Leo Chavarria confidently strode onto a baseball diamond Saturday, probably much like he did the first time he coached 30 years ago when his son's team needed one.
"They couldn't find a coach, so that's the reason I got involved," Chavarria said. "And after that, I saw what I was doing, that I was helping the kids learn the game."
Coach Leo's flesh and blood and those kids whose lives he touched are fairly indistinguishable, in that they both carry the lifelong lessons of a westside Bryan coaching legend.
"One thing we learned early on was it was a team, regardless of how important you thought your standing was on the roster," according to Leo's son, Mike, who also played for his dad. "He had a way to let you know you were one of 10, 11, 12 kids out there."
"He used to always get us together, show us the basic fundamentals of baseball, team spirit, and most importantly, discipline," said Tommy Munoz, who grew up as a neighbor of Chavarria's. "He also instilled in us the fundamentals for us to stay in school and strive for the best, to become a better person."
"The main thing was to keep them from the streets at least two or three hours," Chavarria said. "That was what I thought about."
It's on the books in the city of Bryan that you have to be deceased or a generous donor to have a park or a building or a baseball field named after you. But at the urging of friends and former players like Munoz, as well as with support from State Representative Fred Brown, the city of Bryan made an exception, and Coach Chavarria's field is ready for play.
"It's just a real tribute to Leo because that one person, Leo, has been such a huge influence on this community for so many years," said Brown. "He's changed the lives of countless kids over the years and given them a chance."
In a ceremony on the field before the opening slate of games, Chavarria was presented with gifts on his big day, including a flag flown over the Texas capitol in his honor. He also received a framed jersey and balls autographed by the current Aggie baseball and softball teams.
"To me, I'm very honored to have a baseball field named after me," Chavarria said. "This day is very important in my life. I never thought it would come to this...never."
Saturday was opening day, not just for Little League West, but for Leo Chavarria Field, where for future generations, baseball will be a metaphor for life.
There are 30 years of lessons in the name alone.
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