The new head coach of the Winter Garden Squeeze is ready to prepare his players for their journey through baseball.
It’s the morning of Thursday, May 30, and it already feels like it’s 100 degrees at 9 a.m.
On the baseball field at Lake Minneola High School, the ragtag group of coaches and collegiate players on the Winter Garden Squeeze are drenched with sweat as they go through their practice routine.
Despite the sun and the Florida heat, there’s fewer places they’d rather be, though the warmth is one that takes getting used to — especially for those players from up north.
“Obviously we are all excited and we are all anxious and ready to play ball,” first-year head coach Terry Abbott said. “We had a good workout today — kids moved around and bounced around and they were enthusiastic.
“Several of the kids that weren’t from Florida said, ‘Man it sure is hot,’ and I said, ‘It’s not even noon yet, boys,’” he said with a laugh. “We’re just trying to get their legs under them, because a lot of guys got in on Wednesday.”
Going into his first season with the Squeeze, Abbott brings in decades of experience at all levels of the game, which really began when he was a player at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.
There, the Anniston, Alabama native played four years under his uncle Rudy Abbott — a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and the namesake of Jacksonville State’s baseball field.
Rudy also happens to be the man who talked Terry into taking up coaching after a short stint playing for the Atlanta Braves and a couple of minor league teams.
Despite having solid pitching stats for those teams, Terry’s uncle contacted him one day — offering him up another suggestion.
“He looked me dead in the eye, and he said, ‘I ain’t your uncle right now,’ and I said, ‘Well who the hell are ya then?,’” Terry said. “He said, ‘Listen, there is no doubt I know you can pitch Double-A and I know you can probably pitch Triple-A — you might even get a call from the big leagues — but I don’t want you to wake up one day and you’re 29 years old and you haven’t finished your degree, you haven’t gotten your master’s and you don’t have a career.”
It was up to Terry then to decide whether or not he wanted to keep up playing baseball or going to coach with his uncle at Jacksonville State.
In 1981, Terry decided to swallow his pride and take his uncle up on the offer, and it was there — as a grad assistant with that Gamecocks team — that he learned the ins and outs of coaching.
He learned how to recruit, evaluate and develop the players and run a program the right way. His stint would keep him in Alabama for another two years, before he made his first trek to Central Florida where he took over as head coach at Boone High School.
The work he put in at Boone didn’t go unnoticed, as after five years with the Braves, Terry moved up to pro ball when he became the pitching coach with the Augusta Pirates (a former affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates) in 1989. Over the next 20-odd years, Terry would go on to be the pitching coach — and eventual scouting supervisor — through multiple levels of the Cincinnati Reds’ farm system.
Now all of that experience from his time in pro ball is being funneled into his new team, which at this point of his career was inspired by something that his uncle told him all of those years ago: Give back to the game.
“Obviously we are all excited and we are all anxious and ready to play ball. We had a good workout today — kids moved around and bounced around and they were enthusiastic.
— Terry Abbott
“I’ve been fortunate to be at the right place at the right time, doing the right things, and things just fell in place for me,” Terry said. “But right now I’m trying to give back to the kids, and I’m trying to give back to baseball — trying to help them along the way.”
Terry is sure to have a lot to give back as he helps a team filled with talented players — like Dalton Shuffield (Texas State), Cale Jones (Santa Fe College) and Justin Holmes (Seminole State) — find their way through the sport.
While he may be a bit older than his players, at one point he was in their shoes, and he knows the passion that they play with.
“I have always had a respect for the game — I love the game and I look forward to going to the park and that’s what keeps bringing me back,” Terry said. “When the day comes when I don’t love the game, I don’t respect the game and I hate going to the park — it’s time for me to go sit on the front porch.”