after he left the building, then-athletic director Chris Moreau followed him into the parking lot and offered the job, extending his open hand.
“I stood there thinking about what I should do,” Rahal recalled. “It seemed like five minutes, but it was probably about 30 seconds. I knew if I didn’t shake his hand, it would be the rude thing to do. If I shook, it would mean I was taking the job.”
He shook Moreau’s hand, planning to coach for a year, but after the team’s final game of 2015, parent after parent greeted him and asked if he’d be back the following year.
He decided to stay, and in his third season, Bayside is seeing its program return to contention in Brevard. After a Thursday win over Heritage, the Bears improved to 8-3.
Though the team broke a four-year playoff drought in 2014, that came in a district where two of three advanced. Bayside’s current situation presents a significantly greater challenge.
In 13-6A, Bayside opened with a 10-0 loss to Rockledge and will have an uphill battle to make the playoffs. The Bears face Palm Bay on Tuesday and resurgent Eau Gallie on Thursday. The week will determine district seedings for the tournament that will eventually send two teams to the postseason.
With Merritt Island also a playoff contender, Bayside’s improvement still may not be enough for a playoff trip from deep and competitive 13-6A.
Rahal, whose coaching career goes back to American Legion baseball in the Miami area in 1992, entered high school varsity coaching in 1997 at Miami Holy Cross. He had played at Coral Gables in his own high school days, and hitting was “always the strength” of his game. After a move north, he served as the hitting coach at John Carroll before taking a break from coaching.
When he decided to coach again in 2007, one school administrator encouraged him to apply for a baseball job.
“I told him, ‘no,’ ” he said. “I wanted to coach softball.”
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It was something he hadn’t done before, but Rahal became the head softball coach at John Carroll and remained through 2013, winning four district titles before again deciding to take a break.
He set the same three rules for his Bears that he had at John Carroll: don’t miss practice without advance permission from him, be respectful and always show effort.
His players have been receptive, and the results have been positive. Along with help from assistant coaches Mike Chnupa and Melissa Hickey, Rahal’s hitting expertise has paid benefits, with five of nine varsity players hitting .385 or better.
Both Bayside seniors signed college scholarships. Shortstop Nikkie Pennington has hit .423 so far this season and signed with Florida Gulf Coast.
“I probably wouldn’t be going where I am today if he wasn’t here,” she said. “He’ll take all the time in the world to work with us if we ask.”
Caitlin Meyer, who signed with Eastern Florida State College as a first baseman, also pitches. She has hit .444, driven in 11 runs and has posted a 1.83 earned run average.
She called Rahal “an all-around good coach” and credited him with help in a number of areas including her swing.
“He believes in us and wants us to do well,” Meyer said.
And Rahal believes in the program’s future.
“There’s a great crop of freshmen coming in,” he said. “If we’re a stock, we’re Facebook.”
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