Longtime West Orange baseball coach Bill Chambers is enjoying life in retirement, but he still can’t stay out of the dugout as he takes on a new assistant role for the Warriors.
Under the lights of West Orange High’s baseball field, Bill Chambers leans against the dugout fencing — a spot with which he has been familiar with for years.
With each play that unfolds in front of him, Chambers talks aloud to himself — especially when a ball finds a gap or a pitcher makes a back-breaking strike. It’s just the program’s Blue and Orange Game, but it doesn’t matter to Chambers — he loves it all the same.
Chambers often told the players he has coached that being on a baseball field is the closest thing to heaven on earth, and it’s ultimately what brought him out of retirement to be officially part of the program once again.
“I tell you, I get more out of the kids than they get from me,” Chambers said with a laugh. “I feel very lucky, very blessed. I think just being around them — I’m 76 — is kind of rejuvenating for me; (it’s rejuvenating) being around young kids.”
A FAMILIAR FACE
Anyone who has been in the Winter Garden and Ocoee community knows Chambers — thanks in part to his involvement in high school athletics in the area for decades.
Chambers began his coaching career in 1967 in Michigan, after finding inspiration from his high school baseball coach as well as Richard Young — the baseball coach at Bowling Green State University during Chambers’ time at the school. For Chambers, these two men exemplified who he wanted to be as an adult.
Chambers coached in Michigan before making the move in 1976 to Florida, where he took on a few different roles before making his way to West Orange High for the 1985-86 school year.
Originally, Chambers started as the softball coach — a post he held from 1986 to 1991 — before moving to the baseball and football programs until he retired from coaching in 2005.
His longevity in the game happened for myriad reasons, but perhaps none was more important than how he related to his players. Chambers wasn’t a great athlete in high school, but he worked hard and managed to go to college despite financial hardships. That experience helped him appreciate players on his teams who were dealing with the struggles.
“When I became a coach, I probably had more empathy for the 24th guy on the team than I did for the star,” Chambers said.
In fact there was one year during his first stint at West Orange when a player approached him after the end of the season and told Chambers he appreciated the approach.
After retiring from coaching, Chambers became the athletic director at Ocoee High School for five years.
For Chambers, being the athletic director was a bit different — it was surreal going to games and not being able to coach, he said. He also said dealing with the athletes was easier than dealing with the coaches.
In 2010 Chambers retired from his role as AD, but the following year found himself hanging out around the West Orange baseball program again doing odd jobs.
“I’ve been doing not a lot of coaching, but cutting grass and running errands because those guys all teach school, and I was kind of their gopher,” he said. “That’s fine — I don’t have a problem with that at all.”
Then last year, Chambers approached head coach Jay Welsh about possibly joining — a proposal that was met with an immediate yes, Welsh said.
“When I got the job, he came back — he was actually gone on one of his RV trips — and he said, ‘When I come back, is it all right if I kind of hang out around the field?’” Welsh said. “And I said, ‘Bill, hang around the field? Tell me what job you want, and you’ll get it.’
“Last year, he took our developmental program — I had a freshman team — and I remember the first day, he’s like, ‘Well who do you want in what positions?’” Welsh said. “And I said, ‘Well you’re the coach.’ He said, ‘Really?’ And he got out his yellow pad, and he wrote it up, and he goes, ‘How does this look?’ and I go, ‘That’s what I want you to do with this team all year — you make the call.’”
Along with taking on the role with the developmental team, this season, Chambers returns to the dugout with the varsity team as an assistant under Welsh, who said he has provided the team with tremendous perspective while offering his endless knowledge of the game.
The new roles Chambers has been taking on have been a godsend for a man who has a genuine love for the game — and the young athletes who play it. It has kept him young, and has also kept him from going stir crazy at home.
“I’m glad all of those folks kept me around,” Chambers said. “I’d drive my wife crazy if I was home all day.”